An Oral History of the COVID-19 Crisis: 'I felt I was going home; little did I know what that would mean'

This account is part of Firstpost’s Oral History Project of the COVID-19 Crisis in India. The Oral History Project aims to be an ongoing compendium of individual experiences of the pandemic, with a focus on one significant day in our respondents’ lives during this time.

Prashant Sharma March 25, 2021 13:11:22 IST
An Oral History of the COVID-19 Crisis: 'I felt I was going home; little did I know what that would mean'

Illustration © Adrija Ghosh for Firstpost

Prashant Sharma, 26, is an actor who moved from Delhi to Mumbai in 2017.

When the lockdown was just imposed in Mumbai, we didn’t know how long it was going to last. A few days, weeks perhaps… But from March through May, one realised that things were only going downhill. There were no acting assignments, no audition calls. My room-mate — who is also an actor — and I were somehow managing with very limited resources and living off our savings.

In the meantime, I fell sick; I was running a fever and had a sore throat. Naturally, both of us were very anxious as the COVID-19 scare was looming over all of us. I didn’t want to inform my parents back in Delhi because they were already dealing with a financial crisis and poor health. When my fever didn’t subside over four days, however, I thought I should let them know. Those were the days that one heard reports of how family members weren’t even being allowed to see the remains of the deceased, and I didn’t want my family to face something like that should something untoward happen to me. Yes, this is where I was mentally. Maybe this is what a pandemic does to people.

Once my parents got to know about my condition — I tested negative for COVID — they ordered me to pack my bags and fly to Delhi, come what may. At this time, flights were still non-operational, railway tickets were all booked up, and inter-state transport via roads was risky as rules and regulations would vary from one place to the other, and any discrepancy in the random testing would mean being deported to a random quarantine facility. Somehow, we got lucky and flights resumed their operations. I finally reached Delhi on the night of 31 May. I felt I was going home, only I knew little what that meant amid a pandemic.

Read more from the Oral History Project here.

Even before making the journey, I had decided for the safety of my parents to quarantine for 14 days at a 1 RK that my father often used as an office, some 3-4 km away from our house in Ghaziabad. My mother would send over food for that duration. One day passed; everything was running smoothly. However, the next day, some residents of the building called my father, asking about the person [me] who was staying in the flat. My father told them that I was his son and quarantining there as I had just travelled from Mumbai.

When my father arrived with food that day, 3-4 women from the building came to our door and started questioning him. They began shouting out things like, “How can you let your son stay here? He has COVID, otherwise why would he need to stay all alone? Take him out of here.” I came out and told them that since I had just journeyed from Mumbai, I was home quarantining — as mandated by the Uttar Pradesh government for all travellers. But the women wouldn’t listen. “Our children play in the vicinity, how can we let you stay here?” they said.

Other members of the building also started gathering. It was just my father and I, versus a group of 30-40 people, all of them against us. They told my father to get me tested and if the results come out negative, only then would I be allowed to stay inside the building. I found that absurd, firstly because I had no symptoms and secondly, if I were to test negative there was no reason to stay in that building at all. I could go straight home. With the situation getting out of hand, my father asked me to pack my belongings and leave with him.

It was around 11 pm on 2 June when I reached home, with a lot of apprehensions. I decided not to enter inside and instead perched outside on the porch. I had no clue what to do next. I started Googling and making frantic calls to inquire about home quarantine facilities or hotels available nearby. I called up the COVID-19 helpline and told them the entire situation. While they supported my case and said the society members were at fault, they began asking me why I had landed in Delhi in the first place and not somewhere in Uttar Pradesh. This was even more absurd: Where else would a person land if one were to come to Ghaziabad? Not Lucknow, I am sure.

At that moment, I had no idea where I could go; there was absolutely nowhere for me to station myself for the next 11-12 days of the quarantine period. If people from the previous society could raise concerns over my staying in the vicinity, the neighbours at our house could also do the same and forbid me from staying here.

My mother started crying over my situation. I told her to give me dinner outside. Helpless, I decided to spend the night outside on the porch, which has an open ventilator at the top. I slept on the couch and got drenched as it began raining during the night. I felt then it was the lowest point in my life… that I should have never come to Delhi and just stayed back in Mumbai. The night somehow passed.

The next morning, my mother came to my rescue and asked me to come inside and stay indoors. With a heavy heart, I caved in. For the next few days, my parents lived outside in the hall while I stayed inside the bedroom that they had vacated for me. My father would go to his office to take a bath, my mother and sisters were somehow managing. And after 11-12 days, I finally came out and realised what it feels like to be back home.

— As told to Suryasarathi Bhattacharya

Write to us with your COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown experiences for inclusion in the Oral History Project at firstculturefeatures@gmail.com

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