by Atoof Banday
I am a first-year college student from Srinagar (Jammu and Kashmir) pursuing MBBS in Bangladesh. The story of how I ended up in Bangladesh for a college education is irrelevant to this account. However in January this year, I joined my college in rural Bangladesh.
Upon arrival, my mind was foggy with a mixture of overpowering emotions. But as soon as the things settled, I felt it for the first time – an acute, sharp sting in my heart – a longing for Kashmir, my home, my Firdaus. The homesickness was painful. The relationships in my life were reduced to nothing but texts and calls but, I endured. I endured to the best of my capability.
Fast forward to March. My classmates and I had begun to worry as Bangladesh recorded eight cases of Coronavirus. It was March 17. But as soon as the news of one of the patient’s death broke out, our solicitude grew. There was panic, but deciding what to do wasn’t simple. Everything was shut down suddenly. It appeared as though colleges were nothing but abandoned buildings. The students were pushed into a quandary – to return or not to return?
After countless unending discussions with family, fellow students, and friends, I knew I had to be home. I signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with my college in which they, understandably, abdicated every responsibility. None of us was mentally prepared to go home months before the supposed vacation. Amidst utter entropy, I packed whatever I could gather and left on a flight to Delhi. I went through “rigorous” screening upon reaching Delhi and the very next morning, I left for home.
As soon as the plane touched soil in Kashmir, the relief I felt was impeccable. I could sense my perturbation fade away as the sweet Himalayan breeze touched my face. But as soon as I entered the arrival zone at Srinagar Airport, there was mayhem all around. There were hordes of people who had just arrived from all over the world. Social distancing, precautionary measures were non-existent.
I was screened, again, and asked to board a bus with a group of students. We had to move to the designated quarantine centre. The scene of the parents handing warm clothes and supplies through the windows of that bus almost looked like a movie. I happened to be one of the lucky ones as I was taken to a relatively good hotel for quarantine with only one roommate.
The human brain wanders off in infinite different directions when it’s given time to think. The first few days were fine. What kept me happy was the balcony of my room and the beautiful view of scant sun rays piercing the clouds that enveloped the magnificent Shankaracharya Hill. It took me a few days to settle but soon, the monotonicity became hard to overlook – eat, watch TV, surf painfully slow internet, sleep, and repeat!
One good thing that I gained from this experience is a new friend – my roommate. Although my roommate and I studied in the same college, we had never gotten to know each other. But as crisis locked us together, we bonded over a vast range of activities ranging from trivial things like online Ludo to typical Kashmiri banter. We happened to find out that we were related (Kashmir is a small place!).
What we missed the most were our parents. My last meeting (saw but did not touch them) with my parents happened on my first day in quarantine. We stood far away and all I could do is wave at them when in truth, I wanted to take them into my arms and cry. I never really appreciated the simple blessing of being close to my parents. I missed mom’s lovely food, dad’s warm embraces, and my sisters’ pesky antics. I missed my little nest of peace amidst the chaos. I missed home.
As my quarantine nears its completion one day at a time, my desperation to go back where I belong only increases. I have made a tiny little bucket list in my mind to fulfil when my quarantine period is over. I shall return home a happier-than-ever and appreciative person with a wider perspective towards life. This crisis has taken a toll on all of us – mentally, physically, and financially. But we will rise again – stronger than ever. We shall overcome.
(The author is first-year MBBS student in a Bangladesh college. Ideas expressed are personal)