Stranded, lonely and cashless – How Kerala’s benevolent socialism came to the rescue of a Russian tourist
Tatiana Kermin, a 31-year-old Russian yoga teacher, is on her maiden visit to Kerala having heard about its natural beauty and uniqueness from several of her friends. She was due to fly back to Moscow on March 31 but with India deciding to opt for a lock-down she was left stranded.
That was just the beginning of her troubles, as she wasn’t prepared to face a predicament of this kind and had no clue about surviving the crisis, in a land where she knew none. Tatiana had no accommodation, food or medicine once the lockdown commenced and worst of all she was in financial difficulty.
“My family sent me a bit of money despite their plight. I desperately started looking for a place on rent but many people didn’t offer me accommodation as I was a foreigner,” she said.
She finally found some help, after days of hardship. A particular family at Pathanamthitta allowed her to rent an apartment. “I am so thankful to this family. Without them, I wouldn’t be living here,” Tatiana said. “Only this family met me with smiles on their faces and rented me an apartment.”
Tatiana had booked tickets to get back to Russia but once the flights were cancelled, her booking amount also got blocked. She heard that the Russian government would offer some financial help to the tourists locked-down in India. But somehow that help didn’t come through. “Now in Kerala there are around 170 persons like me and none of them have received any financial assistance from the Russian government. I had sent a letter to the Russian consul general seeking help. He told me to use a form on the Russian website and wait. That was three weeks ago. I wait every day,” she said.
The Russian government hasn’t offered any free flights but only commercial ones. “At first, we were informed that the price would be 100 €, but this flight was cancelled. Later they announced a new flight, but the price of the ticket had increased to 400 €. That flight was cancelled, too. I don’t have that kind of money for buying a ticket.”
And that’s her biggest worry. She’s quickly running out of money. She has to pay her rent, buy food and medicines. “My family back home is very worried. Only the Russian consul in Thiruvananthapuram, Ratheesh Nair, is in contact with me. He tries to answer all my queries and helps me to calm down. When the first flight for repatriating Russians was getting ready, he helped me to find transport to the airport. No other department has contacted me during this period,” she said.
However, she is grateful for the help provided by the health workers near her residence. When she needed some medicines, her host reached out to a doctor and all the required medication was quickly home delivered. “That was an amazing moment,” she said. Then when she had some dental issues, a dentist working nearby was quick to give her an appointment despite him having a large number of patients to attend to. The health authorities were also quick to prepare a health certificate for her departure.
The way in which India, especially Kerala, has been able to control the spread of the virus has impressed her. “Even a small store near our house has all the necessary products and the pharmacy also has all the medicines. The private clinics here seem to operate at a high level. I visited the government hospital once when I had to pass a medical check and there too I was made to feel very comfortable,” she said.
Residents near her apartment are all staying at home and taking care of their health. “I feel quite safe as everyone around is following the norms. If they need any help, they just call the police and inform them. But the most important help came from my hosts as they give me psychological support. They keep me updated about the latest news, solve my household issues, and even gets me food and other dishes sometimes. The family spends time with me and they even go to the supermarket to get things,” she said/
The humanitarian assistance provided by the Kerala government, was another eye opener. She remembers the time when she received a bag of goodies consisting of rice, moong dal, lentils, sugar, flour and spices. “That was enough for me to live 1-2 weeks. I couldn’t believe my luck when I saw the package.”
The other aspect that impressed her was the way in which local people understood the seriousness of the health situation. “All people wear masks on their faces and keep distance. I haven’t seen anybody on the street, just walking about. When my 28 days of quarantine was completed and I went to the supermarket for the first time, I saw no queues. All shelves had necessary goods and there was no shortage. Only fresh produce could be found everywhere, whether fruits or vegetables.”
She has found that Malayalis are caring and friendly people. Tatiana had lived in Thiruvananthapuram in a private house and fondly remembers how all her needs were taken care of and she was even rented a car. “One surprise for me was the large number of Christian people here. There are a lot of Catholic Churches. The other unique aspect is the availability of ayurveda medicine,” she said.
Tatiana found Kerala to be a picturesque place, with lot of trees with amazing fruits and flowers. It’s a very green and abundant state. In the small town where I live there are groves, fields and forest areas. We don’t have bird species like here back in Russia. The diversity of plants and flowers is admirable,” she said.
The only aspect that she didn’t understand was why people stared at international tourists. “When I do my early morning runs, many people stay and look at me,” she said.
She had been to Goa five years ago, but felt that her experience of Kerala was superior. She visited Thirivananthapuram, Varkala and Pathanamthitta in Kerala before the lock-down was declared.
With her experience here, she knows for sure that Kerala will stay in her heart forever. “Despite the difficult environment (due to Covid) there is a peaceful atmosphere. All are staying strong but with an open heart. I see how the poor and needy are cared for, how the police and doctors work and how the state provides for its citizens. All citizens comply responsibly with the law and help each other cope with difficulties.”
“I feel at home here in Kerala and promise to come yet again to this state of abundance. That’s my word,” she added.