On March 19 Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the Janata curfew to shield the country from the wrath of the Corona Virus. This was set to be the beginning of an intense lockdown that started on March 24 and went on till the end of May.
During this period a few traumatic incidents of significance occurred in my life of which three stand out.
The first is the sudden death of my grandmother. I remember her watching the Prime Minister’s announcement with great attention and then bustling about calling the local vendors of RT Nagar, Bengaluru, to deliver all the essential goods as she suspected a longer clampdown could ensue. She suffered a severe cardiac arrest the very next day and despite efforts by the doctors to save her, she passed away. My grandmother was strength personified: bold, stoic, pleasant, and loving. I cannot find words to describe our mutual love and affection, a bond I was blessed with since my birth. I distinctly recall how she would hold me and sing out poems on butterflies when I was a child. She was my best friend.
The lockdown prevented me from finding solace in the company of family and friends. I was all alone in my grief.
The second incident that personified the misery wrought in by the pandemic was my interaction with a wholesale dealer in textiles and accessories, N.S. Purohit of Mahadev Button Centre in Ganganagar, Bengaluru. He told me there was a 75 per cent fall in business during the lockdown, but what was distressing was that even two months after the lockdown was considerably eased in the City, his store was visited sparingly by even loyal customers.
Mr. Purohit said he saw no light at the end of the tunnel. “Hardly anyone visits my store even now. The business post-lockdown has revived by only 20 percent. When the lockdown was announced, I thought it would be only for 15 days, but when it got extended, I began to worry. I have to pay my house rent, rent for the shop. and my children’s school fees. How can I fulfil these basic obligations with the state of business being what it is?”
He said he was expecting some revival of business during Bakrid and Ganesh Chaturthi season, but that was not to be. “I have to repay bank loans, and the old stocks are left unsold in the shop”.
Mr. Purohit’s personal agony symbolises the misery of thousands like him. What is apparent on the thoroughfares of Ganganagar and the neighbouring RT Nagar is deceptive. Chaotic vehicular traffic is back on the roads, people appear as busy as they were during the pre-lockdown days, but most shops have no buyers. Many businesses have shut down for being unable to pay rents for their establishments.
Although it appears as if the IT industry has not been so badly affected by the pandemic, there have been cases of mass retrenchments. Three engineers in an aerospace unit in Bengaluru who I met recently said they had lost their jobs with nine others in April and are jobless since. They also said that many of their seniors who had retained their jobs had taken severe pay cuts. Not having any financial backup, some of them are looking for new avenues but there are not many opportunities.