CONTINUED FROM - COVID-19 Diaries - Day 18 of Lockdown
12 April 2020
Despite lockdown, today has been an eventful day. In the morning, I took a walk around my house to see if any salon was open. Unfortunately, I found none. On my way, I noticed a man chase a motorbike that was racing away. He told us (who had gathered there) that the two boys on the motorbike had snatched his cellphone. Deserted streets seems to have aided crime. Our apartment watchman informed me that a theft had taken place in his locality as well. The motive there was to steal some bottles of alcohol. There are several reports of people addicted to alcohol finding it hard to deal with this lockdown.
I bought some vegetables and fruits from Gandhi bazaar. Once a busy market, today, received a small handful of customers. I have previously observed some of the vegetable vendors in Gandhi bazaar to be arrogant. They are known to quote higher price as compared to other vendors in the neighbouring localities. But today, they seemed eager to sell their products. Their helplessness was clearly visible on their faces.
I bought some lentils and vegetables for the migrant workers. I also included some extra wheat powder that we had at home. In a piece of paper, I wrote down the Bangalore south helpline number (9946499464) that was launched by the local MP to help migrant workers and senior citizens. I also wrote down the house address in Hindi so that they could direct the officials.
At home, our cat Baki did not budge and stayed in her basket all day, licking the kittens. I cooked Bisi Bele Baath for lunch and finished some University work. As part of my Philosophy classes, I was going through a study material on Subaltern studies and it was then that a thought occurred to me - I should be narrating the story of this lockdown on my blog. Though the idea seemed interesting, I remained lazy to start penning down.
A student of mine lives close by and she had mentioned on her WhatsApp status about some shelter and aid provided to people in need. When I enquired further, she told me that a school in Chamarajpet (a locality close by) had been converted into a shelter to house migrant workers and the homeless. They were served two meals a day. However, when I mentioned about it to Sugreev, he seemed a bit sceptical about moving to a Government shelter. They thought that it would be more like a prison for them. on the other hand, here, they had all the freedom. The only concern right now was managing food without money and work.
I also enquired with my student if there was some aid provided in terms of grocery. She put me in touch with her uncle who has been distributing grocery for the needy and might have some stock left. I decided to call him the next day.
In the evening, when I went to the terrace as usual, I enquired if they had contacted the helpline. Sugreev told me that he had called and they were directed to another helpline that has been established by the state Government (155214). They had called that number as well but unfortunately, the person at the other end did not understand Hindi. The official had requested them to take help from someone and provide the address. I assured the men that I would do so.
Meanwhile, Sugreev told me that daughter of Upendar had passed away last night. "I saw him crying last night and I thought may be he was feeling home sick because of the lockdown. But only later did he tell us that his 8 year old daughter had died", Sugreev added.
I was shocked. Upendar stood silently next to him. He appeared stoic and that really made me uncomfortable. I wasn’t sure of his mental state and therefore hesitated for a while to ask him any detail. After a while, I asked him how she had died. He told me that she had suffered severe vomiting and diarrhoea. He had in fact spoken to her the previous day and she was fine. Upon further questioning, I learnt that they do not have a hospital in the village. A village doctor had diagnosed her. In the evening, when the situation worsened, they decided to take her to a hospital in the neighbouring town. On the way to the hospital, his daughter Sonakshi has passed away. Though he remained stoic, you don't have to be a genius to understand that he wanted to be with his family now.
I advised him to go to the police station and narrate the incident so that the cops could may be help him. He thought about it for a while and discarded the idea thinking it wasn’t feasible. Since every state was under lockdown they may not be able to help him reach his village. It made sense. I returned back to my house, but remained extremely disturbed by the news.
It simply did not seem right and I had to do something about it. Coping with grief all alone during lockdown seemed like one of the most difficult things to do. So, I called the Basvanagudi police station for help. They informed me that my locality came under Hanumanthnagar police station and I could reach out to them. I did so and the constable at the other end of the telephone asked me to bring Upendar to the station.
Upendar and I rode to the police station. There were several motorbikes parked on the outside. I considered them to be bikes confiscated from those breaking the curfew. I walked in directly to the head constable who was sitting in the main hall, speaking to an other constable. When I approached them, he asked me to maintain distance, wear the mask, and speak loudly and clearly. I restated the situation and they gave me a sheet of paper and asked me to write a request. To be honest, they had a rough and arrogant attitude. However, the tone of their speech did not bother me at all. If this was the first time I was dealing with the police, I might have felt offended. But, having dealt with them enough during the theft case, I remained unaffected by their behaviour. From my past experience with the mugging case, I have learnt one important thing - if you are fully convinced that what you are doing is the right thing, you will have no fear or hesitation in dealing with it.
I did not have a pen to write the letter so I asked a man standing next to me. He handed me his pen, but told me that he had to leave soon. I began to write the letter for Upendar in English. Meanwhile, I noticed that the man was eager to leave though he politely asked me to finish my letter. I therefore asked a lady standing next to me for a pen. She pulled out a pouch from her handbag and dropped a few pens on the table. At that moment, I failed to understand why she had not handed it over to me directly. I picked one, returned the other pen to the man who was in a hurry to leave and continued writing. After I was finished, I showed it to the head constable. He glanced at it and then asked me to take a signature from the SI (Sub Inspector).
I walked into the office of SI and handed him the letter. SI asked me the motive and I explained the situation again. "Then you should be writing that", he said and wrote down the same thing in Kannada on the other side of the paper. I had actually detailed it out well in English. I shall allow you to arrive at the signification of this act by yourself. He then signed the paper and stamped a seal on it. Then, he asked me if Upendar had any proof of the death. Upendar remained clueless. "How could we believe anyone without documents?", The inspector added. He handed me back the letter and explained to me the next steps in the process.
Next, I had to take it to the office of Assistant commissioner (AC) located in South end circle. He asked us to carry some proof of the event; a certificate or letter perhaps. I requested Upendar to get some note from the hospital, the village doctor or the village head. He made a telephone call to his family and told me that it could only be arranged the next day. By the time we returned home, it was 7:00 PM. We planned to visit the AC office the next day.
Oh! by the way, when Upendar returned the pen to the lady, she refused to take it back. It is then that her behaviour became clear to me. She was avoiding contact.
When I came back and reflected upon what had happened, I was deeply saddened. Everything seemed so strange. Here was a father, helplessly mourning his daughter’s death from thousands of miles away and we are asking him for documents to prove her death. I am not blaming anyone in particular for this. I am just shocked at the times that we are living in, that has made us incapable of easily trusting another human being.
Back at home, I had forgotten about my online class. I apologised to my student who lives in New York and began my class. After the class, I continued to watch the video on Subaltern studies.
It was then that I realised how important it was to record these events; to narrate how this lockdown has affected common people. No journalist, no politician, no historian who is bound by an ideology or theory can record this without a grand narrative. It had to be the voice of common people; the subalterns. May be some day in the future, my blog posts would serve a bigger purpose of understanding the times that we are currently living in. Because, nobody else will report how Sugreev and his friends longed to return back to their village and how Upendar grieved alone.
*All previous post on lockdown are backdated. I began recording the events, this day onwards.
CONTINUED HERE - COVID-19 Diaries - Day 20 of Lockdown
CONTINUED HERE - COVID-19 Diaries - Day 20 of Lockdown