'Paranoia could've gripped us at every step'

Updated: Jul 19, 2020, 08:06 IST | Aastha Atray Banan | Mumbai

At a time when people would rather not fly in-country even, a couple recounts why they crossed the seven seas to move countries during the pandemic

Atiya Khan and Amitesh Sabharwal hope to find a job in marketing and business management respectively
Atiya Khan and Amitesh Sabharwal hope to find a job in marketing and business management respectively

Much before COVID-19 changed the world, we had decided that we wanted a better life for ourselves. The rising levels of pollution in New Delhi, where we live, was a big reason behind the decision to live in a place where we could focus on raising a family and building our careers. I have worked in public relations and marketing, while Amitesh [husband], runs an interiors business. We chose Canada as our new home not just because it's beautiful, but also because it offers substantial medical benefits and has a sound education system. We applied for permanent residency a year and a half ago, and after a lot of to and fro and following up diligently, the permission finally came through this March.

At the time, the Coronavirus pandemic had gained force, and we were in two minds if we should reconsider. We wondered if we should defer the move, but that would have meant going through the whole rigamarole again. We decided to brave the travel and take the flight. The Canadian government was only accepting people whose proposals had been cleared and visas granted before March 19.


On the Air India flight with face shields and masks. Additionally, Atiya wore a PPE suit since she had been slotted a middle seat
On the Air India flight with face shields and masks. Additionally, Atiya wore a PPE suit since she had been slotted a middle seat

The first stop was to book a flight. Luck was on our side since Air India was running the Vande Bharat Mission flights, flying only those like us who had acquired a visa prior to the date. Since there was a rush to book flights, it took us three hours of waiting online. But once done, we were finally set to fly on June 30 on a 16-hour non-stop flight from Delhi to Toronto.

We started preparing. First, we had to build immunity. We would work out every day, and drink a garlic and ginger kadha recommended by AYUSH, and eat healthy. We wanted to be in the best shape when we travelled. We also consciously decided we would only discuss positive news. We had to up our mental strength. It was easy to slip into panic or paranoia. And that would've made the move impossible. Our friends and family helped us keep our spirits up and reminded us why we were doing it in the first place.

On June 30, we were on our way to the airport. Since I had been allotted a middle seat, I had to wear a PPE suit for the entire duration of the flight. We carried all our sanitary supplies from home, so that we could use the toilet easily when we had to. We also carried homemade parathas, so we didn't have to eat on flight.

It was easy to practice social distancing at the airports since few people were flying anyway. The airline staff was helpful given the circumstances and waived off our extra baggage fee! You can't blame us for carrying so much. I was shifting forever, right?

The couple will look for a home while staying in this Air BnB apartment
The couple will look for a home while staying in this Air BnB apartment 

On flight, the air hostesses were wearing PPE suits too. We had to carry our own water, and large food packets were pre-placed on your seats. We didn't eat any of it though. But the flight was a comfortable one.

At Toronto airport, as we exited the plane, jet lagged and tired, the staff appeared like a ray of sunshine. It's not a myth that Canadians are sweet. They were excited to see us and screamed "Welcome to Canada", and that got us excited too. As the airport was largely empty, the immigration check got done in 30 minutes. We were asked about our health, and told to isolate for two weeks at the Airbnb apartment we had booked for a month.

The officials made a note of our address and are expected to keep a check on us.

Our current accommodation is in downtown Toronto, where we have been quarantining for two weeks. It's a happening part of the town, and we can't wait to check it out. Our friends brought us groceries, and we have been using cool apps to order in meals. We have also been applying for jobs online, and have already taken a few interviews. I am keen to join a brand's marketing team, while Amitesh wishes to use his business management skills in the capacity of a consultant.

The food served in flight was in disposal containers
The food served in flight was in disposal containers

We have invested a fair bit in this move across countries, but it felt necessary. That the pandemic is far more in control in Canada than in India helps.

Even if we have to take a step down in terms of designations, with Canada's standard of living, we will still be doing better. Next, we start looking for a house, and in three years, we can apply for citizenship.

We weren't willing to let a virus dictate how we lived and the moves we made. This situation is going to be around for a while across the world. We believed we weren't going to contract it [the virus] and we didn't. We are here, and ready to start a future.

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