March 2020. Getting out of India mid Corona Pandemic with Katie and Katie Dresses.

So, I went to bed, totally relaxed, having confirmed that my Wednesday flight was safe, only to wake up to find it was cancelled. Oooops! I then spent the next four hours trying to rebook a flight for as soon as possible, all flights are suspended from Monday, they say for a week, but who knows.

Every time I found a flight, by the time I had typed in my name and details it was gone. As flights disappeared in front of my eyes, I boiled the kettle and made more tea — trying to remain cool — having a hot flush!

My friend from U.K. who was staying down the road phoned to say that her flight had also been cancelled overnight and her Visa cards were all left in Delhi where she was flying suddenly I was looking for two flights and not breathing properly as the Wi-Fi went so slow. Then my bank blocked my payments.... twice... the flights became more expensive as they uploaded again. I phoned the bank, with little phone credit left on my Indian sim and rather stressfully instructed them to unblock my card.
Finally, I had some confirmation! We are booked to fly out on Sunday early morning, Delhi to Mumbai, Mumbai to Dubai, Dubai to London.
Off I went to work. No one can do any work; we are all preoccupied!

Then this evening suddenly another flight cancellation notification came through.
Delhi to Mumbai flight cancelled.
Oh, the stress! I was surrounded by wonderfully sympathetic folk who lent me their computer and calmly took it all in.
“So now Jo, I think you need tea?”, one of them kindly asked.
“I think I need more than tea this time!” I poured over the screen.
I spent much of my evening booking an alternative route to Mumbai.
Now booked up again...for now I am off to bed...pretty exhausted and wondering how I’m going to manage with my much-reduced baggage allowance!
Let us see what happens tomorrow!
One day at a time.

Saturday morning, I woke up to the worrying news of more flights being cancelled and I tried my online check in for the first leg of my journey tomorrow. Jaipur to Mumbai. If I get to Mumbai in time, I should be able to connect with my outward-bound flights.
Jaipur is closing down. India is refusing all flights in from Monday, my last chance to fly out is Sunday. I need to get to Mumbai.
It would not let me check in saying I was in a “wait queue”.

I went over to my friend’s house, wondering if anyone in my circle knew anyone in the airport check in lounges!
They drove me straight away in the posh car to the airport to check it all out.
It was midday and I was calmly told that my flight was definitely departing, that I had a confirmed seat and I couldn’t check in online because I had booked excess luggage.

I come with a lot of baggage.

Somewhat placated I carried on with my day, with the tailors. All around us things were shutting down. The police closed the main road just moments away from us. They had found a family recently returned from the Middle East, who were sick with the virus.
I banged on again about cleaning everything, the scissors, the pattern cutting table, the door handles and light switches. People have started to take it all seriously now.
“We have cleaned the floor!” they announced,
“Sod the floor! Who is touching the floor? Clean the things you all touch! Clean them every day!”
The light switches are duly cleaned. It is the first time I have seen them clean.

As for my dresses, well, it’s been hard to get my head around dresses, but this load are already very late for delivery and despite my flight being brought forward I had been assured that the dresses would be ready. These dresses have been “going to be ready in two or three days”, for several weeks now. I am hand carrying them, because goodness knows when we will be able to send any cargo out of here.
So, the dresses would be ready at 3 O’clock, arriving on the back of a scooter from the other workshop. There would be time to check, tag, iron and pack them. We were working out exactly how many I could hand carry with my now extremely limited luggage allowance, which sizes to prioritise.

Everyone was kindly asking about my flight, my children, my husband.
There were many phone calls to various producers around the country, people I have not had time to see, people who may or may not be making my orders. My friend helped me urge them on in Hindi.
The dresses arrived and I relaxed some more.
Next thing I knew they were washing said dresses!
“What!? No! How will they ever dry and be ready on time?”
“Ah no problem, we must wash them, and they will dry in five ten minutes”.
I imagined my late-night manic delivery, of wet dresses. I imagined us hanging them up to dry in the U.K!
“How is this actually going to be possible?” I asked again and everyone politely ignored me.
Finally, it came to light that the spinning machine that removes the water was round the corner with an old man who was repairing it — out the back — secretly, since Jaipur is on lockdown from midday.
I breathe very deeply and look out across the rooftop to the red hills on the horizon. There is washing hanging on rooftops, last night’s rain has gone, and the blinding sun is hot.

