Far away but still close

Stuck for over a year now, some Indians living abroad have not been able to come back home due to pandemic-related restrictions.  Thankfully, though, they are learning to bide their time 

Stuck for over a year now, some Indians living abroad have not been able to come back home due to pandemic-related restrictions.  Thankfully, though, they are learning to bide their time

India is one of the few countries that has decided to take the pandemic in its stride and keep functioning despite the risks associated. Delhi streets are crowded again and people are venturing out of their houses to make a living.

Despite the challenges brought on by the pandemic, people are fighting even though many have succumbed to the virus. But there is a sizeable section whose family is divided because of the travel restrictions imposed to contain the pandemic.

Anshu V, 45, works in a multilateral organisation in a senior position, based in Beijing. His parents live in South Delhi. And during the last few months, both parents have had to deal with serious health issues, while the mother was diagnosed with cancer, the father—a retired bureaucrat—had to undergo a surgery in the abdomen. Anshu was more than eager to travel and be of assistance to his parents in these testing times. 

That, however, was not possible for China has a very strict policy to prevent the spread of Covid19 in their country, where it originated. And this strictness is very effective, at least that’s what the official figures indicate. Anshu is aware that many of the Indians working in China, even at high positions, were not awarded visas to return back to China from India. Some sent their families back to India, and they were denied entry to China, and the families were separated for months together.

Now many of them have returned to China, but the strict restrictions meant that Anshu was not able to come to India for the treatment of his parents. SK Singh, 45, one of the leaders in a shipping firm is based in The Hague. His father tested Covid positive and it was a serious condition as he has chronic diabetes.

Unlike in China, European countries are far more accommodative. Santosh could travel to India, attend to his father, the mother too was admitted to the hospital for other health complications. He stayed in Patna for a month and made sure his parents are fine. The Netherlands government made sure that SK Singh safely returned and he was allowed to rejoin work after a week of home quarantine.

Rajesh is a very active member of Indian-America community in California

Karan Singh is a senior corporate executive based in Gurugram. His son, Sukh, 21, is pursuing an undergraduate course in England. He didn’t visit his family because of the travel restrictions, now it’s going to be a year. He was on his own for months as the college he was studying in was shut sine die. He along with some expat friends stayed on, and it was not so bad after all. His daily run kept him in good spirits. 

And now, when college classes have started, Sukh plans to come back to his family. Thanks to online classes, he can attend college by staying here with his family. If everything goes as per plan, he should be back in India around Christmas and plans to stay for the next six months with his parents, pursuing his course online and would return only when that pandemic is tamed—the vaccines have shown good promise.

Rajesh Chauhan, 34, working in California, was to get married—an arranged one—earlier this year, but the marriage had to be postponed because his grandfather died during the nationwide lockdown in April. He has not been to his hometown of Varanasi for two years now, and couldn’t even attend the funeral of his grandfather, whom he greatly regrets. 

Speaking on Skype, he was rather circumspect. “I miss my family. And a part of me is always there with them. I’m alone here. There are some friends, an American colleague is my acquired brother,” he says. And explains in detail that he also feels comfortable here, and protecting his job is the top priority, now that things are likely to change with a new American president at the helm, he can come back to India early next year.

This long phase of isolation in an alien country “actually helped me,” says Rajesh. He’s sensitive to how his family would react to the fact that “This long phase has helped me declutter my mind. I was feeling burdened by my family’s expectations. I can say I understand myself better. I feel the need to be generally happy in life then only can I make near and dear ones happy.” 

Does that mean he will not marry? “That’s what my family feels. I’m using the excuse of the pandemic to avoid getting married to a girl I hardly know. Perhaps, I’m not ready to make that kind of commitment.” Rajesh, however, qualifies by saying “That may not be the reason. It’s just the uncertainty about everything that eats up your confidence.”

Anshu’s mother has recovered after surgery. Speaking on phone, she says, “For me, the Corona pandemic will be over the day I see my son Anshu.” Perhaps, Rajesh and Sukh’s parents feel the same. What comes out clearly is that the pandemic has had the effect of breaking families. People are confined to their own their silos, lonely, hoping the good times will return. “Thankfully, time is passing briskly,” as Rajesh puts it.

(Cover: Anshu’s group of Indian Friends)

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