• Garima Raghuvanshy

#1 Lakshmi

(All names are changed to maintain privacy) Lakshmi lives with her husband and two children in Santosh Nagar, Goregaon East, Mumbai. She works as a domestic help in two homes and earns Rs. 6000 a month. She used to work in two or three other houses as well, but those people moved a few months ago and she hasn’t been able to find new work since.


Lakshmi hasn’t gone to work since the 16th or 17th of March but she is waiting for 1st April to see if she’ll be allowed to resume. If not, she’ll stay at home, aur kya? She isn’t sure if she will be paid for the days she hasn’t been able to go to work, but usually she gets paid in the first week of every month, so that’s when she’ll know for sure.


From what she sees on TV and from what her employers have told her, Lakshmi knows that Covid-19 is a deadly infection that is spread by coming in contact with infected people who are coughing or sneezing, and from surfaces they have touched. She knows that now we should cough or sneeze into a tissue paper or into our elbow and cover our nose with a rumaal to protect ourselves. Lakshmi and her daughter have had a cough and cold for a couple of days now. The private and government doctors she visited have said it’s not Covid-19. The clinics in her area are small, with one doctor in each clinic. There is one government-run clinic and several private ones. The medicines given by the government clinic proved more effective than those prescribed by the private doctor, and Lakshmi and her daughter are feeling better now; “fir bhi thoda khaasi hai, par theek hone mein time toh lagta hai”.

The doctors she visited all wore masks and gloves while examining them, and in the waiting room people were asked to sit apart from each other. In clinics where there was more space, they were asked to go and wait in areas beyond the designated waiting rooms to avoid crowding. At the clinics, several people, young and old, come with complaints of cough and fever. The doctors are checking them, giving medicine, and asking everybody to come back for follow-ups. So far in her basti they haven’t found any positive cases, but some 2 or 3 people have tested positive for Covid-19 in nearby Nagri Niwara, and 5 or 6 people have tested positive in Goregaon.


Lakshmi has heard this lockdown will be extended. It might go on for a year. It’s a disease, it’ll take a year to get it under control. She isn’t happy about the lockdown. “Gareeb kya khaayega?” What will the poor eat? How will they earn? How long will they sit at home? Only when they work will they earn and eat. But yes, if the disease spreads, it’s a big cause for concern. But who will pay them for sitting at home? In the meanwhile, Lakshmi goes every morning to the market to buy the day’s vegetables. She doesn’t have a fridge so she can’t buy several days’ vegetables together. Whatever vegetables one wants are available, and vendors are open for two hours, between 8 and 10. In the market people consciously try to maintain distance. No hi hello, no phaaltu ki baat. People aren’t making lines, but they try not to create crowds while buying what they need. 5 or 6 people at a time at the most. They buy what they need and head home. Things are getting expensive though. Dal which used to be 60 or 70 rupees a kilo is being sold at 110 – 120 rupees now. Sugar has also become more expensive, as has rice. Prices continue to increase. Things will get more difficult hereon. The government should do something to reduce their problems.


The government has said it will give some free ration, but she hasn’t received anything till now. She hasn’t gone to ask, but she will come to know what is actually given only on the 1st, when the two or three ration shops in her area usually open to give out monthly ration. She has a 0 balance jan dhan bank account, and she has heard the government will deposit some 2000 rupees in this account, but she doesn’t know when that will happen. When the things the government says it is giving the poor are in her hands, that’s when she’ll know that the government has done something for them. “Haath mein aane tak pata nahi beech mein aane waale kya khaayenge, kitna khaayenge. Ye bhi toh nahi bol sakte.” (No one knows how much will be siphoned off by middlemen before we receive the remainder in our hands). Let’s see what happens. So far, no NGO, mitra mandal, sanstha or sangathan has done any charity work or relief work in her area. At the moment it’s just the police, who are repeatedly announcing, wash your hands, stay at home, don’t create crowds.


She wasn’t able to spend time with her children earlier, now she is doing that. That’s definitely a good thing. She can give them food on time, and also give time to her husband. Ye ek khushi ho rahi hai. But there is also fear, “pet bharne ke liye ration paani toh chahiye na”.


