Reflections of a Saudi quarantined in India’s utopia

"Questions raced through our minds as we scrambled to collect as much food as possible before the lockdown went into effect"

By Mohammed Aljubran

Mohammed Aljubran in India. Courtesy.

Quarantine is quite a scary word. It is rarely associated with anything positive. It is also not often used outside a few industries, the medical industry being the most obvious one. Today, however, it is a word that we have all become intimately familiar with. The novel coronavirus has impacted the lives of just about everyone in the world. As a result, the word quarantine has evolved. It is still a scary word, but less so than it was months ago. We have all become familiar with it, and the most common word most people associated “quarantine” with is boredom. While most people have experienced what it means to quarantine in their homes, I was fortunate to go through the, perhaps not unique, but singular experience of experiencing what it means to quarantine in India’s Utopia, Auroville.

When I had first arrived in India in mid-February, the coronavirus had only infected three individuals, and it was not clear that it would turn into the worldwide pandemic it has become. I didn’t give it much thought, and spent the next six week backpacking across India. It wasn’t until I arrived in Auroville, that the scale of the pandemic became clear to me. I had chosen to stay at a hostel in India’s utopia as I found that these hostels provide the greatest opportunities for me to absorb the local culture while still connecting with travelers like myself who are looking for new experiences. My ten hostel mates (nine humans and a dog) were cooking dinner and just getting to know each other when the Indian government announced a complete lockdown within the next four hours. Our calm sense of ease was replaced with fear and apprehension, bordering on panic. What did this complete lockdown mean? How long would it last? What kind of supplies would we need? Was the coronavirus that serious? Had we already been infected? These questions raced through our minds as we scrambled to collect as much food as possible before the lockdown went into effect.

Photographs from Mohammed Aljubran’s time in India during lockdown. Courtesy.

Over the next few days, the fear and panic subsided as we began to settle into a routine. Our hostel was located on a sizable cashew farm, which gave us quite a bit of flexibility to move around, so we didn’t feel too claustrophobic. Our individual travel plans came to a halt, and our worries eased as we understood that we would be confined to the farm for at least 21 days, but that we would still be able to procure additional essential supplies if needed. Instead of travel, our attention shifted to each other. I can confidently say I have made friends during those 21 days that are more akin to family. While we whittled away at the boredom that has become synonymous with quarantine, we laughed, cried and got to know each other better than many family members know each other. Every day we played chess, cooked meals together, and had heartfelt conversations, some of which bordered on quarrels. Yet, each of these conversations brought us closer together in the end. I don’t think I’ve been so sad to part ways with any people as I was at the end of those days.

I think that the essence of quarantine is this: it is an opportunity to reconnect. An opportunity to reconnect with those whom we have the privilege to be at home with. I had the chance to connect with complete strangers and emerged the better for it, so I can only imagine what it must be like to reconnect with those whom I already love and know well. I am now back home in the Kingdom through the help of the Saudi Consulate, and I am looking forward to reconnecting with family. Our connections with the people we love define us, and in fact are all we leave behind when we are gone. More importantly though, I realized the most important connection I formed during my quarantine was with myself. It is that realization of who I am, and what I value, that allowed me to connect with others, and to become a better version of myself. It is also why I was able to take the photographs I am sharing with you here. These photographs are as much a reflection of who I am as they are an image of these beautiful individuals I was privileged to spend quarantine days with. I think we should all quarantine more often.

Explore the rest of the issue here:

Mohammed Aljubran is a photographer from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The views of the authors and writers who contribute to Sekka, and the views of the interviewees who are featured in Sekka, do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Sekka, its parent company, its owners, employees and affiliates.