Lockdown: Indian Students in the UK (Part One)
With artwork by Lowri Evans, Pranavi Hiremath asked five of her friends from India about their first lockdown experiences. They share some remarkable stories. Here is part one.
Manab Mohanty studies Computer Science at the University of Edinburgh
This year has been a ride for everyone, hasn't it? Many people will walk out with a story to tell, many will not be able to walk out at all. I was one of the early ones to contract the virus and the fact that I was able to live through it, came as a pleasant surprise to all the people I know back in my county in India.
I remember back when I was 16, an astrologer was contacted because my father truly felt helpless about me. My exams in 10th grade were given way too much importance in life and now I find it funny that someone who reads stars and the lines on your palms was recruited to reassure my father that I’m going to be alright. He’d said one thing which I remember to this day, “When this guy hits 20, life is going to change forever for him. It’s up to him whether he walks out as a stronger successful person, or just starts to spiral out of control.” Yes, very dramatic. The funniest part is, this happened. I remembered all this to double-check what happens in 4-5 years.
I got covid back when it was informally called ‘the coronavirus’ and it was just before I turned 20. Like everyone, I had booked flights in a hurry. My flight was 11 hours later from when I booked it, so obviously, my stuff had to see the worst of me. They were packed in a swift and nonsensical fashion, which I regretted when I came back again to open it up. I flew through Amsterdam- New Delhi- Bhubaneswar, a total of 30+ hours and I was so tired that I must have lost some weight. When I reached home, usually I would touch my father’s feet but this year none of that happened. This right here was the hardest thing which people are still going through. The world has changed and suddenly hugs and kisses are now weapons and not visiting family and friends is an act of love. Humans have been put into cages. We are animals now, spiralling out of control, but life goes on. I was checked at the airports obviously and I did not show any symptoms, so I could go back home. I started getting a fever and so the next day, my father took me to the hospital where I was tested. He insisted I get tested even if I did not have symptoms, just to be safe.
The world has changed and suddenly hugs and kisses are now weapons and not visiting family and friends is an act of love. Humans have been put into cages. We are animals now, spiralling out of control, but life goes on.
The worst thing was, there was only one guy before me who had been tested positive in my city and he was all over the news. My father also happens to be the superintendent of the hospital I was tested at. This was to my disadvantage if I tested positive as I would get into a lot of conflicts. And that is exactly what happened. Some people made up this story of how I was already in town for 10 days before I got tested and I was going around spreading the virus- even though I reached home on the 18th of March and got tested on the 19th. My family and I were all over the news and not in a great light. There was a lot of victim-shaming. That is what covid does; it makes you the bad guy. After even making it to the national news as someone who deliberately was spreading covid- escaping the law (otherwise how will the media get a story out of it) and after getting a lot of heat from people on my social media and threats to hang me and my family- I thought I will never get out of this. During all of this, while I was put into a hospital room for 14 days where no one would even come close to me, I did not feel human.
The worst thing was, there was only one guy before me who had been tested positive in my city and he was all over the news...Some people made up this story of how I was already in town for 10 days before I got tested and I was going around spreading the virus...There was a lot of victim shaming.
I came back home just two days before my birthday. I was so embarrassed and scared to be in my own home. The entire aspect of Covid disappeared into the background and everyone just saw me as a criminal. After having explained everything on my social media and to the government, with my boarding pass and other things I could put forth- the people who wanted to see the truth understood what had happened - the rest did not.
Keeping aside all that, I had one of the best birthdays of my life. Never did I want to meet my family so desperately- the 14 days in the hospital felt longer than the year I spent at University. It was all so poetic and film-like. I eventually had trouble sleeping and had some problems like anxiety and PTSD, took medication for a while but eventually, everything seemed to get better. It always feels like it is never going to get better, but it always does. Time heals everything, doesn’t it?
I eventually had trouble sleeping and had some problems like anxiety and PTSD, took medication for a while but eventually, everything seemed to get better.
This would have never happened had it not been for the pandemic. The year I’ve had is something I would never wish upon others, but I’ve always been very optimistic and I genuinely feel much more strength now than I did at the beginning of the year and that’s the point of life. Whatever happens, might not be easy, but is important.
Lasya Priyanjani Galla: BA Fashion Design at the University of Leeds.
It was a normal weekend when I suddenly got an email saying that my University was temporarily closing and the whole country was going under a strict lockdown due to COVID-19. As an international student, I could only travel back home three months later. After going through so much trouble, I was alone in Leeds and India had cancelled all flights. There was so much stress about buying groceries and stocking up before the spread of the virus got too severe and it was unbelievable that life came to such a sudden pause, especially during the most important years of my life.
