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​Home and away 

Many foreigners are stuck in India, some by choice, during the lockdown. Overall, it’s been an enriching experience despite all the anxiety and concerns

The impact of Covid-19 is unprecedented, collectively and individually. Life has come to a standstill. The lockdown has ensured that people stay wherever they are. 

The fortunate are at home, while many travelers across the globe are stuck in a foreign country for weeks together or are being quarantined. The Europeans and Americans in Delhi are anxious, given that the pandemic has wreaked havoc in their native countries. 

Italy is one of the worst affected countries with more than 17,000 deaths. Some of the Italians living in Delhi consider the capital as their second home. One of them is Elena Tommaseo, who has been living in a rented accommodation in South Delhi for many years. 

She wears many hats, ‘creativity’ is a good way to describe her varied pursuits here. Unlike many fellow Italians who don’t want to be named fearing a backlash from the authorities and locals, Elena is fairly expressive about her life in Delhi during the Coronavirus pandemic. 

Before the lockdown was announced on 24 March, when it was possible to fly back, she got several calls, mails and messages from her worried friends in Italy enquiring if she’d come back. 

The Coronavirus spread in India is a scary proposition for her compatriots. “If and when the virus hits India, it will be the worst tragedy ever,” she was warned. She decided to stay put in Delhi where she feels a sense of belonging and the idea of leaving “my friends, my home, my life–even though it is not the same any more –leaving all these behind would be unbearable for me,” she says. 

There’s no confusion in her mind, “You can’t call a place home when everything is fine and just run away when things get bad.” Her family, particularly ageing parents, reside at a place in Italy that’s relatively safer. 

Usually she stays alone in a very functional and wonderfully organised house. But she had decided it would be a bad idea to stay alone when “the inevitable lockdown” happened. “I have seen what happened in Italy and I learned, much before the Indian Government gave the instructions, how to deal with the emergency,” she explains. Thus, she requested a couple of friends to come and stay with her at her place. 

This is their fourth week together and she considers her decision to stay together as “one of the wisest choices of her life.”  They live as a family and share the household chores. 

Despite the testing times, she hasn’t lost her sense of humour. “We still say thank you and please to each other, volunteer to make breakfast, coffee, chai, even do the laundry.” The rule is the person who cooks doesn’t do the dishes. The house is big enough to allow each one of them a private space if need be. 

Contrary to expectations, she keeps busy, adheres to a routine, spends quality time sitting in the shaded balcony and enjoys the good weather and the radiant blue sky. These days she’s writing a lot, exercising regularly and attending online yoga classes thrice a week. Time flies faster than she could have imagined. She made it a point not to attend more than two calls a day, for they end up being “very long and the topic is always the same. Exhausting!”

She keeps in touch with friends in India and back home. She finds it difficult to reply daily to all the messages saying more or less the same things. 

Instead, she posts a detailed note every other day on Facebook. “I never ever expressed my feelings on Facebook. I felt the need to let my friends know how I’m doing here, what’s happening in India. In this way, I reply to all their queries in one go.” Her posts were well received. 

Nicole Moretic in India

Even people not known to her now follow her, encourage her to write as they find her writings very useful. And there’s a silver lining: “Now I know I’m not doing it only for myself. I feel good that I can be of some help to others.” To her, this whole phase is an interesting social experiment–barring the tragic consequences– “an opportunity to discover some hidden talents.” 

One of her Italian acquaintances who resides in the same neighbourhood lost her father last week in Italy due to the pandemic. There’s no way she can go back for the funeral. “I felt so bad. I can’t even imagine a thing like this happening to me,” she says. 

Nicole Moretic with her yoga class friends

A group of 13 yoga enthusiasts is stuck for a month in Rishikesh, including an Italian, American, Swedish, Mexican, Chilean amongst others. One of them, Nicole Moretic, a 31-year-old Chilean, speaks with certain optimism about her forced stay in India. She was here as a tourist and was doing a course in yoga when the nationwide lockdown was announced and was supposed to catch a flight back home last week. Now when she tries to book a flight, it gets cancelled the very next day. Their embassies have advised them to stay put and not try to book a ticket till the lockdown is over. 

There are occasions when Nicole feels gloomy when confronted with huge uncertainty in an alien place, but she gets solace that she’s in a beautiful place and yoga helps her to overcome anxiety. They all have become good friends. “I think deeply, and feel fortunate to be alive. I’m lucky to have the company of a good set of people,” she puts up a brave face. These hard times put everything into perspective. “It’s a good opportunity to get detached from the superfluous and celebrate the fact that we’re alive.”

So till the time they all make it back home, they stay indoors, stay safe! ​

( Cover image: Elena in her Delhi home)