‘My 5-Day Bus Ride From Delhi to Assam Met All Safety Protocols’
We were not allowed to travel at night, 11 pm to 4 am to be specific and that impeded our journey.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown has impacted everyone's life and mine was no different. I had quit my job in March and my notice was slated to end in the first week of May. Over those six weeks, India moved from one lockdown to the next as the world moved from one uncertainty to the next.
I had adjusted to the norms of the lockdown and the new dynamics of work from home (WFH). I was coping with the new ‘normal’ that was imposed on us. But things changed after my last day of work. I had almost nothing to do and the too much free time I had in my hand turned out to be a bane.
I was waiting for flights to restart and when they didn’t, I decided to become ‘atmanirbhar’ (self-dependant) and planned on making a move towards going home.
I got in touch with a person I know in the Delhi Police who told me that a couple of journalists from Assam who are based out of Delhi, along with the Assam Bhawan and an NGO named Shristi had been working for the Assamese people stranded in Delhi and were sending them back home on buses. They had sent a few buses until then and I was told they were going to send a few more in the coming week. This is how it began for me.
I contacted Pranjal Das and Saraswat Goswami, journalists who are from Assam and are currently working for the Assamese people who were stranded in Delhi. They told me about the bus, the fare and asked me to pay and confirm my seat. Upon confirmation, I was told that the bus would be leaving Delhi on Friday, 22 May. That was a sigh of relief!
Everything was in place and then came Cyclone Amphan. For a minute I felt that my plan of going home would fall flat in front of nature's fury. Thankfully, it didn't! Things got postponed by a day and we were all set to leave Delhi on Saturday, 23 May.
The Journey Begins
The organisers had made a WhatsApp group, where all the important instructions and updates were shared with the group of 88 travellers.
We were instructed to assemble at Delhi Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences & Research at Badarpur-Mehrauli Road, where we underwent a round of thermal screening before we were allowed to board our buses. We were done with the procedure around 5 pm and we boarded the bus at around 7 pm.
The journey was a life changing experience. I was accompanied with 25-odd people. Each of them had either come to Delhi just before the surprise lockdown was announced or had gotten stuck for one reason or the other. There were a few students who were stuck because of the end-semester breaks. The two people who stood out were this old couple in their late 60s. Their resilience, determination and motivation to travel over 2,000 kms was something that was inspiring.
We travelled from Delhi to Guwahati, across Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal. We were not allowed to travel at night, 11 pm to 4 am to be specific and that impeded our journey.
We had to halt and make sure everything was fine throughout the night. Those 4-5 hours were the most crucial hours of the day.
We spent the first night on Delhi-Noida-Direct flyway. The heat was unbearable and people from the buses which were stranded had all come out and were roaming outside. Five hours, that night, felt like a fortnight for sure.
The cops were providing food and drinking water to the people at the border and was a sweet gesture. There was also a car on the other side of the road, where a couple of people were distributing food packets, biscuits along with drinking water.
Amid a crisis, Good Samaritans make things appear to be less tough and give a feeling that one is not entirely alone.
Unfiltered Late Night Conversations and More
The second night was spent on a petrol pump near the UP-Bihar border. I was up almost throughout the night, along with a couple of my co-passengers. One of the drivers was up too and all of us were engaged in random conversations, just to kill the time and make it to the other side of the night. It was a fun thing to do and was kind of a ice-breaker of sorts.
They say crisis brings out the best in a person, and that night it brought out aspects of our lives which we never thought we would discuss.
“I never imagined that I would ever engage in a conversation, with a bunch of people, on a deserted petrol pump, in a different state amid a pandemic.”
Each bus had two drivers and a support staff member. The journey was divided between the two drivers to ensure things went smoothly. We used to stop twice a day for food, once in the morning and once in the evening. In the morning, we used to halt for breakfast and stoppage for the rest of the day.
In the evening, we used to stop for tea and people used to get their dinners packed. That gave us more time on the road, before halting a little while before midnight.
Everyone in the bus co-operated and were comfortable in having their meals on the bus. Times were tough and the some measures had to be tougher.
There was a little bit of fear, anxiety in the minds of the people and an uneasy calm had prevailed over the entire journey. All the passengers were confined to their seats for most of the journey except when they had to get down from the bus.
All norms of social distancing were strictly adhered to and everyone had taken utmost care of themselves.
Everyone knew the importance of safety and none of them took things lightly. And yes, all one could see were masked faces with eyes that had different stories to tell.
Passing the time in the bus was quiet challenging for some. Before we boarded, we were told to take the trip with the seriousness it deserves as it was not a picnic, but an evacuation. Hence, people were mostly confined to their seats almost throughout the journey. Distancing, of all sorts, were at play. The bus drivers played songs on their bluetooth speakers as we zoomed through the highway and that acted as a perfect distraction for me.
“I remember, once they had played an old Mohammad Rafi song and I had felt a calmness within me, which I can’t possibly describe now. Music is therapeutic, they said, and now I simply wouldn’t beg to differ.”
We reached Srirampur, West Bengal on 26 May. After completing the formalities and the paper work, we moved towards Guwahati. We were escorted by police vehicles, which changed in each district and by noon we had entered Sarusajai Stadium, Guwahati. Reaching that place was the ticking off the penultimate item of the travel itinerary.
The Final Leg
At Sarusajai, we took buses to our respective districts. I spoke to the authorities and arranged for a bus that would take us to Jorhat, my hometown. The last leg of the journey was very arduous and painful, for lack of a better word.
The food which we had packed was almost over and we had almost negligible access to toilets, but somehow we managed.
After we entered Jorhat on 27 May, we were taken for our swab test after which we were sent for quarantine. I was filled with a sense of victory and accomplishment. I checked the WhatsApp group and could read the messages from all the co-passengers who were updating about their whereabouts. There was a sense of victory that was prevalent in the conversations that highlighted the happiness of making it back home amid a pandemic.
Christopher Nolan had said in Dunkirk that at the point of annihilation, survival is victory and we had survived to tell the tale. We were one of the few who had tasted the sweet taste of victory of making it back home at a point where going home is tough and staying home is a luxury for some.
(All 'My Report' branded stories are submitted by citizen journalists to The Quint. Though The Quint inquires into the claims/allegations from all parties before publishing, the report and the views expressed above are the citizen journalist's own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for the same.)
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