People in Santosh Nagar are following the directives of the lockdown. They are scared, “apne area mein aayega toh kaise chalega. Ek se paanch ko phailta hai”. The market used to be bustling but it is less crowded now. The police make announcements regularly and people are following their directives. They leave the house only to go to the market or the common toilets. It is difficult though, to stay at home, “dam toh ghut-ta hai”. How long can they sit at home, how long will they watch TV? “Thoda toh bahar niklein”. The uncertainty of how long this will go on causes some anxiety. For now, this is all she has to say. If something else comes to her mind, she’ll give a call.


Photo: A galli in Santosh Nagar during the lockdown

PC: Lakshmi


Update 11/04/2020:

Near a bakery close to Lakshmi’s house a rickshaw driver tested positive for covid-19 recently. That entire area has been sealed. In her area too they have become stricter about movements. But she still has to go out every day to buy vegetables and small groceries. And they have to leave the house to use the common toilets. But other than that, they stay indoors


The government had said it would be giving extra ration, but when she went to the ration shop this time she got lesser ration than she usually does. Earlier she used to get 8 kgs of rice and wheat each. This time she got 5 kg rice and 7 kg wheat. She asked the people at the ration shop about it, they said they have been told to distribute less quantities.


They were also giving chana dal, but it was so dirty, she decided it’s better not to take it. The wheat she got is also very bad, full of mud and dirt. If we eat food like this of course we’ll fall sick and die. Rather than this, give less but give good ration.


Lakshmi hasn’t received anything in her 0 balance Jan Dhan account. Vegetables are becoming expensive. Onions used to be 20 rupees a kg, now they’re sold for 40. Potatoes have gone from 20 rupees a kg to 25-30 rupees. Both her employers have put her salary in her account. They have asked her to stay safe and at home until this crisis is over.


Update 28/04/2020

Six days ago two people in Lakshmi’s lane tested positive for Covid-19. Authorities immediately sealed two lanes, hers and another one nearby. In each sealed lane there are 6 rooms, one on top of the other. Around 50 people must live in both lanes put together. The police put up barricades, patre ka darwaaza, at both ends of the lane. They don’t stand there all the time.


Santosh Nagar vegetable market has also been closed. Now the closest market is at Mantri Park, which is very far away. Pareshaan ho gaye. Bache log bhi pareshaan, mai bhi pareshaan, pati bhi pareshaan. Ekdum mushkil ho gaya hai. Authorities are not delivering anything to houses within the sealed area. To get wheat ground into flour, Lakshmi has to go through several lanes to avoid being caught. And people whose houses she crosses ask her not to go that way, since she is from the lane with cases of Covid-19. In some lane or the other residents say there is no entry for people living in the sealed area.


Shopkeepers close by have also begun to refuse residents from Lakshmi’s lane saying that they might bring the disease with them when they come to the shop. Bhed bhaav kar rahe hein, jaise tum log ko hua toh humein bhi ho jaayega. Chhoot-chhaat ki bimaari jaise. So Lakshmi has taken to calling out to people from another lane nearby to bring her things she needs. It has become difficult even to go to the common toilets. Woh toh ghar mein nahi hai, woh toh jaana hi padta hai. Even at the common toilets people say that you have the disease and will give it to us. The other day her husband told off a couple of people, saala, tum log aadmi ho ya janawar ho? 


Today people from BMC came to Lakshmi’s lane to take family members of those who have tested positive for testing. They have tested about half the people in the sealed area so far. They had come to her house and taken down everyone’s names, but Lakshmi and her family have not been tested yet. Of the two people from her lane who tested positive for Covid-19, one works at Mahanand dairy. She is not sure if he was going to work during the lockdown, jaate the shayad. Authorities had said the sealed area will be opened up within 13 days. Let’s see. Difficulties are increasing every day. And now its coming in the news that Modi has extended the lockdown to 20th May. 


Lakshmi ko toh bahut takleef ho rahi hai. The other day, she cried so much. Bhagwaan bachhe log ko bachaye, aur kuchh nahi. Apne pe aa jaaye chalega, lekin bachhe kya, abhi toh bhavishya unko dekhna hai.


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