Lockdown: Indian Students in the UK (Part Two)
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 two.
Nishant studies Bachelor of Laws at the University of Lancaster.
I am an Indian student studying at the University of Lancaster. In the last week of my second term (March 2020), India declared a national lockdown and I was stranded in the UK. Luckily, I have my elder brother studying in Edinburgh at the University of Edinburgh. After finishing the last week of my second term, I packed my entire belongings and stored most of my luggage in a storage facility at Lancaster. I took a train to Edinburgh to stay with my brother. At that time, even the UK had declared a lockdown and so the whole train was almost empty. An empty train felt very weird, but it was a good thing for me as I could maintain distance from other people and take two seats for myself.
My brother stays in an apartment with three other friends. In the beginning week of my stay in Edinburgh, we were allowed to play in the Meadows. We used to play football with a few more of my brother's friends. But then the UK government imposed a stricter lockdown to control the spread of the virus and the Meadows were closed. So, my brother, his friends and I occupied ourselves with other fun activities in the apartment. We played poker with fake money at night and most of the time I had luck towards my side. We sometimes cooked pasta from scratch or chicken gravy for everyone. We used to go bulk shopping together in a friend's car and store food for at least a month.
My online classes started after a month's break. I had to watch pre-recorded videos and then attend my seminars. But most of my time used went in watching Netflix. I had my exams in a few weeks. During that time even my brother and his friends got busy with their exams, so I started going for morning jogs to Blackford Hill. In no time, two and a half months passed by. It was then that the Indian government started the “Vande Bharat Mission”, to help Indians stranded outside of India, to travel back to India. My brother and I registered for travel. We asked for help wherever we could. We contacted our Uncle who stays in Edinburgh to recommend our names to the Embassy. From India, our parents were contacting the government to bring us back home. As soon as the mission started, a week later we were given tickets to fly back home and we didn’t miss it.
Once we reached Chennai, India, we were quarantined for seven days in a government-recommended hotel. On the first day, they took a swab test and declared us negative the same day. On the seventh day, we had to give another swab test, which again tested negative. For those seven days, we did not leave our rooms. We were provided with food on our doorstep. For all the seven days my routine was fixed: eat, sleep, watch Netflix, and eat again. The first two or three days were fun, later it got mundane.
Once we got out of the hotel, our parents had booked a taxi for us to go back home. Our home was at least 500 kilometres away and on the way, we had to stop at six police checkpoints, to provide our purpose of travel. After all of that, we finally reached home.
Chandiya studies Engineering at the University of Edinburgh.
The lockdown placed on 16th of March probably had the most impact on my life. I couldn’t even experience 5% of my University life that semester. It was my first year to have been away from my parents. I returned to India only in June when COVID-19 cases were rising in India, which I did not mind because of the food and the poor quality of living I was given in the UK.
I stayed at catered accommodation, which should have been a better situation for the lockdown, but that wasn’t the case. Since it was catered, I did not have access to a kitchen which was a great disadvantage because the only food I was receiving was a sandwich and a snack for breakfast and dinner. With no lunch provided, it meant that I had to starve for a meal every day.
As days passed, I started to get ready-made foods by ordering through Tesco’s delivery services but again the food started to cause me problems since I was eating too many instant foods and that was not healthy. The four months in lockdown put me and my family through things we never thought we’d have to face. Long story short, it was a bad time. Long story short, I survived.
Jayawanti studies at the University of Edinburgh.
On the 12th of March, there was widespread information all over my country on the closing of colleges due to the spread of the life-threatening coronavirus that put the world to a standstill for months to come. My worried parents had asked me to come back home for my safety. I, being a student of this esteemed University, decided to continue my classes and insisted to my parents that the University take all the measures to ensure the safety of its students.
The very next day there was an announcement from the Vice-principal, that the final exams were to be cancelled and that international students were allowed to travel back home. By now the government of India had released a statement saying “All the flights from the UK will be cancelled from the 18th of March onwards’. I was in an oblivious state of mind as I had less than a day not only to pull myself together but to also pack up my entire stuff and travel to Glasgow in a cab as no flights were leaving from Edinburgh to India. Finally, I boarded the flight from Glasgow to Chennai via Dubai.
When I reached Dubai, I had to wait for 8 hours for my connecting flight back home. This unusual situation made me fear being stuck in an airport, something that I had never felt before. There were flights before mine which were meant to leave for India but they were cancelled. I considered myself extremely fortunate because my flight wasn’t cancelled. I was able to reach home safely and was asked to self-quarantine for 28 days with a notice stuck in front of my house. This was an experience like no other and I am eternally grateful to everyone that took utmost care in bringing me back home safely.
This piece was edited by Pranavi Hiremath and Tamara El-Halawani.