I’ve gotten a lot of questions about life in India under the lockdown, so I thought it was worth a post. Happily, I can report my experience of lockdown resembles most people’s all over the world in being extremely freaking boring.
Lockdown actually started for me a week earlier than it did for the rest of India. On my way to work one morning, a random white guy getting out of his car coughed directly on me without covering his mouth. And at the time that some U.S. officials were calling it the Chinese coronavirus, in India it was basically considered the Italian virus. So while I didn’t know if this random white guy was Italian, he easily could have been, so it was pretty alarming, to me and the coworkers I told. By the next Monday, I was feeling pretty under the weather (almost certainly the result of a vicious two-day hangover) so in an abundance of caution I was told to work from home for the week.
Little did I know I had been to work for the last time. The next Sunday, the prime minister ordered a one-day trial lockdown. At the end of the day, we were instructed to go out on our porches to bang pots and pans and cheer on health care workers. This was quickly followed by an announcement that the lockdown would be extended for two weeks. There was now a curfew between 7 pm and 6 am, we were restricted to staying within 3 km of our homes, and we were not to go out except for essential errands.
One of the larger personal effects of the lockdown was that my maid/cook could no longer come to my apartment. Having to spend the next few weeks relearning how to do laundry, dishes, and mop a floor will hopefully soften the transition of my eventual return to the U.S. Also the substitution of bowls of cereal for my amazing South Indian breakfasts led to an impressive seven-pound weight loss in the first week. Some of that might also have been water weight, since I had no A/C and, with the lockdown in place, no way of buying one as the temperatures climbed.
Violating the lockdown was definitely not advised. Our company initially tried to continue our in-home medical testing as an essential service, but then one of our phlebotomists was beaten by the police and the Chief Minister of the state told the press, “If people will not listen to the police, I will ask for army deployment, and shoot-at-sight orders will be issued.” (He also instructed the director of the police to arrest anybody who mocked the balcony-clapping on social media, but thankfully neither of these things happened). And while as a white foreigner I was unlikely to be beaten, shot, or arrested, a group of tourists who took a walk were sentenced to write “I am very sorry” 500 times. I know that all sounds pretty dire, but for me, things were still pretty cushy: After the initial chaos, food delivery was restored (as was our phlebotomy services) and I had my virtual reality room to go basically anywhere without ever leaving the house.
I was in no way worried for my health or safety (and I hope that the lockdown will be effective in controlling the spread of COVID-19 in India). But the rising temperature of my apartment, the demise of my plans to travel in and around India, and the uncertainty of when I’d ever be able to get a flight home to be with my family led me to decide to try to get on a U.S. repatriation flight. So tune in next time for the exciting next chapter of this story: Exodus.