‘Flying As We Knew It Has Changed, Crew Wears PPE Suits’

Gitanjali Dey, 28, a Qatar Airways cabin crew, says aviation industry has been severely hit by the Covid-19 pandemic but work ethics and hope keep them flying

I am employed as a cabin crew with Qatar Airways and currently based in Doha even though my parents live in Kolkata. I have been a part of the aviation industry for nearly six years now and I can vouch that most airlines across the world are witnessing their toughest times ever.

I am proud to say that despite the prevailing panic amid the Covid-19 pandemic, Qatar Airways never stopped its operations completely; it would be safe to say that we showed exemplary courage and confidence and kept flying the travellers, many of whom desperately needed to reach home.

I say this because it is tough to be away from your family at such an uncertain time. But my parents have taught me to respect work ethics and rules in place, so I will go home only after it is totally safe for both me and my family. Till that happens, I try to be in touch via voice or video calls for the wellbeing of my parents concerns me.

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The flying operations as we knew them have changed completely. Instead of the stylish uniform, we are now covered from head to toe in personal protective (PPE) gear, with face shields, surgical masks and sanitised gloves.

It is mandatory for us to use hand sanitizers at regular intervals, whether or not we have come in contact with someone. We also take care to serve the customers food that is prepared keeping in mind all the latest health and hygiene standards in place.

Thankfully, most airlines are flying on half-capacity so we are able to give proper attention to every individual on board. We were doing that earlier too, but in view of the pandemic the crew has to be extra attentive. The planes are thoroughly sanitized and the temperature of each passenger is checked before they board the plane.

As a cabin crew I report for duty after a gap of 2-3 weeks; so on an average every month I go on international flights twice. Initially, I was a bit worried about having to operate in a potentially contagious atmosphere, but with time those anxieties have subsided. I actually feel happy to be able to contribute in easing the lives of those who still have to travel at such times.

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The pandemic has been particularly devastating for the aviation and hospitality industry the worldwide. With most international airports still not fully operational, a large number of aircraft grounded and thousands of job layoffs, we are headed for very uncertain times ahead.

But we have hope.

It will perhaps take a long time for the aviation industry to recover as more and more people are giving up on travelling unless it is an emergency. The world is re-calibrating itself to weather the pandemic and its after-effects. For now, I guess each individual will have to maintain self-discipline and practice social distancing, so we can win this war against the virus.

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‘Most Chinese I Know Love India & Indian People’

Laila, a Chinese girl working in Bengaluru since 2018, says despite border tension and Covid-19 surge, she never felt unsafe in India. She finds Indian people warm and welcoming

As a Chinese staying in India, I get overwhelmed, even a bit annoyed, by the sudden concern I am getting every day from my family and friends, sometimes even strangers and media reporters, thanks to the military standoff and tensions at Ladakh border since May.

There were always inquiries from my family and friends in China about my wellbeing. But with the current Covid-19 surge coupled with India-China border tensions, the queries have grown manifold. Every time I post a picture of my travel in India on social media, a flurry of comments pops up: “Are you in India alone? Is it safe?”

Questions usually include Covid-19 situation, essential supplies, and anti-China sentiment in India. I was even approached by media reporters who kept asking whether I have experienced discrimination.

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I came here in 2018 to work with a Chinese company based in Bangalore, and I fell in love with this country as soon as I landed: I still remember when the cab took me from the airport to my hotel, the driver didn’t take the expressway but took me through interior roads. That made me see colourful houses along the bumpy road, and my heart was singing.

Since then I have made so many good friends in India — across the country — who made my life anything but lonely here. They are funny, brilliant and much braver than I had imagined before I came here. As far as I know, most of Chinese love India and Indian people, as it has such a rich culture and beautiful landscapes.

In the last two years, Bangalore has become a home away from home. It is a beautiful, relaxing and a friendly place compared to Beijing where I used to work before 2018. Even amid this pandemic and border tension, I don’t actually feel concerned or unsafe.

I have heard once in a store that people say the word Corona while seeing me. Also, one of my friends was not allowed to check-in to a hotel while he was travelling. Besides these two isolated incidents, our experiences here are beyond wonderful. We consider these incidents were triggered by ignorance rather than with an intention to create a hostile environment for Chinese.

