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Covid fear killing poor, no customers at dhabas, tea shops along expressway

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat*
Years ago, when I could not get a reservation to return to Delhi from Deoria, I boarded a bus for Lucknow at 4:30 in the evening, hoping that it would take me there late in the night and would then board another bus for Delhi. But the bus got stuck in the traffic jam of Gorakhpur and spent nearly five hours before moving to Lucknow.
I have never been comfortable in travelling in buses when I am alone as there is little space for legs as well as for your luggage. But more than that, it is the health issues, particularly urinating or for any other emergency.
When I was buying the ticket the conductor asked me to get the ticket for Kanpur where the bus was finally going. He said, I should get down there and that I would easily get a bus for Delhi from there. The bus reached Kanpur in the morning at about 6 am. I looked for other buses, but there was none. Everyone informed me that all the buses would go late in the evening as they took nearly 10 to 12 hours.
I thought of taking a bus to Agra and then go by another bus through the Agra Noida Yamuna Express Highway, but there was no availability. At 8 am, a bus driver indicated to me if I wished Agra. I said yes and boarded the bus. It was again the UP Roadways and it did not stop anywhere. At one place, I felt deep urge to urinate but the driver was not listening. I had to hold beyond my breath.
And finally I reached the Agra Express Highway around 3 pm. I just threw my bag after crossing the road and went to relieve myself. There was a private bus for Delhi, and I boarded that. This was the first time that I first experienced the Yamuna Express Highway. By 6 pm I was home. One may call it private or capitalist, but I would say it was a fantastic road. You reached on time and smoothly, though the total journey was more than 26 hours, and too tiring.
A similar situation arose when our train got cancelled following the coronavirus outbreak, and there was a risk through public transport, so I decided to take a personal vehicle for Delhi. We started from our Prerna Kendra early morning at 7:30 am. It was exactly 900 kilometres stretch, but what a journey it was. We reached home by 7:40 pm. Almost 12 hours. Let me explain what made it possible.
I traveled to Gorakhpur when there was no Express Highway. But right now from Fazil Nagar you have the National High Way and 360 kilometer journey we crossed in 6 odd hours. From Lucknow we had a bright new Lucknow Agra Express Highway, which passes through Unnao, Hardoi, Saifai, Mainpuri, Ferozabad and straight go to the Yamuna Express Highway from Agra to Noida. The Lucknow Agra Express Highway is one of the biggest contributions of the Akhilesh Yadav government to Uttar Pradesh. Roads are smooth and not bumpy and the locales are green.
Yamuna Express Highway is Mayawati’s contribution to state. You may critique her for different things but doing things elegantly has been her style which needs appreciation. Both these highways are world class and far superior to the National Highway, which is from Gorakhpur to Lucknow. So from Lucknow it took nearly 3 hours to reach Agra while from there to my home it took 2.5 hours.
The new modern roads are empty and people have started observing guidelines to navigate on these roads. Common people follow norms and guidelines, but, surprisingly, the government does not. Right from Kushinagar till Noida, I tried to capture the mood along the road and realised how the fear of coronavirus is killing the poor.
There were no customers at dhabas, tea shops, a few buses which were on the roads had very few passengers. It rained between Basti and Ayodhya, but all I saw were empty roads, even though India cannot really be completely locked down. Indeed, it is not possible, as you can’t really do this to one billion plus people and a highly diverse society. India has survived because this diversity. The only way for the world to survive is to respect the diversity of cultures, food habits and oppose anything that is trying to create mono cultures.
Wish all of you good health and protection. This is the most challenging time for all of us. Stay in, be creative, write more, and share more, do spent quality time with your family. Corona may be bad but it might bring good habits in us all… the feeling of togetherness, the warmth, affection, caring and sharing despite distancing. It means that you can also care and love people by maintaining a bit of distance. So keep physical distance but allow your heart open to all, keep out all the narrow mindedness, only then we will be able to enjoy the fruits of modern science.

*Human rights defender

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