Last updated on July 22, 2020
Flying from Delhi to Kolkata amid the pandemic was a comedy of errors or an unfolding tragedy — depending on how you look at it. The happy part is that I did not get contaminated
‘Avoid crowded places.’ The rules were loud and clear – in every news channel, in every precautionary advertisement, and in almost every place we go. After all, we are in the midst of a pandemic – and the world is nothing like before.
I did abide by this rule for months, going out only for ‘essential services’ like grocery shopping. But then, when I decided to go back to my hometown Kolkata from Delhi, there was in no way I could avoid one of the busiest places in the city – the airport. I had a flight from Delhi on the morning of 3 July. And for the first time in almost four months, I was going to a crowded place. This was not something I was looking forward to.
I did my research and took all possible precautions. But I wasn’t donning a PPE suit because the mere thought was suffocating. I had my mask and gloves on and was carrying my face shield. When I stepped out of my cab and was entering the airport, I was shocked to witness the casual behaviour of the staff as well as the passengers.
There were enough security personnel, but none bothered to remind the passengers to maintain social distancing. We Indians anyway don’t believe in giving space – and even a pandemic couldn’t change that! There was a man behind me in the queue, and he wanted to push me and move ahead because he thought I was moving slowly — whereas I was just trying to maintain distance from the people who were ahead of me. But looks like some people have still not understood the theory or practice of “social distancing”.
Even the personnel who checked my boarding pass and ID were in so much of a hurry that they did not even check my Arogya Setu app status. (‘Do I look that healthy?’ I thought to myself.) Then after I dropped in my luggage, and went for the security check – I witnessed yet another blunder. Delhi never fails to surprise!
There were hundreds of workers who were being sent to Leh from Delhi. They were wearing masks, but they were huddling together in groups. And even the security people at the check-in points did nothing to control that. They looked rather unperturbed by the chaos around them.
After the security check, I had a lot of time left. So I went to use the washroom – and to my surprise, it was not that clean, given the demands of the situation. Some of the dustbins were uncovered. Nevertheless, I had to answer the call of nature.
Something funny happened afterwards. My friend who was travelling with me was hungry and we were not carrying any food. So we went to the food court, and she decided to have a sandwich from Subway. The outlet looked clean. And the court had few people, as not everyone is comfortable with outside food these days.
There was one traveller who looked anxious. He collected his food from an outlet and chose the farthest corner of the food court – almost near the end (even though there weren’t many people there), and sat facing the wall while eating his food. He probably took the term “social distancing” too seriously.
Anyway, as I moved towards my gate number, I saw some passengers were almost lying down in those big reclining seats as if sunbathing. Looked like they feared nothing (Corona, what’s that?). I reached my designated gate, and again it was time to form a queue! And as always, no one gave me my space (not talking about my life). We were handed face shields, hand sanitisers and a health form – which they did not bother to collect after we filled it up.
After getting on the bus, I wore my face shield. But just a few minutes later, I had to take it off as it was immensely suffocating. Then while I boarded my flight, I was hoping there would not be any passenger next to me in the middle seat. These days people are avoiding middle seats, and even while booking my window seat I noticed how most of them were empty.
But I guess I wasn’t that lucky. Both the seats beside me were occupied. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the man next to me – at one point – lowered his mask and hid his face with his hand. I realised he was trying to have gutka (chewing tobacco) in a plane, amid a pandemic!
This made me anxious, and I tried wearing my face shield – but again, failed to keep it on even for 15 minutes. I thought if not Corona, I might die of suffocation in this very airplane! But I needed to do something to protect myself more. So I wore another mask on top of the mask I was already wearing. Double protection, sort of!
As I reached Kolkata airport, a wave of relief engulfed me. As I completed my final procedure of collecting my bags and left the airport, there was a feeling I had finished some sort of challenging task! While I was on my way home, I thought to myself how I was told not to use the public washroom, not to enter the food court and avoid crowds. But I broke all the “rules” – some at my own will, some because I had no choice. It was – as they say – ‘one hell of a ride!’