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That said, there are some people who might be hating Chinese in India. We were lucky to not be consumed by their hatred. I would consider most of Indian people as friendly and welcoming.

Like all my Indian friends who are in their late 20s and 30s, I am actually more troubled by Covid-19 curbs than border tension. Only because of this issue, I once thought of going back when I had a chance to board the flights back to China in June. If only I can roam around in India freely in the present scenario, then I would never think of going back.

I also know I will start to miss India as soon as I go back. All I wish is the pandemic gets over and the tension between two countries gets sorted soon. And I know there are thousands of Chinese wishing the same as me. 

‘Reopening Our Restaurant Needed Courage & Caution’

Saurabh Jalan (36), a restaurateur in Kolkata, used the lockdown period to set new safety and hygiene standards in place. When Unlock 1.0 came, Jalan was ready to reboot

I own three restaurants in Kolkata and have been in this business for last five years. The business was running smoothly till Coronavirus pandemic struck. People in Kolkata love adda (loosely, a hangout buzzing with debates and discussion), and long social meetings are an inherent part of the city’s culture. Coronavirus and the ensuing lockdown brought an abrupt end to this.

The hospitality sector has been the worst hit and we didn’t know what the future would hold for all of us. The first lockdown had been announced so suddenly that many of our employees were not able to go back to their home towns in other states, especially our housekeeping staff and chefs etc. on duty that night. The first thing we did was to tell them not to panic and keep their morale high. We provided them shelter in the restaurant itself and took care of their needs to make them feel they were not alone in this crisis.

Realising that the pandemic will change the way we would socialise in future, we trained our staff to set new hygiene and sanitation standards in place.

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I then sat with my partners to draw a plan to provide food to the needy. It had twin purpose: we served our society and also kept our employees engaged in work. Every day, we sent out around 1,000-1,500 food packets. We thus we got better equipped against Covid-19. When the Unlock 1.0 was announced, we were cautious but ready to be back in business.

Our patrons’ safety was paramount. So we kept only one of the three restaurants fully functional while other two were turned into take-away or home delivery setups. The dining in facility was kept limited to our veg multi-cuisine restaurant called Fly Kouzina (Kolkata’s first airline-themed restaurant in Salt Lake area).

I would be lying if I said we are not scared. But we have a solid team which brainstorms every morning about how to make things safer, more hygienic and yet enjoyable for both customers and employees.

Saurabh Jalan (middle) at his restaurant

There are paper envelopes for guests to keep their masks while they are eating. We share the menu via WhatsApp so there is minimum need to touch anything except the food we eat. If customers want to order food from their cars parked outside, we make sure we provide them with as good a service as we do inside the restaurant.

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The surfaces are regularly sanitized. Excessive care is taken in keeping the washrooms sanitized after every single use. We also take out the time to address each and every query the guests might have related to our preparation against Covid-19.

Based on our experience on Fly Kouzina, we hope to open our other two restaurants pretty soon. Both the public as well as restaurant owners are showing courage with caution. Each day brings with itself new challenges and newer solutions to keep the fight against Covid-19 going.

We have only about 30-40 people coming in to our restaurant every day but we hope things will begin to pick up slowly. Flying is still very risky but people can get a little feel of travel at our airline-themed restaurant.

‘We Chinese Are Like Marwaris, We Value Business’

Alfred Lee, 50, a hotelier at Puri of Chinese origin, says Chinese people are businesspersons who don’t bother much about what’s happening on the international front. For him, Puri is the most beautiful place on the planet

We Chinese, are more like the Gujaratis or the Marwaris. We are attached to our roots and language but we also have a very sharp insight and ability to settle anywhere in the world if it makes business sense. Thus, you can find Chinese immigrants running businesses everywhere in the world.

I will refrain from commenting on the current relationship between India and China as this is a sensitive issue. All I can tell you is that I am a proud Indian with a Chinese origin; so is my extended family in other parts of the world. There is no place like Puri in the entire world to live. It is the most beautiful place on the planet. It is my home.

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During the British rule, people who lived in Hong Kong did business in India freely as there was no need of passports back then. Most of these Chinese nationals had business links with Kolkata via Hong Kong. The earliest Chinese settlers in India are those who came to Kolkata to do business and never returned. Many of my extended family members are in Canada doing the business but we chose to stay in India. 

