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pandies' corner

Children of Nithari: Lockdown

Written by Jishan in Hindustani, translated by Grace M Sukanya

Jishan is a 23-year-old final year student of B.A Political Science, working as a receptionist at a dental clinic to support himself and his family. A curious person, he likes travelling, and football. He is a fan of the Liverpool Football Club. He has been associated with pandies’ for 12 years. Having participated in Nithari productions, he seeks pandies’ to further train himself as an actor and a facilitator of workshop theatre.

Lockdown

I was a 24-year-old happy-go-lucky guy, always searching for the silver lining. Because of the poor financial condition of my family and admittedly, also a lack of interest, I could not finish school. A lot of people from my village were working in the city. I decided to join them and try my luck. One of my uncles found me a job in an export factory.

Everyone at the factory was quite friendly, so I did not miss my family too much. The salary was okay too; I was able to rent a small room, and even after spending on food, I managed to save a little money to send home. My daily routine was fixed: I woke up early, made rotis to pack for lunch, and then got ready quickly to reach the factory on time.

That day, the sun felt a bit harsh in the sky. It was Holi[1] a few days ago and people say the weather does get a little warmer after that.

I packed my lunch, got ready and left for work as usual. Many people had started wearing masks. There are some masked people in the bus too. Apparently, there is some new disease called ‘corona’ and this mask helped defend us from it.

When I reached work, everyone was talking about corona. I didn’t know much about it, so I asked my friend Rohit, “Brother, what is this corona everyone keeps talking about?”

“Haven’t you seen the news on your phone? In China, people walking down the street are suddenly just dropping dead from it. It’s very dangerous, and now they are saying that it may have entered our country too,” he told me.

“You know I only use my phone to listen to songs and watch films, I don’t use it to keep up with the news,” I responded. 

“Okay but be careful from now on. To protect yourself from this disease, don’t go to crowded places, wash your hands frequently and well, and generally keep yourself and your surroundings clean,” he said.

I found this disconcerting, but I got back to my work quietly.

*

Talk about the disease had been increasing daily.

I had never before been as scared as I was by the thought of this new disease.

One evening, while still at work, I found out that the government could announce a lockdown to deal with this illness. Rohit said that in case of lockdown, we would not be able to leave our houses or even come to work.

The company informed us that since it would have to close and work would get stalled, our salaries would also be reduced.

I told myself it would soon be fine. It would only last a few days, and everything would go back to normal. And I would have enough money saved to afford food for a few days without work.

After work that day, I returned home and quickly went to the grocery to get rations. I didn’t know if the shops would be open during lockdown in case it happened. While making dinner that night, I started thinking: “If the lockdown happens, how will I survive alone in this tiny room all by myself, for 8 – 10 days?”

That night, the government ordered a complete lockdown for three weeks.

It’s the first morning of the lockdown. I woke up late because I don’t have to go work. The weather was pleasant – not too hot, not too cold. But everything felt deserted and empty. There was no one to be seen outside, none of the usual sounds.

I had tea and biscuits for breakfast, washed my clothes and did some chores around the house.

It had been 7-8 days since the lockdown was announced, but they were saying in the news that the number of infections were still increasing. I heard that even the lockdown may be extended by a few more days.

On top of that, my landlord and neighbours thought I was part of a religious sect that was being held responsible for the spread of the disease. My landlord told me the other day, “It’s because of people like you that this disease has taken root in our country. Clear out of this room as soon as you can and leave!”

My neighbours also looked at me with suspicion. But I had never been a part of any religious sect. If this lockdown went on for a few more days, where would I stay, how would I eat?

The ration I had would last only another 3-4 days. The government said they would be providing ration for everyone but when I went to the government run ration shop, they asked for my ration card, which I didn’t have.

I was feeling very alone. I want to return home. But how would I go? Train, bus — all transportation had shut down.

Some people had started off for their villages on foot. But my village was so far, how would I walk to it? And I saw on the news that many people who were walking couldn’t even make it to their homes – they died of hunger on the way or were crushed to death by the overloaded trucks.

I could not walk back home.

*

I had spoken to a few people from my village on the phone. They too were in the city. They said they were planning to cycle back home, and I could accompany them. But I didn’t have a cycle.

There was a tailor who lived nearby, I used to go to his place quite often. He was a kind person. Maybe I could ask if I could borrow his cycle…

The tailor gave me his cycle for half its price, and I told him I wold pay him the other half when I returned.

Now that I had figured out how to go home, I bought snacks for the road, and gave my leftover ration to someone else. I had only three or four hundred rupees left and a couple days of ration. I might or might not have died of this disease, but I would definitely have died of hunger if I had to stay on in this city. 

I was leaving with Ali, one of the other men from my village who worked in the city. He told me to be ready by 7 pm.

It was almost evening. My bags were packed. I was feeling much better now that I knew I was going back to my village and would soon be meeting my parents.

At 7 pm, all of us had gathered at the meeting point on the main road. Including Ali and me, there were four of us leaving together, and each had his own cycle. Night was looming, and all the roads looked abandoned as we started off.

We had been riding for some 20-25 km, slowly going towards the highway, when a police car approached us and asked us to stop.

We show them our IDs. They too started accusing us of being part of the religious sect that everyone was blaming for the spread of the disease.

You know the reputation of the police in India; you give a little money and they let you off… So, we said to him, “Brother, tell us what we can do for you, and let us go?”

He said, “No way, brother, I don’t want any part of your corona.”

We plead with him to let us go, because we had no more ration left to survive in the city but he said, “If I let you go, you will spread corona in your villages too. You’re going there to spread this disease only, no? Hunger may or may not kill you, but we definitely will.”

*

You can imagine what else happened to that poor boy. This was not my story — this was the story of all of us from challenged backgrounds who suffered during the lockdown.

Thank you.

Grace M Sukanya is a 28-year-old filmmaker based in Delhi, India. She is interested in creating arts-based educational interventions for children that respond to socio-political issues. She has been associated with pandies’ theatre since 2020. This is her second translation in the series.


[1] Indian festival of colours

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

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