Every year, my family makes a trip to Puri, Odisha. The tickets had been taken a while ago and we reached Puri on the morning of 16th March.
At the hotel, a Bengali couple at the reception looked a bit uncomfortable seeing me and my family checking in, and they sort of softly objected to the receptionist about us. The receptionist told them that we have been regularly coming to that hotel for the last 10 years, and that we were Indian citizens from Kolkata, after which they were quiet.
On the evening of 16th March, I decided to go for a walk with my uncle to buy some stuff. In a shop, some customers coolly said, ‘Coronavirus eshe geyche’ (Coronavirus has come), but as soon as I spoke in Bengali with a Kolkata accent, they stopped. As Puri had gone into a lockdown and we were not too happy with the way things were going, we decided to return to Kolkata the next day.
On 17th, we took the Duronto train and we were the first family to enter our AC 3 coaches. Soon after, a Bengali family entered and looked uncomfortable seeing me. They were all wearing masks, and one lady was constantly pretending to cough. A second group soon arrived, and their attitude towards us was no different. They were talking about us in Bengali, until I intervened and reassured them that there was nothing to be afraid of, and that we were local Indian citizens from Kolkata. I told them nicely, in Bengali, that we weren’t foreigners. I told them we were not Coronavirus carriers just because of how we look…
I said all of this in Bengali so they calmed down, and were a bit more relaxed. After all they were all from good, educated, Bengali families. But while I may understand the pulse of Kolkata Bengalis or mainlanders from various backgrounds, but what about those from different northeastern states who are not privy to the local language? And who may not seem to have enough patience to deal with the crisis? What happens then?
We’re facing a challenge which we need to prepare ourselves for in the days to come. Because anyone can be a carrier of the virus, not just people who ‘look’ Chinese.
There is need for compulsory general knowledge and education among the population, who should think twice before they speak or approach any person who does not look like them, particularly children, as they easily copy what their parents are saying. This responsibility belongs to everyone.
Be safe, and follow the protocols. That’s the only way to keep Coronavirus at bay.
Written by Francis Yee Lepcha