An Oral History of the COVID-19 Crisis: 'I just wanted to go home; even if I had to walk 10 km more, I would have'

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.

Suraj Kendre December 31, 2020 11:10:15 IST
An Oral History of the COVID-19 Crisis: 'I just wanted to go home; even if I had to walk 10 km more, I would have'

Illustration © Adrija Ghosh for Firstpost

Suraj Kendre, 25, works as a product executive at an agricultural firm in Hyderabad, and hails from Kandhar village, in Nanded.

On 23 March, as the lockdown was declared, I was caught completely unaware. I live at a PG in the Madhapur area of Hyderabad and in the days following the announcement, people started leaving the hostel. For the first time ever in my life, I was confined to my room all day. I felt completely alone and dejected as I didn’t know how long the situation would last.

Some said it might be months, which only added to the misery. The first thing that worried me was that I didn’t know how long I would be alone as everyone else on my floor left. Second, we didn’t know if we would get essentials like milk and vegetables. My PG had already reduced meals to twice a day (from three times).

Read more from the Oral History Project here.

With different thoughts running through my mind, I decided to leave the city for my village, as life would be easier at home. I got a call, late evening on 26 March, from a truck driver from my village, who told me that he would be reaching Hyderabad the next day as he had a consignment of oranges to deliver (which was permitted as it was deemed ‘essential services’).

As trucks weren’t allowed in the city, he asked me to meet him at the Ring Road on the outskirts of the city and I made up my mind to go, as this might be my only chance at getting home.

27 March remains an unforgettable day. The distance from my PG to the Ring Road is 21 km, and I tried to book an Ola, Bounce or even rent a cycle but none of them were available. The only choice was to stay back or walk, and I willed myself to do the latter. On the way I saw a different Hyderabad: streets shut, no traffic and most stores (except for a kirana or two) closed. I was worried that I might be stopped by the police or worse, be beaten by them, but thankfully nothing happened.

I had walked for 5 km when the driver kept calling me, telling me to hurry up. Afraid that he might leave, I started to alternate between running for a couple of kilometers then pausing to catch my breath and walking for a bit before running again. I did this for 16 km. It took me three hours, but I finally reached the toll plaza at the Ring Road.

When I reached the toll plaza, I called the driver but since he didn’t operate an android phone, there was no possibility of sharing locations. From 1 pm to 4 pm, it was a tense three hours as I couldn’t locate the driver. Finally, I took the help of the policemen stationed there who told me that I was at gate number 17A. When I asked the driver to come to the gate he told me that he had passed by the toll gate three times already. All I could say was, ‘Bhai, itne baar aaye hain toh aur ek baar aajana…’ It took him another hour to pick me up.

The one-litre water bottle I had and some biscuits I carried with me were long gone. I forgot my hunger, thirst and the fact that it was a hot day. All I could think was, ‘If this driver left, I have to go back to my PG, which was no option at all.’

Once I got into the truck, I started feeling hungry as I was confident of reaching home. Nothing was available except some oranges and in the seven hours it took me to reach my village, I saw nothing but government vehicles and a few other vehicles. Except for one Zomato delivery guy, there was no traffic.

I had never walked so much in my life and realised that jab jaan pe aati hai toh aadmi kuch bhi karta hai. Even if I had to walk 10 km more, I would’ve walked. I just wanted to go home. And at that time, the only important thing was to catch the vehicle. Nothing else mattered.

Once I reached my home, I was made to stand outside. I had a bath, and my backpack was sanitised, even the cash in my pocket was soaked in Dettol and dried the next day. After I had dinner at 1.30 am, I felt relieved. I thought, I could survive anything including losing my job. I could survive somehow.

Looking back, I feel like laughing when I think of that day. It just shows that if you make up your mind you can do anything.

— As told to Mallik Thatipalli

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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