Our family’s story is really beautiful. From Kolkata, my grandfather migrated to Puri and started a little eatery. He learnt the local language and mingled with the local people. We later shifted to a better place and now apart from running the most popular Chinese restaurant in Puri, we have a 32-room hotel. The Odiya people never treated us as outsiders as there was never a language barrier between us.

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All of my family, including the youngest one, speak very fluent Odiya. Our mother tongue is Cantonese, which we speak within the family but our second language is Odiya. We can also speak English and Hindi fluently which is required for our business. 

Every Chinese living in India or Hongkong or Singapore has two names – a Chinese name and a local name. The local name is easy to pronounce and helps us communicate better. So my local name is Alfred Lee, while my Chinese name is Lee Chung Hsing. This is how generations of Chinese people have worked – they aren’t much bothered about what’s going on the international front between India and China and other countries.

You can find Chinatown or Little China where a number of Chinese business people live in many of the large western cities like New York, Chicago, Toronto and others. This is the spirit of the people with Chinese origin. They are somewhat religious and do business very precisely. Our focus is on growing our business across the globe.

‘Some Work From Home, I Workout From Home’

Pranjali Bhu, 29, a Jaipur-based Zumba instructor, did not stop sweating even when all fitness centres had to close down due to Covid-19 pandemic. Her story

I was always inclined towards dancing since childhood; I even hold a degree in Kathak. But Zumba caught my attention seven years back, in 2013, when I was overweight and was trying every possible workout. For me, Zumba worked wonders as I shed 20 kg. This played a key role in finding my sweet spot in Zumba. I got training and then got myself licensed to become a professional Zumba instructor.

I am licensed multiple forms of Zumba, such as toning, aqua, strong, core, glute training and more. I started taking Zumba classes six year ago with my studio in Jaipur, Abhikalp Dance and Fitness Studio. 

The classes had to be paused as Covid-19 started seeping into our lives and fitness centres had to down shutters. But fitness does not know any bounds. Just like any entrepreneur would do, I decided to talk to my students if they would like to ‘workout from home’ along with ‘work from home’.

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Their zeal to do it online was infectious. It enthused me, and without much ado, I started the online session on Zoom, immediately after the lockdown was announced. Earlier it was a party in the studio, and now it’s a virtual party. In terms of challenges, for some specific classes, people do not have special equipment at home. So, I made them use water bottles and towels, easily available at every house, for strength training classes.

To my surprise, the students are just loving virtual classes as they loved studio classes. 

Amidst such a pandemic, it is really important to keep ourselves fit, both physically and mentally. And that is why my students are loving the idea of virtual classes. Just like a studio, we also talk and discuss besides doing Zumba sessions. Sometimes, it is about diet, sometimes about forms of Zumba, sometimes it’s just motivation and other wellbeing practices.

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Since the lockdown, I do two batches a day, and the number of students are growing. Each batch has 20-25 women. Earlier my classes had women from Jaipur, now there are students from Gurugram, Mumbai, Chennai, Indonesia, and London. It is really good to see the growing awareness of fitness amongst women.  No matter how busy they are, the students also take out time for my classes regularly and that is motivating.

The Covid-19 had put a spotlight on how people have begun to feel stressed and unhealthy. Some of the common Coronavirus-related concerns are irregular dietary habits leading to higher calorie consumption, body aches due to long sitting hours, mental stress, depression, anxiety and so on. The ‘immunity’ is playing a major role in this situation as well. This is now the time when people should make fitness a lifestyle.

‘Class 10 & 12 Students Staring At Uncertain Future’

Swapnil Pal, who gave Class 10 board exams in March, is anxious about his future but lauds the role of teachers for continuing to take (online) classes. Pal says these teachers are also Corona warriors

I just gave my Class 10 Boards and what a year it has been. Everyone except Class 10 and Class 12 students have their regular online classes going on and yet the students of these two classes are staring at an uncertain future. Our education is on hold for the time being. The only semblance of certainty and structure in our education right now comes from the online Engineering coaching classes conducted by an institute called Scholar’s Den.

Even though we have adapted to online classes now, there’s a certain feeling of learning in classroom. One learns while having fun with friends. The engineering entrance syllabus is quite a handful and friends help one break the monotony. Also, there is a sense of camaraderie. Now we are all studying alone in our homes.

