12th June 2020
The security guard at a food court on the Yamuna Expressway said “this place was shut till the 7th of June. I wasn’t paid for the months of April and May and so my family was only able to afford one meal a day.” He had a bottle of sanitizer, a face mask as well as a face shield. As we drove in to the food court parking I spotted four cars in the parking lot, much lesser than the number you would find in the pre-Covid world. The man making chai behind his counter was wearing his mask, however his nose was uncovered. We were served two hot cups of chai in Kulhads, the masala chai was very rejuvenating.
When the first toll gate came I remembered that the Yamuna Expressway is a private highway so it doesn’t have a fastag facility. I quickly put cash in a box and the toll operator gave me a look of understanding and took the money, returning the cash and the toll receipt into the box.
The Yamuna Expressway and the Agra-Lucknow Expressway are the best roads in India so driving on them was a pleasure. As soon as we got off the expressway I stopped at a petrol pump to fill the tank. The HPCL employee filling diesel in our car was visibly surprised by what he saw in the car; it might have even been the sheer amount of luggage.
We reached our hotel at 5pm and it was very welcoming. Our temperatures were checked before we entered and the check in process was contactless. We had to send a picture of our ID cards on a WhatsApp number. We then filled a form about our travel history and preconditions if any. After this the receptionist asked to see my Aarogya Setu App. Since I hadn’t filled in the self-assessment test on it yet, it said ‘Low Risk of Infection’. What followed were fifteen minutes of uncertainty and panic. Finally, someone with authority said ‘jaane de (let them go)’ and I sighed in relief. Later when I filled in the self-assessment form the app declared me ‘safe’.
12th June 2020
Kuldeep, a resident of Mathura, working as a guard at one of the food courts on the Delhi-Lucknow highway shares—his family with a wife and two growing children; haven’t eaten two meals a day during lockdown since 19th March. Thankfully he was amongst the first set of workers his employer called when he was reopening the eating place. If this hadn’t taken place, he doesn’t know how long he would’ve survived. Even though he is not receiving his full salary, at least he has something to rebuild his life with.
We have set out on our road trip across three states—UP, Bihar and Jharkhand—with some apprehension and some caution—with near and dear ones entreating not to go and media also reporting not a very positive picture of the situation across India. We were expecting to be stopped at the border by the police and then we would have to turn back anyway.
At the Delhi-UP border the police was letting vehicles pass in a trickle. We had all our documents ready with arguments mentally rehearsed to counter their inquires when they waved at our car to peer inside, while we peered back consciously. The backside of our car was overloaded beyond capacity. They gave it a hard look and let us pass. This was the first extreme challenge we had to overcome and we did. Now we were vaguely assured of reaching Lucknow, our first stop towards—enthnographic study of the situation and challenges migrant labourers are facing due to Covid-19 crisis.
There were less cars on the road, but they were enough to give one a feeling of adequate normalcy. We came across number of food courts, and all of them had good number of cars parked outside. We were pleasantly satisfied that occasionally when we stopped to use the washroom, they were clean and people were maintaining safe distance from each other while using them.
When we entered Lucknow, it seemed situation was indeed coming around. There were good number of vehicles on the road, people were moving about, shops were open and not much gave an inkling of ongoing crisis.
The hotel was strict with new protocols in place. Our luggages were sprayed and we were appropriately screened for temperature.
During check-in, the reception followed the process of new normal assiduously. Arogya setu app to be pre-installed on a smartphone and green status on it has technologically redefined the concept of ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’.
Abner didn’t have the app pre-installed. So he was firmly advised to do so for the check-in process to complete for him. His status appeared slightly differently from safe on the app. Suddenly, there was a commotion. The receptionist sprung into action, and called the guard to check his temperature once again. It came normal. They nervously had a brief discussion amongst themselves, upon which he was allowed to finish his check-in.
I on the other had was observing the sudden hysteria around me. It was akin to setting a cat among the pigeons. While I was also nervously wondering—if they don’t allow Abner to stay in the hotel, then we might have to look for a new place. And if all the hotels will be this strict, then we have a concerning situation on our hands. What happens to the payment that we have paid.
Well, thankfully it didn’t come to that and we survived to bring our day to a satisfying conclusion.
(Later Abner informed me that he hadn’t answered a question in the app, which caused it to reflect unsatisfactory status)