I was talking to a friend in the travel business and for the first time perhaps in many, many months, he wasn’t crying. I later realised that his tears had dried out.
Lockdown, you will recall, was clamped on India, initially for a period of 21 days, from the evening of March 24th, 2020. Little did anyone realise then, what a huge blow it would be to us. How it will crush our dreams, force us into despair, change our lives, in ways beyond the comprehension of ordinary, wage-earning people like us. People, earning their living by working among others, in the travel and tourism industry.
As people were forced inside, first by decree and then by fear, the travel and tourism industry had imploded. Dollar splurging inbound travellers vanished, destination weddings were gone with the wind, corporate travels were replaced by zoom meetings, hotel occupancy rates fell faster than raindrops – it was apocalypse, in the real sense of the term.
The first wave had given way to the second – salaries were initially slashed and then stopped. Job losses and desperation and the depression that was inevitable, had dug in – like an enemy ready to battle it out in the trenches from where there appeared no return. First the savings had gone. Then the family jewels were disposed of in desperate attempts to survive as people gritted their teeth, bit the bullets, whatever. Naturally, the Government did precious little to lend a hand of help to this vital segment of the economy, which, on a good day is lauded religiously for bringing in the hard currency moolah! Incredible, indeed is India!
Strangely, it wasn’t so desperate for everyone, as, what was saved by slashing the salaries and stopping the pay-outs, industry insiders feel, had actually worked out to be a windfall to some, especially those at the top, who pumped it into the stock markets. Even as the destitute contemplated taking their lives, the markets (including travel related scrips by some inexplicable, cruel quirk of fate) were a booming! Strange indeed are the ways of viruses and viruses in the garb of humans.
“Necessity is the mother of the middle finger” they said, and with their backs to the wall, many, my friend among them, had gone back to their offices, hoping against hope. “People can’t take it no more” he had said, “they are dying to get out from the confines of the four walls and take a break. They will need their travel itineraries planned, their ticketing done, their hotels booked. There is a boom waiting out there ready for the spark” he had said.
Star properties were rolling out the red carpets. Packages were being offered that were good enough to tempt the dead from their graves. Travel company executives were looking like apparitions straight out of Happydent advertisements, and Facebook was awash with photographs of terribly tired families pass themselves off as happy units – putting their best “devil may care” selfies forward. Images of dumped dead bodies floating in the river Ganges were somehow forgotten, as everyone was desperate to drop their masks and seemed ready to pack the bags. Vaccine doses had been administered. Mutation stories were consigned to the backwaters of the consciousness and even the trade and industry bodies that had all but gone under, had started to make the right, “feel good” noises.
And just when you thought it was safe to get back to the water, they have released Jaws III. Omicron is here.