Although I was a person who was isolated from her classmates, a part of me was pretty relieved when the lockdown began. The first days were a time of high motivation and effort on keeping up with the trend of learning a new skill. I would sketch, design, practice embroidery, and do lots of other things. These days also included movie marathons, long calls, and lots of eating. As I already said, I was very comfortable staying in my room and worrying about nothing. But nobody can keep passing days without a motive for tomorrow. I could have been a carefree person and enjoyed the beautiful springtime, being safe like a lot of my friends did, but I didn’t. I instead, unintentionally, began to reassess my personality and of course, at my age, such reassessments lead to overthinking. For me, overthinking or reassessing did not mean “rising from the ashes like a phoenix”, but it was just a realisation that broke me down and made me scared of entering my classrooms again or worse, entering the world and facing it. The days that came, once the days of high motivation dissolved, included all the overthinking. They just continued and they still seem to persist.
The days that came, once the days of high motivation dissolved, included all the overthinking. They just continued and they still seem to persist.
My lockdown experience wasn’t an Instagram fairy tale but was rather the opposite. Once India set up emergency flights for Indians away from their home, to get on to the list of one of the flights that was close to my city was another stressful thing to do. After a long two-week process of requesting contacts to help me out, I finally got on the flight and was able to travel back to India. But again, there were so many further complications while travelling, being quarantined at a hotel and getting tested once I was in India. It was a psychologically distressing time, awaiting the results of the virus tests and financially as well because of the high expense of being quarantined in a hygienic place. But I got through all of that and was able to go home safe, after a week of being quarantined. When I came back home, I was full of fear, regret, and a strong desire to change myself. Since then, every step I have taken, with the help of my parents, was towards a more confident me. I am still at home and still overthinking but for the first time in so long, I finally feel that maybe I can actually do it. I have to see the beauty and strength of what I already can do and develop in that. Now that I have some positivity blooming in my life when I am at the most comfortable place I can be, home, it feels like I needed this. This whole time was necessary for me to come out as a better person and fearlessly face the world.
Pranavi Hiremath studies Astrophysics at the University of Edinburgh.
The year took an unusual turn that left me alone in a country far from my own. Stuck in a room under unpredictable circumstances, as it felt that way during the initial emergence of the virus in the UK. The flights were cancelled as swiftly as the lockdown was announced. I had only two days if I wanted to catch a flight home, which meant packing everything I had and finding a place to keep them until I came back. But travelling wasn’t the best option for me because it meant exposing myself to the virus and its consequential uncertainty at the time. So, I decided to stay.
The first week consisted of long calls with my parents - they were also trying to contact everyone they knew in the UK for advice. They were worried about what the future would hold and how long I would have to stay in a room since even India went into lockdown and organising repatriation flights was still in debate. My whole flat was empty. All my flatmates, fortunately, were able to get back home safely. They were kind enough to let me use any groceries they had bought. Which saved me from going to the store to stock up. The week was tough considering I was alone and was stuck in, what felt like unforeseeable circumstances.
But it was only for that week since I was then invited to stay with a lovely family in Eyemouth. Mr and Mrs Pawley and their two dogs. They saved me from my four walls, and I was taken to a home. From a dreadful three months I would have had, then to be taken to the most beautiful town with a beach, a river, and a forest, living with the kindest and generous people. And the best part of it all, I have to say was the dogs!
They saved me from my four walls, and I was taken to a home.
It was three months of eating food I never had before: homemade scones, tarts, quiche, apple pie and so much more. Watching so many movies. Learning so many new things from them not only about the town, about the UK and their experience in India not only gave me an insight into a culture that wasn’t mine but also a deeper insight into the culture I grew up in. Learning about their lives and listening to their wonderful experiences and stories made me happy. During the times when we were allowed to go on walks, we took long walks in the forest, to the river, along the shore, up the hills to the most beautiful views.
In three months they became family. I am so thankful to them for their care and for letting me be a part of their life. Also for tolerating me for all the times I woke up late (which was pretty much every day), me being messy and clumsy.
I am so thankful to them for their care and for letting me be a part of their life...I consider myself extremely lucky.
All-in-all despite the fear and unpredictability that the pandemic induced for me and considering how much worse others had to go through all over the world, I consider myself extremely lucky. I am filled with gratitude to have had an experience that I will carry with me for my entire life, which I wouldn’t have had if it weren’t for the pandemic.
This piece was edited by Pranavi Hiremath and Tamara El-Halawani.