19 Sep 2020, 10:00 — 7 min read
When I landed in USA on 8 March 2020, for a three-week short stay with my dear son and daughter-in-law, I did not realise, I will be watching Alex Tribecht’s Jeopardy and walking in the desolated parking lot of our apartment complex at Raleigh North Carolina, for the next four months.
However, I am the person who takes adversity as an opportunity and do everything to make best use of the situation at hand!
That was perhaps one of the best periods in my life enjoying the hospitality of my son and daughter-in-law and the sounds of the Red Cardinal birds that used to visit me in our balcony.
I heard the word ‘lockdown’ the very next day I reached Raleigh travelling from distant Coimbatore. Initially the meaning did not sink in me but to support the lockdown, started wearing mask and kept washing my hands each time I touched anything.
Slowly the months rolled, my hands became whiter and whiter due to the constant washing, and I also got busy with my work but was also wondering when the Delta Airlines will resume.
I started hearing the term ‘Vande Bharat’ every now and then from my friends who had come to USA much earlier than me and were worried about their Visa status and for their eagerness to taste the idli sambar that they seem to be missing. For me it was all homemade ice-creams, croissants and the rest!
So, it all happened suddenly with a Tweet sent by me to a person whose name I heard for the first time. He sent me a return message to send him my details so that he can help me get a ticket in Air India. I did not believe my ears (because it was all through phone) when someone from Air India called me next day and asked me when I would like to travel back to Coimbatore. Mind you, it was in the politest of the tones coming from some official!
Felt a little proud of receiving such a VIP treatment when my friends and their entire families were busy trying to sign-in into the Air India Website. I was given a link to make the payment and yes, I did have some worries as it was not a small amount. It all vanished when I received the ticket by mail and also a call from this faceless gentleman who had helped me without even bothering to know who I am.
Thank you so much Mr Prem Bhandari for your gesture and support. Thank you to the Air India officials especially Ms Sonia who helped me to book the ticket.
A word about Mr Prem Bhandari – a senior gentleman residing in New York for decades and is a crusader for the cause of India. I later learnt that the day I tweeted him was his birthday too. So he gave me a return gift in a way! We are now great friends and are in touch.
From Raleigh I travelled to New Jersey, my sister sprayed me and my entire luggage with all brands of sanitisers, before we entered her house and dropped me at the airport the next day.
On reaching the Newark Airport, I was dismayed to find a long queue waiting to get in. It was all Indian faces all around and everyone was going to be my co-passengers. Social-Distancing? What is that? I took a survey of who is wearing a mask and guessing who could be sitting next to me with a worry whether Corona will be looking for me in the crowd.
Oh, I forgot. I am a Wheel Chair Passenger as I tried to prove to my wife that I do have a backbone. So, you can understand the challenge I was facing. Who will lift the luggage because in USA it is self-service all through. Who will bring the Wheel Chair?
Help appeared from nowhere in the form of a young guy who later turned out to be a person from Coimbatore and working in a leading Airline in the Airport and was volunteering help. Why should I spot him and he should also see me at the same moment, God only knows? He rushed towards me and without even asking me, brought a trolley, called the Air India staff for a Wheel Chair and in few minutes I was in the Airport. I was speaking to him in Hindi and English and it was music to my ears when he asked me ‘Are you from Tamil Nadu’?
It was all professional to the core. Boarding was in order, food trays, water, face shields, masks, sanitiser all available at our seats. No jostling, no pushing and I was thanking Corona for imparting a sense of discipline in all of us, as we stood in parallel queues.
While the normal check-in time was anywhere from 45 minutes to 90 minutes, I was at the gate in about 15 minutes thanks to Mr Juby, my new friend.
As you see, we always start with misgivings. Will the plane take off in time, will the toilets be clean, will the staff be polite, will there be good service, will there be proper sanitary measures? These were all the doubts I also had like any other person.
My misgivings were short-lived. It was all professional to the core. Boarding was in order, food trays and water, face shields, masks, sanitiser all ready and available at our seats. No jostling, no pushing and I was thanking Corona for imparting a sense of discipline in all of us, as we stood in parallel queues.
So, it was an uneventful journey, devoid of video, only packed food, no beverages but on the whole, the safety factor was paramount.
Hats off to Air India.
My notes will not be complete until I say a great thanks to Hotel Somerset, Chennai and the staff there, who took care of me during the seven-day mandatory quarantine.
Our Government, Our Embassy, Our National Carrier and above all the Minister responsible under the guidance of our PM, have done a great job transporting hundreds of thousands of Indian nationals, despite the uncertainty of the current situation. A big salute for their efforts.
Also read: Work from home: How to handle it?
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