On Tuesday afternoon Nandita and I meet and discuss the curtailment of my trip, given the rapidly evolving situation. Nandita has made a couple of calls to people she knows in the government and at Emirates, through which my flights are booked. Emirates has no plan to cancel flights from Kolkata right now, though can’t say when this might change. There is no new government information that gives clear indication of when non-residents should leave. Nandita believes the restriction into Kumartuli I’d experienced was a localised decision rather than something official from the government.

We decide it would be sensible to bring my return flight forward to Friday 20th.This should get me home in good time before things escalate and will also allow me a few days of work with Dolon Kundu as planned.

We are wrong.

4pm, I’m on the phone to Emirates. I’ve been on hold for 30 minutes and finally get through. I’m just about to commit to the Friday flights when I get an incoming call from Nandita. I don’t pick up. She tries again. Frustrated I may have to start the Emirates hold cycle again but sensing the importance I end the call and answer Nandita. She’s heard that from noon tomorrow, Wednesday, there is to be mandatory quarantine for all foreign nationals. We’re not clear if this is just for new arrivals or for everyone but this probably means it’s also likely to be unclear to the local authorities. She’s also found out that the decision has now been made to shut the border. I need to get on the first flight out of India.

I don’t always drink red wine out of a coffee cup at 4 in the afternoon but I am now.

I get back on the phone to Emirates and join the hold queue. Their website booking system is not working properly, though I’m able to watch the price for the next flight to Birmingham, at 7.15 am tomorrow morning, going up. I’m thinking the worst, that there’s a rush on the flight and I may not make it on. (In reality, it turns out the flight is half empty.) I’m finally through and I’m booked on. Now to pack. I can’t relax until I’ve picked up my transfer from Dubai to Birmingham. After that I have the small problem of getting my daughter back from her Dad in Spain but I can’t deal with that yet.

Nandita catalyses some fast finishing of Annapurna at the workshop. She’s dressed in a sari. Beads, glue and paper cut to shape for jewellery are collected. I will finish her in the UK and these will be packed with her. A hastily put together crate is made. It’s felt too dangerous now for me to go alone to collect the crate from Kumartuli and, anyway, I’m running out of time so very kindly, two of the artisans bring her across to my guesthouse in a taxi. I’m grateful to the responsiveness, work ethic and kindness of the team for turning this all around in a matter of a few hours.

I’m sorry I don’t get to say goodbye but pleased I brought gifts for the team yesterday rather than waiting until Sunday.

Tuesday 17th March 2020

Taxi to a near-empty airport. I leave.

7.15am, Wednesday 18th March 2020

I can’t believe how much can happen in one week.

Time to reflect on all that has happened and what happens next.

British Council and City of Culture 2021, Coventry - International Changemakers, 2020