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We are around 60 students in one class and classes are conducted through Zoom. Every day around 1.5 GB data gets used to attend the classes and the rest for assignments. Only a little data is left if one wants to play games or watch videos. Our classes are conducted between 3 pm to 8 pm and in the mornings we are supposed to complete our assignments given in these classes.

The teachers are also getting used to new ways of teaching. Many of them are still themselves learning about handling technology perfectly. A few days ago our one and half hours Inorganic Chemistry class got cancelled because of a technical glitch. One didn’t when the glitch would be solved so we didn’t really know what to do. Then other problems occur too, like user id and password not matching when tests are about to happen. I was locked out of a test recently because it happened with me. I wish I had been able to take that test, but it is ok, one needs to be prepared for unforeseen circumstances and glitches in these times.

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The group feeling isn’t there, that we are all preparing for these exams together, but we make up for it by sometimes calling each other when we get time between classes and assignments. I divide my time between topics wisely and make sure to ask questions if we don’t understand anything. We have something known as DCC (Doubt Clearing Classes) everyday in breaks between online classes and we are encouraged to clarify the minutest of our doubts before moving on to the next chapter or topic. That’s something that has helped us students a lot. While studying on my own also I ask myself if I have really understood the topic and can explain it to someone else easily.

I don’t know when schools will reopen and we will be able to get admissions in Class 11, but I am sure of one thing that our education won’t stop. There are so many people working to set things straight, especially we see news of so many teachers working dedicatedly. Teachers can also be called corona warriors. They are fighting to keep ignorance at bay and are fighting to keep hope in the future alive.

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‘Online Yoga Helped People Keep Calm Amid Lockdown’

Poonam Singh, a Yoga instructor from New Delhi, had to suspend her classes after the virus outbreak. However, with help from her son, she launched online sessions to beat the lockdown blues

I have been teaching Yoga since 2006, and I have taught Yoga across groups, from pregnant women at hospitals, the elderly, even children. As co-founder of Yog Manthan, I wish to take Yoga to the masses across forums.

Then in March, due to the Coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing lockdowns, I had to suspend my classes.  However, it also made most entrepreneurs adapt and improvise their operations. My 23-year-old son suggested that I should get going with online classes. With his help, I set up an online yoga class platform; within a week after Holi my sessions were back on track.

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I must disclose that many women approached me that lockdown was getting to their nerves and they needed Yoga classes to see through the stay-indoors period. There are news reports that domestic discords are on the rise; people are on a short fuse. So I consider yoga classes as my contribution to the fight against Coronavirus.

I teach two online batches during weekdays hold meditation and chanting sessions on weekends. For the classes, I use Google Duo which allows 12 people at a time while on weekends I use Zoom which can accommodate larger groups.

One added benefit of online classes is that earlier people who couldn’t drive and come to my classes early morning to take classes can now do it from the comforts of their home. However, it is difficult to teach people the exact correct poses online if they are going wrong posture wise. It is said:  Sadhe to Yog, nahi to jeevan bhar ka rog (If one is able to do it well, Yoga is super-beneficial, but wrong postures can negate these benefits).

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In the pre-corona world I could simply walk over to the student and ask them to maybe straighten their backs a little more or to lift their chin up correctly or breathe correctly. But I take really good care and watch my students carefully and teach them the current postures. I wish we can go back to real-life classes because in Yoga the guru-shishya parampara is very important, one needs to have complete faith in the guru’s teachings.

You would be surprised to know that my own two kids haven’t learnt Yoga from me. And I don’t believe in forcing them. Force karna Yog nahi hai (You can’t force someone to practise Yoga). Learn Yoga only if you are truly inspired to learn it, for it requires consistency and self-discipline.

And I would also like to mention here when personal hygiene is being given paramount importance in these pandemic situation, that Yoga has something known as Shat karma (six actions) that focus on hygiene before any asanas are done. These process cleanse our respiratory and internal systems. As the International Yoga day approaches on June 21, I would urge people to take a deep breath and think about reaping the benefits that Yoga provides, be it offline or online. Even after the whole thing subsides and we can get back to teaching Yoga normally to large groups of people, I don’t think I will stop taking online classes. It has its own merits.