My recent trip to India began on 10th March and was to work on our Summer 2020/21 collection. I usually try to go in February, but for various reasons the trip was delayed. I was concerned about the Coronavirus and what was happening across the globe, but India had not been affected and my focus was trying to get fabrics sourced, and samples made, as quickly as possible! What would we do if I don’t have a summer collection?!
A couple of days later, whilst traipsing through a wholesale fabric market in Delhi, I was told by one of my suppliers that Prime minister Modi had, without warning, cancelled all incoming foreign visas. At the time, I rejoiced in the fact that I had made it. I would get my work done and return home. I might even bring my flight forward if I work quickly. The information I should have been processing was “without warning”. Alarm bells should have been ringing.
I continued my trip to Jaipur, meeting my usual suppliers and exploring new ones. Chatting with my driver and friend, Shamshu. Whilst I was in Jaipur I ran into other creatives from around the world that I have met during my travels. Talk constantly returned to Coronavirus. Some were panicky, others concerned for their suppliers and friends, many (including myself) focusing on their work.
I then travelled to my final destination, my little factory in Pushkar, where I settled in and started working on samples, print strike offs, timelines. I also visited Fiona at The Stitching Project and discussed new prints, styles and colours. The corona virus had become all anyone could talk about. Public gatherings of more than 5 people were prohibited. It was hard to concentrate on the collection but after talking with my family, I decided to push on. The owner of the factory said he would try to get the samples complete within a week on a limited staff of five. I brought my flights forward to 27th March. It was Thursday evening on the 19th March.
During this whole trip I had been in touch with my travel agent. Despite giving me all the necessary warnings, they had continued to assure me that if my flight was cancelled the airline was obliged to get me on the next available flight, so I was comforted by the fact that I would get home whatever happened.
On Friday morning, I met again with Fiona at The Stitching Project to finalise my order. I spent the afternoon at my main factory working on the collection. That evening I had dinner at a friend’s rooftop restaurant not far from my hotel. I often eat there and I had been talking to a young American couple who were on the trip of a lifetime, travelling the world. They had decided to postpone their trip and go home and were also leaving on the 27th.
Image by Bri Short Photography
Sometime during the evening my Indian friends showed me an article online explaining that PM Modi was cancelling all in bound flights on 22nd March for one week. There had been so much misinformation around that we weren’t sure if it was true. It was also late in the evening and I would have to wait until morning to talk to my travel agent. I decided to send an email just in case.
The next morning, I woke early and checked my email. I had not received anything from Australia but my flight on the 27th was cancelled. I searched online and after some time and effort confirmed that all international flights were cancelled from 22nd March. It was the morning of the 21st and I was 8 hours drive from Delhi.
I called my husband and asked him to contact the travel agent. In India I use Whatsapp for international calls and an Indian sim for local calls and mobile data. My travel agent did not use Whatsapp. Jerome got back to me saying that there was a flight out of Delhi the next morning to Tokyo. It was going to cost $4000. I told him to see if there were any other options. I thought Sunday was too late. The next call was to tell me the flight had been cancelled and that my travel agent had gone home. It was 12 noon on Saturday in Australia. She left a message to say she would be in touch on Monday. Monday would be too late.
My treasure of a daughter, Ella, emailed Flight Centre and within minutes we had an agent working from home. It was around 9am in Rajasthan. Jaiden contacted me on Whatsapp (what the?!?) calm and assured. He told me there were very limited options but could get me on a flight at 9.30pm to Abu Dhabi. Business Class for $3150. I need you to be in a car to Delhi by 11am. I will sort out the second leg with you on the way to Delhi.
Only in India, on an already stressful morning, could you manage to get a car to Delhi within the hour but also the world’s worst driver! At one stage I thought he had never left Pushkar in his life, but in hindsight it may have been that he did not know Pushkar. We got lost trying to leave…twice! I think I had a better idea of where we were at times! Then we hit a stray dog crossing the road!
I had been messaging Jaiden. He was checking in to make sure I was on my way. The only thing he said to me was,” Is the car OK to drive?” It was, and after searching for the poor dog who had disappeared, we were soon on our way. Paranoid, I turned on Google Maps and checked it constantly to make sure we were going in the right direction!
The internet service was very slow on the trip so Jaiden was sending me voice recordings of the different options I had for the second leg. He was trying his best to find the cheapest possible price after spending so much on the first leg. We finally decided on a Perth bound flight that had a layover in Brisbane. It did not leave Abu Dhabi until 9.30pm the next evening.
I was so incredibly thankful to Jaiden for his help that day. He kept in touch the whole way making sure that I had checked in, flights were still running and I was coping OK.
What a harrowing 3 days, such a huge expense, and in hindsight I kick myself and wonder why I left in the first place. However, I don’t think any of us could ever have imagined the global catastrophe that is the COVID-19 pandemic.
I now worry for travellers who are caught in the panic, my suppliers (friends who are like family), the kids from The Sunshine Project in Delhi and the huge Indian population that is in extended lockdown. Many of whom have no funds to get through days, let alone weeks, without work.
Our beautiful winter collection has been delayed due to lockdown in India and will hopefully be here in June *fingers crossed*. Our Summer collection will be worked on remotely when my factory returns to work. The only thing that quells the rising panic is knowing that we are all in this together.
Stuck in self isolation I recently read an article and this thought has stuck with me, “We have to surrender what was, for what is."