A youth and tourist hostel at Miramar in Goa’s Panaji, which has been turned into a shelter amid the COVID-19 outbreak, is housing a group of people from diverse backgrounds — a Chinese national down for a sabbatical to a couple on their honeymoon to migrant workers abandoned by contractors.
The hostel with a capacity of 100 has now been re-structured to accommodate the 70-odd people stranded amid the lockdown while following social distancing norms.
Managing this river-facing, government-backed facility is former Navyman Anant Joshi. “Serving food and services is crucial but we have to keep experimenting to ensure that they don’t get bored,” he said.
Each of those staying at the hostel is being given breakfast, two meals and a mattress.
“We asked them to remain in dorms on day one after giving them food and checking their medical and travel history. They all have windows and when they saw us cleaning the grounds, gardening, they kept asking from the windows if they could join,” said Joshi, adding that some of them have started assisting hostel staff.
“The couple were given a separate room as it is their honeymoon,” laughs Joshi.
An engineer who is among those stranded has started giving yoga classes to the migrant workers.
“In the Navy, physical exercises are a must and that takes away fatigue and boredom. The workers who never got an opportunity to play football are now playing. We keep an eye on them, asking them to touch no one but the ball,” Joshi said.
Among the exercises to beat the boredom is changing the location of the meal table. “One day, we ate below the cashew nut tree, another day next to the river,” Joshi said.
“On day one, they were scared and it took time to explain social distancing to them. We are all a family now, bonds have started developing,” he added.
Among the workers now abandoned by their contractors is Mahadeo Patil, 50, from Ahmednagar. He came to work in Goa to beat the loneliness of being a widower.
“I got paid Rs 2,000 for four days and then had nowhere to go,” he said.
Patil is now spending his days gardening as he waits for the lockdown to end. “It’s a different kind of warmth, to be asked and cared for,” he said, pointing at the hostel.
Next door to him is Chinese national Ning Xin Liang, 38, who walked six hours with luggage to reach the hostel after his flight to China cancelled on March 25. In India since July, he said, “The lockdown will finally end here too. China has suffered but it also came out.”
The couple, Kusum, 22 and Merja Umesh, 26, came to Goa on March 16 and were to return to Gujarat on March 22. “Our friends pooled money and sponsored our holiday. We were to return, but were stranded. Earlier I counted days, but now I am counting hours,” he said. Kusum, a nurse, said she understands the situation and is glad she has a shelter.
Joshi and his staff have to manage the group for the remaining duration of the lockdown. “I am using every textbook experience of the Navy here as I have to chart their mornings and evenings and ensure everything without contact.”
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