This is the first person narrative of Mr. Sekhar S, who got tested covid 19 positive upon return from Dubai after a short visit to there from Kerala just before the outbreak of the pandemic.
I landed in Dubai on 23rd morning as a result of an impromptu travel. A friend had invited me to stay with him for a month when I told him my life was becoming monotonous and felt mundane. I wasn’t aware then that I was in for the worst surprise of my life. Things were going well the first month, I remember clearly when one day in the first week of March when my driver came in and told me that there is a virus in the rise with the same name as his favourite beer. I dismissed it off telling him the Chinese were always up to something, doing silly stuff. Things started looking bleak by March end, there was large scale talk about the virus, mostly because of the Indian diaspora and the lockdown which was enforced in India.
UAE; Dubai in particular has a laid back attitude towards such things as it is an amalgam of a large no of cultures and people types. And for Indians and Malayalis in particular you don’t leave India or Kerala, you just visit UAE, spend most of your time working hard and come back to where you belong. Your hearts are always in your homes back in Kerala. So the lockdown in India had its ripple effects in UAE. People were worried and there was an impending sense of doom with a lot of people. I stayed with 3 persons, one of whom is a sexagenarian who has not gone out of the building more than a couple of times till date since March. On the other hand, the second person who owns and runs a transport company hardly stayed in for a week or so. He had to send more money to India as his family solely depended on him and the rest of his family was out of work back in India
My Visa incidentally had expired On 23rd of March. The seriousness of the situation was known only when UAE suspended all air travel after a few days of its first Covid death which was incidentally on 21st of March when the lockdown in India started. I stayed inside from the last week of March hoping to leave for home in the next immediate possible day. The idea was to not get the disease and transmit it to my parents or relatives back in Kerala. As I was hoping to travel in a week or two. Boy was I couldn’t have been more wrong. It was horrible and tiresome. The routine was to wake up, get glued to the news for updates. Called Embassy a 1000 times during the time. A point to note is that every single Malayalam news channels were and are still focusing on the negatives mostly. This has largely affected the morale of people, especially of the expats. Their only source of news about their loved ones in Kerala are these channels. It felt intentional at times. Towards the beginning it was the expats who were worried about people back in Kerala. But soon things took a 180 turn, slowly deaths of Malayaless, some days reaching two digits were reported to worrying relatives In Kerala. The lockdown in the UAE was not as stringent. I hate to admit that the during the initial days of it, I would go for walks in the nearby park which was away from the public roads or police patrolling. The UAE govt was proactive in controlling the spread but at the same time made sure essential services were not affected much. The country survives on Business, tourism, taxes of which a large portion is road taxes. So after a few days they launched an app to provide passes to people who had to travel. My friend who ran the transport company could go out as his was deemed an essential service. Night curfew was stringent, people who were found outside were given hefty fines no matter what. There was a country wide sterilisation drive.
The UAE was under proper lockdown only for less than a month. Metros and trams started running, buses, taxis started plying. The biggest road in the UAE, Sheikh Sayed road had almost 70% of its traffic by beginning of May. Schools were closed, as were swimming pools gyms and spas.
I had stayed in the flat I was living most of prior of the two months of coming back. It wasn’t even in the worst of my dreams that the wait would be more than 2 months long. I never went out in the month of May, not more than a block. Norka roots had started registration for Keralaites who wanted to go back to Kerala and in four days time it crossed 4 lakhs. Indian embassy also opened up registration. India started repatriation flights on 7th. I was staying on the phone most of the day after. Dialled the embassy at least 1000 times, numerous mails to travel agencies, embassy, politicians and whom not. Finally o 25th of May my friend got a call from the embassy asking my willingness to travel. If it wasn’t for the recording of the call, I wouldn’t have believed it no matter what. After confirmation of my availability, a payment link for purchase of the ticket was sent to me. It costed 790dhs which is 16000 approx. I was to travel on 29th May at 1720 from Dubai to Trivandrum. The next day I was sent a few forms I had to fill and take print outs of including am undertaking stating that the govt had full authority to deport me if I showed Covid symptoms at the destination airport and I was to bear the cost of the return ticket . It was the fourth month of a trip that was supposed to last less than a month, so I was willing to travel even if I was bedridden.
Prior to the travel I didn’t do any customary shopping as I didn’t want to expose myself to the virus. I was asked to report 5 hrs prior to the departure time. On the morning of the flight, I had some light food and water. Stocked myself with some water, 5 pairs of gloves, same no of masks, wore gloves and mask, travelled to the airport in a friend’s car, with him driving and I sitting behind. ( To be continued)