Coronavirus and Indian racism

On the evening of the 18th of March, having been nearly 2 months in India and in the midst of full scale coronavirus panic, I flew to Bangalore for my return flight to the UK on the 22nd.

On the plane out of Cochin I was already beginning to miss the shops and little restaurants of Azad Rd in Cochin’s suburb of Kaloor. I’d made many acquaintances and enjoyed their company. They are a friendly and generous lot.

The hostel that likes to practise racism

PK and I arrived at our Bangalore hostel and checked in. We’d stayed in Social Rehab Downtown before and it was close to where I needed to be for appointments, so we stayed again.

Due to the universal panic over COVID-19, the coronavirus, I tried to check my return flight. After a short lifetime on hold I was connected with an Air France agent who informed me the flight had been cancelled. He could either refund the money or book me out on the 31st, if it was flying. If I chose the flight of the 31st I would not be able to claim a refund if that flight was cancelled. No brainer really – “Give me my money back”.

As the ticket was an eTicket I couldn’t understand why a notice hadn’t been sent out via email informing passengers that the flight had been cancelled due to coronavirus restrictions. It would have been polite and simple enough.

On the night of the 19th India’s Mr Modhi gave a speech at 20:00 local time to the nation. During the course of which he (like everyone else in the world) recommended that people stay put, try not to go out etc etc.

Following that, the owner of Social Rehab Downtown told all white-skinned travellers that we would have to leave the following day. The Indian residents were welcome to stay as was a mature French lady of about my age who happens to be dark skinned and appears a bit Indian to the eye. It doesn’t take a lot to realise this was a racist decision that directly contravened the health authority’s recommendations and was probably illegal.

More panic set in. I tried to appeal for help from my friends down near Mangalore. A million excuses. Busses out of Bangalore being cancelled. Eventually I found a flight back to Cochin. We enquired on the airport customer services line whether a UK citizen would be allowed to fly and were told “no problem”.

Booked the flight!

Get the hell out of the racism. I was wrong. The taxi driver that took PK and I to the airport asked in kanada (the local language) where I was from. He was told “UK”. At which point the man looked at me in the mirror and said “put mask on”.

I got a tad annoyed “Oh what? I have white skin and I come from the UK so I must have coronavirus? I think that’s a racist remark”.
“Put mask on.”
“I haven’t got a mask.”
I was all for stopping the car and getting out.

The driver shut up and directed his unwanted comments at PK.

90% of Bangalore airport passengers had masks on. Would have be a great day to knock over a few of the restaurant cash tills. The flight back to Cochin was uneventful.

Kerala state are screening all people entering the state. I’d found that out on the Consulate’s website. If there was going to be a problem, this is where it would be.

Boarding card stamped with health authority VERIFIED
Boarding card stamped with health authority VERIFIED

The screening was done efficiently and fairly rapidly. Indian passengers passed directly through after their screening, foreigners had to fill in a form detailing nationality, address in India, contact number – that kind of thing. One question was “what countries have you visited in the last 28 days that has coronavirus?” I put “India”.

The medical officer told me that I was free to enter and that there were no restrictions on me. Also I was to try and avoid large crowds and to keep contact to a minimum. All logical and the same as every country is saying.

The Uber cab dropped us at the house. We dumped the bags. The neighbour (normally a nice man) stuck his head out to see who was entering the flat. He appeared angry and fired off some malayalam (Kerala’s language). PK said it was rude and knocked on the man’s door to see what the problem was. The man declined to answer.

As I’d been told that there were no restrictions on me, we went down to our little dhaba for some much needed grub. Rajkumar, the owner, was delighted to see me back but also saddened that the flight had been cancelled. I had wonderful light fluffy chapatis with a channa dal curry (chickpeas, garbonzo) and bought water to take home.

During the course of the supper PK got a phone call from the house owner “what are you doing back and what’s he doing back?” He’d received a phone call that his white, corona carrying tennat was out on the streets. It was explained to him that we are paid up until the 11th of April and that my flight had been cancelled due to the general pandemonium and that we’d been screened at the airport. He wasn’t a happy bunny, and I suppose he thought I was having a ball? “Tell him to stay inside.”

Now let’s look at the logic: I’ve been here in this flat for slightly over 6 weeks. I’ve eaten in the local hotels, I’ve shopped in the local shops, I drink chaya at the road side. I’ve talked to the people I regularly bump into. They interact with me and are friendly.

Suddenly people that don’t know me are reporting to the owner. There’s a white man on the streets and he’s got coronavirus. The landlord (who is a prick in my opinion), instead of saying “don’t be silly, he’s been here for a couple of months and well before this panic” has ordered me to stay indoors. And yet the medical officer at the airport told me that I was free to enter and that there were no restrictions on me.

Today (Friday 21st March) a lovely man called Suresh Narayan ordered up my breakfast and PK went and collected it. See… there are some human beings around. I also popped into another café this evening where I normally have breakfast. The owner wanted to know why I was back. He told us that there is a nation wide lockdown tomorrow and that the military are going to be spraying the whole city with… who knows what. I haven’t found any information on this on the net, only one reference to it being fake news.

From my reading there is not a vaccine in full production yet and even if there was it wouldn’t have been tested sufficiently. The way I see it is, if it is true medicate the entire population with some untested substance.

I wonder how many problems that could bring? I guess we’ll find out tomorrow?

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