What were you doing when the Mayur Vihar man tested positive for the coronavirus in March 2020? Our news group buzzed with developments, almost a minute-by-minute tracking of the 'case', the 'contact history', the travel details of the 'case', and the likely impact on the newsroom. My office got sanitiser bottles installed at all gates and common areas as people went about their lives, clueless of what was to come.
The Noida sky was a dark, menacing grey that afternoon. Then it broke apart. We stepped out of the glass building to catch a glimpse of this seasonable rain. And boy did it rain that day! I looked at the watch. I was counting minutes till the clock struck 7. Time to go home. A big international trip. There were still a few hours before my flight to Cairo via Bahrain.
Coronavirus has moved from the third headline to burrowing its way into our DNA. (Photo: Reuters)
I came back to the desk and the heavy door slammed shut, silencing the thunder. There were still a few things to sign off before I took off. A Conclave was due the next week, a Women's Day programme that was on downstairs, a few emails to respond to, and then there was a news flash: Egypt registers 12 new coronavirus cases on Nile cruise ship.
The cruise ship was on its way to Luxor from Aswan. We were to go to Aswan from Luxor. On a cruise ship. In Egypt. It was only a matter of a few seconds before that screenshot of that headline hit our travel group. The trip leader sent it. He also mentioned that the trip was on, but if anyone wanted to back out, they could. The money stood forfeited.
At this point, the Mayur Vihar coronavirus case was the third headline on our website. Yes, the virus had reached the capital, but who cared, right?
There was no time to buy masks. By the time I reached the society store, sanitisers had been wiped off the shelves. It was the only weapon against this unknown virus. It was the only facade of protection we knew.
There were no masks to be found anywhere. An unused surgical mask from an Urban Company beautician's visit home came in handy. A colleague had mercy on me and got a bottle of sanitiser. I was armed for the trip.
Our flight from Delhi did take off that night. Some of the other travellers from Mumbai were not as lucky. Some others developed cold feet right before stepping out. This motley group of travellers finally converged in Cairo, a few hours after the scheduled time, and we took a long look at each other to take each other in. These people had actually thrown caution to the wind to travel. That realisation also helped some of us travel better. Some of us had that tingly feeling at the back of our head that maybe this was the last international trip in a while. Some of us also had to battle apprehensions after the touchdown.
Coronavirus climbed the charts and got itself a name: Covid-19. (Photo: Reuters)
It has been a year since that trip. I have been into a hazmat suit, travelled in an ambulance, and spent 3 days at a Covid isolation ward. That test result is now safe within the pages of my passport, tucked away in a drawer. I have not needed to take it out in a year.
Coronavirus has moved from the third headline to burrowing its way into our DNA. It has taken away two colleagues. It has messed up mental health. It has driven wedges between families. It has brought people closer. It gave India the worst job crisis for its middle-class migrant. It killed migrant workers on their way back home. It slapped a screen in between friends, killed conversations, made us all not want to look at each other on video calls, and for the ones lucky enough to have retained their jobs, pushed us into isolation. Coronavirus climbed the charts and got itself a name: Covid-19. It is '21. The virus, as we know it, isn't going anywhere. Life, as we know it, isn't returning to where it was.
Today, Singapore has a business travel bubble in place. The Covid-19 virus has various variants. Flights are flying full. International travel is still restricted but the Maldives might need to add islands to accommodate visitors from Mumbai. We wear colour-coordinated masks from a 20k Louis Vuitton to 50-for-100 surgical ones. A second (third?) wave might be upon us. We have lost count of the doomsday theories and the apocalypse predictors. There are two homegrown vaccines. We have swapped smiles with a nod, hugs with an eyebrow dance. We have crawled back into the office, trepidation in tow. We have survived one year.
The Mayur Vihar man is fine. The Corona dashboard has been replaced by a T20 cricket match scorecard. Four states and a Union Territory are going to polls this month. The PM saw people march to the Brigade Ground in Kolkata yesterday. It is a new March. A march to the end of the tunnel. Mask on.