A young woman in Romania has been keeping tabs on the COVID-19 spread in Kerala. She is waiting for the southern Indian state to be free from the clutches of COVID-19, so that she can fly down to Kerala.
Catalina was born and brought up in Romania. But Kerala is close to her heart.
Catalina was busy exploring Kerala, taking in the beauty of the sunset at Kozhikode beach and relishing the delectable Thalassery biriyani, when reports emerged of COVID-19 wreaking havoc across the globe.
Like most travellers, Catalina too had to abandon her plans mid-way and boarded the flight home on March 24, the day before the COVID-19 lockdown was imposed in the country.
She is hopeful that she would be able to return once the pandemic has been reined in.
But the coronavirus has showed no signs of slowing down and Catalina is awaiting the day when she can return to God's Own Country.
Love for the orient
Catalina learnt Hindi, Arabic and the Islamic culture from the oriental language department of the University of Bucharest in Romania.
She also learned explorer Ibn Battuta's visit to India and in particular to Kerala and Malabar. Her interest was piqued and she flew down to India in September 2015 for an internship in Delhi.
She made her second visit to India in August 2017 and spent three months in the country. She was back again in October 2019 and travelled to various Indian states.
In her very first visit, Kerala secured a firm place in Catalina's heart. She was so enamoured of the state that she wanted to live in Kerala and continue her higher studies. She also gave in an application for Phd at the Calicut University. While she was waiting for a confirmation, the pandemic struck and Catalina had no go but to leave.
The artistic Malayali
Not just the land, Catalina found a resonance with the Malayalis too. She firmly believes that Malayalis have an artistic streak irrespective of the nature of their profession.
Catalina has even learned to read and speak in Malayalam, and has been reading books of this land. She particularly likes renowned writer Kamala Surayya's books. She is also interested in translating Kamala Surayya's works into her native language Romanian.
During her travel to various parts of the state, she has often been asked if she was a Malayali.
Catalina also took part in several literary fests in the state. Catalina also interacted with Kanchanamala, a woman from Mukkam in Kozhikode who dedicated her life to the social cause after her lover B P Moideen was killed in a boat accident.
Similar to her land
Catalina has found a striking similarity between many places in Kerala and those in Romania. She also drew parallels between Kuttanad and her land, which is also known for its vast stretches of paddy fields. Most of the natives are also farmers. Corn, potatoes and sunflowers are the main crops of this European country.
They also seem to share Malayalis love for making pickles out of many vegetables and fruits.
No place like Kerala
Apart from Kerala, Catalina also visited Tamil Nadu, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Jammu and Kashmir, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh.
But Catalina vouches that no other place is as beautiful as Kerala. And within Kerala, Thalassery in Kannur is her favourite spot.
Catalina, who has secured three degrees, worked for two years to fund her travel expenses. She has worked with Amazon and also worked as a translator for refugees.
Her father Catalin is a farmer, while mother Violetta is a nurse. She has two younger sisters and a younger brother.
Freed from the COVID-19 pandemic, life in Romania has returned to normalcy. But still masks and social distancing are mandatory. Romania had seen a huge spike in COVID-19 cases in April. But everything was back in order by July.
Catalina is hopeful that Kerala too will be able to combat the spread of the infection. Once that is achieved, Catalina will be back at her treasured destination.