The tale of three cities

LIFE IN THE TIME OF COVID-19 -- 4: Prateem Rohanekar in Pune recounts how three major cities of Maharashtra have been affected by the global pandemic.


Dabbawallas ferrying tiffin boxes through Mumbai local trains (marathimedia.com)

The local trains of Mumbai, the main lifeline of the Mumbaikars, came to a grinding halt in mid-March, thanks to the lockdown because of COVID19, affecting the lives of millions of people, including the internationally renowned dabbawallas of Mumbai whose meticulously organised network helps in carrying around 2,00,000 cooked home meals, or lunchboxes, from central kitchens and eateries to people at their workplaces and back on every weekday.

Prem Sagar, 53, a motorman who has worked for 27 years in Mumbai local trains, said that although the local train services were resumed from June 19, very few people were boarding the trains these days. "Mumbai isn’t the same anymore, and I am not sure if the mega-city will be the same again anytime soon."

Subhash Talekar, chief of the Mumbai Dabbawalla Association, said that with the lockdown in place the local trains remained suspended for close to three months from March 24. However, even after they were resumed, there were not many takers for their services as most of their customers were working from home. The legendary dabbawallas of Mumbai are now waiting for people to get back to their workplaces.

Kolhapuri chappals on display (fibretofashion.com)

Kolhapuri chappal, the eponymous footwear of Kolhapur, has always served as a souvenir for tourists. The pride of Kolhapur since the British time had invaded the US and European markets with an annual turnover of about 15 crores before the virus struck the country. But today it is a different story. Bhupal Shete, manufacturer and seller of Kolhapur chappals, said: “The business is largely dependent on tourism. Owing to the lockdown, there has been no tourism for the past six to seven months, directly affecting more than 15,000 workers involved in this business as they are left with no work.”

Ankit playing dhol at a Ganesh Chathurthi procession (Ankit Kulkarni)

The Punekars have taken immense pride in their Ganesh Visarjan processions since the time of Lokmanya Tilak, who first celebrated Ganesh Utsav publicly. Every year, during Ganesh Visarjan, Pune takes on a new look, and as dhol tasha pathaks liven up the atmosphere, devotees bid adieu to Lord Ganesh. Ankit Kulkarni, who has been performing with Shivmudra Pathak, which performs with prominent Ganapati mandals such as Tambdi Jogeshwari, Kesriwada, and Mahim cha Raja, said that he was utterly dismayed with this year’s lacklustre Ganapati Visarjan. However, Ankit takes relief in the fact that he could focus on his fitness during the lockdown and also that he got back to work as a chef after the lockdown.

The COVID 19 experience cannot be summed up yet, not at least until a vaccine has been found. However, while some might have had the comfort of picking things up where they left them, everyone was not as lucky.

(With inputs from Vedika Mane in Mumbai, Akash Khandke in Kolhapur, and Ruta Bakshi in Pune)

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