Travel during troubled times portends a fear of the unknown.
And I experienced it first-hand when I travelled to the South Indian city of Hyderabad, Telangana, in the first week of March. That’s when reports of a person being tested positive for Covid-19 in Hyderabad and a death in neighbouring Karnataka were trending. There were several suspected, and some confirmed, cases of infection of the latest scourge in the city
I was in two minds about flying to India, but couldn’t avoid the trip as there was a wedding in the family.
In fact, some of my colleagues suggested that I cancel my trip saying things might turn for the worse and my return would be an uncertainty in the foreseeable future.
But it was my niece’s wedding. The bride wouldn’t forgive me for the rest of my life and so wouldn’t my younger brother for skipping his only daughter’s marriage.
With some in my Editorial section already away on holiday, it was only after hard bargaining that I could manage to get a week’s leave (I am conveniently omitting my two weekends from my leave period here. If it were a WhatsApp message I would have added a ‘winking’ emoji here.)
I landed in my hometown on the eve of the wedding while all others were already busy for the memorable day.
Indeed, it was most memorable in more than one ways.
It was no ordinary wedding, though. Every guest was super conscious of the fast spreading virus and social distancing was the norm, being observed by all at this special event. The usual hand shakes were absent. Most people, event my close buddies and relatives whom I was meeting after a long time, said hi from a respectable distance or greeted one another with the traditional Indian ‘namaste’.
Namaste is a customary Hindu greeting with a slight bow and hands pressed together, palms touching and fingers pointing upwards, thumbs close to the chest. But what was missing was the usual bonhomie. And none complained! Demand of the testing times, one might say wryly.
The wedding, reception and other post-wedding ceremonies went off as planned, but under the gloom of Covid-19. The Telangana government later imposed stringent preventive measures including urging the citizens to either postpone weddings or restricting the number of guests to not more than 200, closure of wedding and conference halls.
As the date for my departure arrived, reports of cancelled flights started pouring in adding to my fears of my return to Dubai.
A couple of Ola and Uber cabs that I booked for the airport were cancelled by the cabbies themselves. Someone said since not many passengers were coming to Hyderabad, the cabbies wanted to to avoid the prospect of returning empty.
I didn’t want any of my folks to drop me at the airport since it is nearly 45 kilometres from my place. Finally, I managed to get one.
Once my wife and I reached the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport, I could only feel sorry for the cabbie. There were hardly any people outside the airport and much fewer inside. The few that were, wore face masks of all shapes and colours.
The usual serpentine queues were missing. I didn’t know whether to be happy that I could check in within a matter of few minutes or feel sad because of the deserted airport.
As I took out my phone to click a few pictures of the near-empty airport, a check in counter staff joked about it. When he got to know that I worked at Gulf News, he said he was sure I would write about the sorry state of the otherwise busy Hyderabad airport.
The display panel showed IndiGo flights to Sharjah and some other Gulf destinations were cancelled. I thanked my stars, and for good reason. In all the 18 years of my stay in the UAE, I have never booked on Air India. This was the first time, and I felt lucky. It flew without being cancelled. Literally I was on a wing and a prayer.
Some of the faces that I saw at the check-in counters (I guess they were the same as they all wore masks) were in the flight — each one apprehensive of the other as a potential carrier of the virus.
Even before I landed, there was a WhatsApp message from one of my colleagues whether I’ve reached Dubai. Perhaps he thought I was stranded in Hyderabad because of coronavirus.
But now I am stranded at home. As per government instructions, I am under self-quarantine for 14 days and working from home. Do I enjoy it. Your guess is as good as mine!
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