My Journey Home From the University of Chicago

As I write this, I am aware of the incredible privilege associated with being able to write this. I am well, unaffected by the coronavirus, and in a position where I am safe at home, with access to food. I find myself meandering about the solemn sense of loss this pandemic has proliferated for the world. What I have lost is nearly not comparable to what thousands of people across the world have lost – jobs, friends, members of families, and even the acquaintance whose presence one begins to get accustomed to.

I was studying for the last of my second quarter finals and was scheduled to start the third one very soon at the University of Chicago, when tensions surrounding the pandemic broke. My mother began calling me frantically, multiple times a day, asking for any news or updates from the university. She was adamant that I come home as soon as possible. She was terrified that I would contract the virus and thus not be allowed to come home – they wanted me to be home in case anything happened.

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I laughed off her concerns, almost certain that the situation couldn’t get bad enough to warrant me leaving Chicago. Yet, nearly 24 hours after that conversation, I woke up to the news that my university had switched to online classes and requested that students vacate within a week.

It felt almost surreal, the pandemic didn’t quite seem real to me until then. I dismissed the notion that anything was happening because I desperately did not want to believe it. I left a room that became home, packing up my messes that signified nearly a year of occupancy: splatters of oily food that I consume unhealthy amounts of, strands of my hair that do not seem to stay on my head. I packed up nine months of my life in six hours in two very large suitcases and headed off on the next flight home, lest the borders close before I get there.

After I made it back to India, I found myself in a rut. It often feels like a strange dream; I find myself startled as I find my father sitting at the dining table with us at lunch. In all the years I’ve known him, he’s been at work at lunchtime. I seem to have contracted a profound sense of unshakeable ennui. I laughed a little when my phone reminded me that it was Sunday the other day; now time seems like an unending loop of continuum, of possibilities and uncertainties.

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I’ve been scrolling through news sites to find news of migrant labourers scrambling to reach home, on a desperately long walk to their villages; on journeys that span days for some, even weeks. I can understand their longing to be at home at times so profoundly uncertain, and I am forced to wonder whether the lockdown is the best decision for our country at large. It has certainly helped the upper and sprawling middle classes, who are safely tucked away in the comforts of their houses. But, what about the majority of the country, who don’t have access to adequate food supplies, cramped in tiny homes, unsure when they will see their family and loved ones next. They are not in the privileged position of being able to practice social distancing.

Despite this slew of bad news, I am not terribly afraid because I have faith in us, I have faith in humanity. For the past month, my social media has been flooded with people looking to help, with people opening up their homes and donating food, helping out in whatever way they can. It is incredibly heartening to see the world come together at a time like this.

We are all but prisoners of hope, in imperceptible armours of iron.

Anvi Lohia is a student of Politics and Economics at the University of Chicago, and has worked on economic research with leading think-tanks. 

Featured image credit: Representative image. Sofia Sfarza/Unsplash