The travel woes
K S S Pillai
One section of the society that has been badly affected by the outbreak of the current pandemic is the travelling public. Gone are the days when a person could suddenly decide on a journey, pack his bag and proceed to the railway station to catch his train. The worst that could happen was that he would have to travel in an overcrowded compartment without reservation.
There was always the possibility that an obliging TTE could find a vacant berth on the way and offer it to him, usually for a consideration. If the journey was urgent, he could always contact a travel agent, get a flight ticket, and reach his destination in a few hours. If his presence was not required for a prolonged period, he could return the next day.
Same was the case with non-resident Indians. They could plan their annual home visit well in advance, and load suitcases with gifts for friends and relatives, who would compete with one another to be part of the ‘reception committee’ that would receive them with open hands at the airport back home. It is another matter that their eyes would be on the bevy of suitcases, speculating what they would contain for them.
The pandemic has changed all that. First, there was complete a lockdown, bringing all kinds of movement of people and goods to a grinding halt for several days. When travel restrictions were lifted gradually, there was total confusion. While children, senior citizens, and people with ‘morbidity’ were asked to remain at home, others, apprehensive of contracting the disease during a journey, dared to venture out only if it was unavoidable.
The normal train and air services were replaced with ‘special’ ones with several constraints imposed on the passengers to see that only the desperate ones thought of a long journey. Many persons connected with the tourism industry, be it travel agents, hotel employees, taxi drivers, or tourist guides, became jobless overnight, forcing many of them to change their profession to earn their livelihood.
Several taxis, auto-rickshaws, and buses went off the road, as the number of passengers allowed was restricted, making it uneconomical to ply their trade. Those who used to commute to their places of work by trains or buses were forced to form groups and hire private vehicles, exposing them to the risk of contracting the disease and making them spend extra.
The air passengers were in no better position. They were required to carry several documents, including a report that showed they were Covid negative. They had to follow several other protocols like wearing a mask, getting thermal screening before boarding a flight and on arrival, and downloading a particular app on their mobile phone. Since many airlines did not provide inflight meals, they had also to carry their food and drinking water.
While the central government issued guidelines about travelling, the state governments and local administrative bodies made their own rules, depending on the severity of the disease in their area. On arrival, a traveller could be whisked away to an isolation centre and compelled to remain there for varying periods.
Those who used to travel by road with the whole family, especially during vacations, were forced to change their plans. There was the possibility of harassment by cops checking on road travellers, uncertainty about the availability of food and other essentials on the way, and even getting accommodation in hotels.
Now, even on occasions like weddings and deaths, when the presence of the whole family is expected, one is forced to travel alone. To add insult to injury, not only is the old bonhomie missing on your arrival after undergoing untold hardship, but you are also looked upon as a carrier of a load of coronavirus and shunned.
(The author is a retired professor of English. A regular contributor to The Kashmir Vision, he can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org)