Stranded in France for nearly 3 months due to lockdown, I took children’s classes & workshops in India online; many challenges were crushing me but I refused to give up
Today is the sixth day of my home quarantine and the penultimate day of my 14 days’ quarantine.
Since March 10, 2020, life has been meandering through happy and disappointing times, difficult and yielding times, certainty and uncertainty, revelations and discoveries. The past three months have constituted a very remarkable and memorable chapter of my life.
My daughter is a second year student in the University of Grenoble Alpes, France. On 10th March, when I reached Grenoble – in Southeastern France – to meet my daughter, the number of Covid-19 cases in France was around 4,500 and in India it was around 50. At that point in time, I was not so well acquainted with the virus. I had lots of plans to spend quality time and visit a lot of places with my daughter for the next 19 days.
On March 16 at 8 pm, French President Mr. Emmanuel Macron announced lockdown from March 17 due to the spike in the number of Covid-19 cases in France. This was followed by a lockdown announcement on March 24 by the Indian Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi. Consequently, I was stuck in Grenoble indefinitely because both countries continued to extend the lockdown and the international travel ban also got extended, as the number of cases and deaths due to Covid-19 started increasing in leaps and bounds in both countries.
The concept of lockdown was completely new for me and that too in a different country. Fortunately Grenoble has a low population so social distancing (which was also an alien concept at that time) was never a challenge. People there also followed other rules of lockdown very strictly.
But life started becoming difficult. The booking for the Airbnb apartment where I was staying was till March 28, so I had practically no accommodation after this date. My means were limited as I had enough for only 19 days. There was no way I could extend the booking with extra money.
During this unprecedented situation, people I had never known before came to my rescue. A student, Maxime, let us stay in her vacant apartment from March 28 to May 10 at only 100 euros. We had neither known each other before, nor met later, because she went back to her family during the lockdown.
Again, from May 10 to May 25, Dr. Benedicte Denoix gave us refuge at her home. I didn’t know Benedicte before May 10 and for her I was a stranger from India who needed shelter. Neither Maxime nor Benedicte thought twice before letting my daughter and me into their homes. There was risk involved as we could have been carriers of the virus when the number of cases in France was almost 28 lakh. Dr. Agathe, mother of one of my daughter’s friends, connected me to them, and all of them have been such blessings for us.
Holding up was a big challenge for us as I was running out of money. The school where I teach, reopened for the new session on 1 April and like other teachers, I had to take online classes regularly. The time difference between the two countries and the availability of a sound network was another challenge for conducting these classes. Then there was cooking, cleaning, washing, shopping for supplies and financial planning and budgeting apart from shifting from one place to another with all our belongings.
These challenges were trying to crush me down but I fought them with an indomitable spirit. I knew that keeping my mind positive and body healthy was indispensable during this crisis. Amidst everything, I never failed to do yoga and meditation every morning and went for walks every evening. The landscape at Grenoble is mesmerizing. Perhaps I couldn’t have discovered the natural beauty of the city to this extent if I hadn’t been confined to this place for so long. The mountains, the river cutting across the city, a lot of unknown birds and flowers helped me forget so many times about the pandemic and the crisis. I also conducted two online workshops during this time.
However, managing finance was gradually becoming the biggest challenge. Meanwhile, the lockdown in France was lifted on May 11 and on May 20, Cyclone Amphan hit West Bengal, devastating life in a new form over and above Covid-19. I came to know from my neighbour in Kolkata that the glass pane of my kitchen window had broken due to the cyclone. I didn’t worry much because by then life had taught me to keep calm and let go.
I kept sending mails regularly to the Indian Embassy right from the beginning of the lockdown, stating our plight. I am grateful to the Embassy for arranging some ration for us twice. We also received a lot of love and care from some of my daughter’s friends and their families.
Finally, on 26 May, I was allowed to avail the Air India special repatriation flight to Delhi under “Mission Vande Bharat” of the Indian government by paying 593 euros. I was very excited to get back home after so long. However leaving my daughter behind and so much of unconditional love and care from people whom I didn’t know before was very painful. I owe a lot to the city of Grenoble.
It was a eight-and-a-half hours-long direct flight from Paris to Delhi with a four-hours’ pre-boarding formalities pertaining to Covid-19 safety measures. To ensure minimum contact in the flight, only dry snacks were kept in a packet on everyone’s seat (too little for such a long journey).
After reaching Delhi, I was subjected to 7+7 days’ quarantine (seven days at quarantine centre and seven days of home quarantine). My quarantine centre at Delhi was Hotel Red Fox, Aerocity, which I had to choose from a list of options provided to me by the state.
I was not allowed to come out of my room during those seven days. Food was served in disposable containers, and kept outside the room. On June 2, I completed the seven days’ quarantine and was discharged on June 3 with a clearance certificate, fortunately with no signs and symptoms of Covid-19 infection.
I had to pay Rs 19,500 as the quarantine charge for seven days. On the same day, I flew back to Kolkata on an Indigo flight by paying an exorbitant price of Rs 11,517 and Rs 2,800 for excess baggage because the domestic allowance is always less than the international. So the money that I spent to travel from France to Kolkata can account for 50 per cent of the cost of a European trip for a person.
After two months and 26 days, I am back home. When I left Kolkata, it was pre-lockdown-I and when I returned it is Unlock-I. So I couldn’t experience the lockdown in Kolkata.
But now I have the stamp of an international traveller – the most probable and potent carrier of the virus – so few people don’t want to even phone me for fear of getting infected. Life teaches you so much!
[Cover photo of the author after landing at Delhi airport from Paris]