In mid February, I got deputed to London for two months by my office. It was my first time in the United Kingdom. Alongside my work, I had planned to explore the most happening city of the world and of course visit enchanting British Countryside. But God had a different plan.
Within a month, the entire country like the rest of the world got locked down due to the Covid-19 pandemic and like many others, I was destined to stay confined to my rented apartment in London. It was a terrible situation. My work was finished on time but it was neither possible to roam around the city, nor come back home, since none of the airlines were operating at that time. I have an octogenarian father and septuagenarian mother back in my hometown. Almost every day I woke up to some nightmare about them and went to bed with a nagging tension about their health. My organisation was very extremely supportive and helped us a lot.
After prolonged uncertainty, when the High Commission of India allowed repatriation flights to Kolkata (my home town), I promptly arranged the tickets (reimbursed by office) and after a ridiculous journey, finally I managed to come back to my hometown on 30th June, 2020. Coming back home is truly the best feeling for a person like me, but according to the rule, like other co-passengers, I had to opt for an institutional quarantine in a hotel in my city – Kolkata.
The first time I came across the term “Quarantine” was in a famous comic of Tintin “The Prisoners of Sun” where a ship was asked to get quarantined as many of the passengers were suffering from yellow fever. But up until now, I didn’t know anybody who had been quarantined at least once in life. In the novel “Shrikanta”, the famous Bengali author Sarath Chandra Chattopadhyay mentioned the quarantine in Burma (now Myanmar). But I was really unsure how to get quarantined in my hometown. Situation drove me and destiny took its own path.
While checking-in at the hotel, the receptionist asked us to stay inside our new home for the next seven days. Food and other essential commodities would be available next to our doorstep. Instead of porcelain or any other washable crockery, only use-and-throw plates and cups were provided to us. No laundry or housekeeping would get done. Each of us got a separate room, which was more or less luxurious but still confining. First time in my life, the term “quarantine” finally came out ofliterature and was imposed upon our reality.
It was a new experience for me. Suddenly I had almost nothing to do. . In London, I had to do all my groceries, cooking, cleaning, washing and other day to day activities. These chores are really just means of passing time.. Exclude these chores from life, and you are left with ample time for daily life.
Staying inside a hotel in my own city with excess free time caused an obvious loneliness in my life. The window of the room was my only interaction with the outer world in this strict, imposed, isolated quarantine period.
My first day passed by staring at my city through the window. The landscape of that newly developed extended part of Kolkata was new to me. Once upon a time, that area was known as Rajarhat and covered by paddy fields. The tide of globalisation and extreme urbanisation reformed the lands and left a forest of concrete. I used to prepare coffee in the electric kettle and keep gazing the cityscape.
I am a bookworm. There were two unread books in my luggage. I unpacked the suitcase and pulled them out. I pulled the chair to the window and started reading them one by one. The entire day I completed reading those two books. Though the entire day passed with the books, at 3 AM, just before going to the bed, my brain notified me, “Amlan, there is no unread book in your stock.”
I got up after midday. After having lunch, I called my friend, got his Netflix details and started binge watching web series. In a series, I found a prisoner looking at destiny. A blue light was coming through the window of the jail. Somehow, I could relate to him. His situation was analogous to mine. He was a war prisoner and thus his hands were tied in chains. I was also a different type of war prisoner – the war with the unseen enemy of mankind. While was thrown into jail and I was destined to live in a gilded cage.
I am a travel blogger. On the fourth day morning, I picked up my notebook and started writing about my travel stories. It was a cloudy morning. But somehow a magnificent light was coming from the window. The cloud covered sky of Bengal catalyzed the stories to be born.
It was a rainy day. I pulled out a bottle of whiskey that I had purchased from the duty free shop of the airport, opened it and made pegs. Within a few minutes the drops of rain made the view of my city hazy and within a few hours my vision got blurred.
Quality time passes like a rocket but bad times take too long. It was a long wait. Gradually I was getting impatient. I called my elder brother. He advised me to play a card game called “Solitaire.” Thankfully, I always carry a set of cards whenever I go abroad. I made myself engaged in the card game.
Finally, the last day arrived! . I was tremendously excited. I did the packing early and eagerly waited for day-break. At long last I was home.