Sunday, April 5, 2019. Indeed, the 9 pm show was reminiscent of the festivities of a mini-Denali, with lighting and fire crackers bursting in middle class and upwardly mobile gated colonies of the national capital, hardly mentioned with any concern in the national media.
Far away from my home on Badarpur border, my driver, Dilip Kumar, living in the Muslim-dominated colony of Palla in Faridabad on the other side of the border, had to put up, about the same time, with the daily drill of facing police lathis every time he dared to venture out of his small home to buy milk for his children.
My driver and my maid are comparatively lucky in the sense that they do not face an uncertain future once the lockdown ends. They are anxious to return to work the day this curfew is lifted. Their salaries have been transferred to their account, promptly, on the first of this month.
‘First, we deafened Corona with ‘taali bajao, thali bajo’ throughout the country, now we have blinded Corona with light. Next Sunday at 12 midnight for 12 minutes we should all join together throughout the country to assault its olfactory nerve to kill Corona finally and definitely.’
Mausam Khan, a chowkidar in the Greenfield Colony of Faridabad, has his brother lying in Safdarjung Hospital with broken bones and more injuries, struggling between life and death. Mausam’s employer too was quick to transfer his salary, except that he has no bank account and had to get the money transferred to his friend’s account because he dare not venture out either to attend to his ailing brother or to collect his salary in cash.
Kaushalya Devi had a steady income till the lockdown began. She is the sole breadwinner of her family with her husband being differently-abled — not in a position to go out and work. She could never spare the time to go round government offices to secure a ration card. Her employers, like most others, were paying her in cash. She has no bank account. But, now with the lockdown entering the 15th day, her meagre resources have exhausted. She cannot get free or concessional ration because she has no ration card and in the present state is not allowed to travel to her employers’ house to collect her salary. With another ten days for the lockdown to end, if, at all, she is worried how she and her family will paper over this period because by now she has borrowed money from all her friends, relatives and acquaintances.
THE LOCKDOWN IS a kind of blessing in disguise for the well-off people living in the cool comfort of posh colonies, with most of them confined to their homes, tending to their plants or attending to other hobbies with their children or simply tutoring their children, especially if they are school-going, with the minor discomfort of having to do household chores because there are no maids coming these days to do the dirty work of washing, cleaning and cooking. It’s ‘do-it-yourself-time’ and fun for those who enjoy cooking or simply experimenting with this novelty.
That is why perhaps they failed on that famous Sunday to perceive the gravity of the situation and went around gleefully celebrating a mini-Diwali, with lamps, candles, flashlights and crackers. Similar gusto was on display on March 22 when at some places senior officers of the district administration in some towns and the police led processions of ‘thaali bajao, taali bajao bands’ with gay abandon as they believed that this would ‘deafen’ the Coronavirus. As a friend said in his social media account: “First, we deafened Corona with ‘taali bajao, thali bajao’ throughout the country, now we have blinded Corona with light. Next Sunday at 12 midnight for 12 minutes we should all join together throughout the country to assault its olfactory nerve to kill Corona finally and definitely.”
‘I am not a beggar. I earned enough to feed myself and also sent back money to my family in the village. But this government has reduced me to a beggar, anxiously waiting for my next meal, sent here as a charity.’
However, that is for those who are living in the comfort of their homes and family. What about someone like Rattan Singh and his fellow catering industry workers sleeping in the open at the Yamuna riverbed — for they have nowhere to go. They are waiting anxiously to go back to their villages as soon as the lockdown ends, even though they admit that they are being fed by the NGOs. Indeed, they had no choice once they were left with no work and no sources of earning. Says Sohan Lal, staying in one of the temporary shelter homes for migrant labourers who were fleeing Delhi en masse after the prime minister’s announcement of the lockdown. “I am not a beggar. I earned enough to feed myself and also sent back money to my family in the village. But this government has reduced me to a beggar, anxiously waiting for my next meal, sent here as a charity.”
Indeed, can we blame only the exuberant and jubilant haves for this state of affairs?
The prime minister has addressed the nation thrice in this critical period and not once has he uttered a word of what he and his government proposes to do to alleviate the suffering of crores of skilled and casual workers affected severely by this lockdown. As one of them said, “Yes, we are aware of Corona, but before that hunger and penury may consume us.”
This could be quite prophetic because so far the government has not come out with any data on how the casual and informal labourers has been affected by this lockdown. We do hear a stray story or two of a person dying on the roadside while he walked all the way from Delhi to his village in Madhya Pradesh or Bihar. However, often, with no money in their pockets, no food, and not even drinking water for the little children in their arms and women accompanying them, walking for hundreds of miles in their endeavour to reach home, we can roughly imagine how many would have indeed survived this mass tragedy.