I remind myself that if the dresses do not come then no one dies!

Eventually the very rickety spinning drum arrives, but it is still not working!
Everyone sits down to drink chai, very calmly indeed. They crouch down and slurp the tea loudly. I can hear how much they relish the sugary soupyness of it. Arash, who is new around here, brings me my “English tea”. I am so pleased. I often just go and make it myself, but he has watched me once and got it. He announces it proudly. I congratulate him for being the first person in twenty-five years in India to understand me and my tea!

After chai, the production manager, the driver and one tailor fiddled with the machine. The tailor laughed and called himself “ministri”, meaning “labourer”.

I looked forlornly at the two tubs of wet dresses again and decided the best thing for me to do was just to let everyone get on with it. The steam press man had arrived, the brilliant lady who checks most of our items was there. Everything was normal, just my head was done in!
Normally in India, when there is a bit of pressure, amazing things happen, “so let it happen”, I thought.
With a lot of emotion, I said, “Goodbye, stay safe, wash your hands, do not go out, lots of love, see you later.... with those dresses!”
So many sweet smiles. “Don’t go out”, they said, “We will send dresses, money and food for you, at 8 O’clock this evening.”
I drove off. The roads were empty. I stopped to briefly check in on my silver producer. He gave me a mask.
On the corner of my road, I leant out of the car window to ask the crocodiles who wait at the end of the street if any of them would be able to take me to the airport at 3am. I was happy as one of them greedily snapped me up. We exchanged phone numbers and he asked me to call him at 2.45am.
I fiddled more and more with my luggage, reducing the load, weening things out. If I get stuck in Mumbai, I’ll have nothing but oversized red block print dresses to wear!
Up and down the stairs from my rooftop to the ground floor I strained my legs. The hotel guys helped me again and again with their weighing machine and my luggage reduction. I must have walked up and down those 62 steps about ten times.
At 7.55 Balukund arrived with my money. At 8.20 Vinod arrived with my packed bag of perfect dresses, and my packed supper.
See how amazingly efficient and kind everyone is? I thank them profusely.

I speak to my friend, Katie, from the U.K. She is booked on the same outbound flight from Mumbai as me, but she is flying through the night from Delhi. We have both had our feathers utterly ruffled by all this flight stuff!
We cross our fingers and say we will see each other in the morning.
I read and reply to worried emails and messages from family and friends in the U.K. so much worry, so many good wishes on my Facebook posts! Thankyou!

I fall into a fitful sleep. At 2am, the phone rings and I imagine I have accidentally overslept. It’s Katie in Delhi.
“I’m in the airport and my flight has been cancelled, I’m not going to make it to Mumbai”.
“Oh my God”, I’m awake now. We speak briefly, it’s all so surreal.
I lie back down again and imagine her finding another flight back to the U.K — another way. She is trying to get to her quiet seaside abode in Greece — I imagine her there. I worry about my flight. I listen to the lonely dog barking.

I phone my crocodile. He says he has been waiting already for the last hour. Soon I am on my way and find a deserted airport. Alarmingly many flights are cancelled but my flight is safe and going on time! There are one or two shell shocked foreigners checking in! We glance at each other; I wonder what they look like behind their masks.
Katie calls triumphantly announcing that she has booked on another flight and is due to land in Mumbai around the same time as me. So, all is well, we are back on track!

I board the flight with seven others. I am so grateful for this flight! Up in the sky I can see a toenail new moon and a red sunrise.
It is Mother’s Day! My mother’s prayers have been answered!

There is a great Indian quote from a famous film, the Exotic Marigold Hotel. The hotel manager says, “Everything will be alright in the end, and if everything is not alright, it is not the end”!

Katie and I have both boarded our exit flight, through a completely deserted airport. Katie says it is like leaving Burma in 1988.