From Mumbai to New York – Divided by Distance, But United by COVID 19

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Mumbai, the financial capital and backbone of India is home to as many residents born and bred in the city as it is to immigrants who have set their sights on this conglomerate metropolis in pursuit of a livelihood. Mumbai is not just the epi center of the Indian economy but also dictates terms on contemporary economy globally as well. Coming from far and wide, Mumbai’s suburban demographic has constantly been on the change with the arrival of people from different cultures and ethnicity and it is safe to say many residential suburbs in this metropolitan city have undergone a rapid change to become the ideal model for cosmopolitan cohabitation for the rest of country. A city built on the land stretch kissing the sea shore; it sure does present a fascinating sight for viewing, with tall skyscrapers populating its skyline in the horizon with the stars almost kissing them in the background. At night when they are illuminated, the sea shore looks like a dazzling diamond necklace on the nape of a woman, no less than the stature of a Queen. But this great city too has seen its shares of bad times and sorrow. When the bubonic plague arrived in 1896 on ships, in the aftermath of colonial efforts, in high and low, fear and death almost emptied the city to wear a deserted look almost overnight.

Mumbai and New York are not much different in their basic structure and approach to life, although they lie on opposite poles of the globe. Although the Coronavirus induced pandemic barely manages to draw such a grim figure, thanks to advanced technology and medical science, one can still draw parallels. A megapolis that is home to more than 20 million, few cities face the crisis around infrastructure and industries that Mumbai is grappling to come to terms with during the Coronavirus induced pandemic. Here are 6 stories from the lives of 6 Mumbaikars, as they prefer to be referred to, that are absolutely independent of each other and yet entwined together to reveal how this pandemic has changed life drastically from what they knew it in the past.

Union Leader – In 6 decades with the Indian railways, Mr Union Leader has witnessed the lifeline of Mumbai, railways services being disrupted and brought to a halt for only one day when terrorist attacks on Mumbai in 2006 stalled movement of trains for one whole day. On a typical day, the railway services cater to an overwhelming footfall often at a surplus of expectations, with people hanging on the footboard by a single handrail for miles together. Keeping safe distance is not a feasible solution even on the least busy days. But with the arrival of the COVID pandemic, Mr Union Leader has now seen Indian Railways shut shop and close shutters to come to a absolute standstill for 6 months at a stretch now. Railway passenger services have been totally terminated to avoid and deter risk of contagion. The trains are the city’s arterial route ferrying the truckload of labours and workers from far off hinterlands to downtown cityscape every day. So Mr Union Leader, armed with the patience of a saint is quietly baiting time to see his beloved city return back to life when passenger trains resume service. Till then it’s a lonely walk down memory lane.

Banker – On a typical day, Mr Banker would cut a savoury picture, dressed in sharp three piece suits, complete with tie and waistcoat as he would alight on his chauffeur driven sedan and whisk away to work in the downtown Mumbai area. But with the arrival of the pandemic, the trip to work every day almost seems equivalent to moving around in a war zone. Covered in appropriate certified PPE suits, Mr Banker leads from the front with his obligatory gate pass to avoid police scrutiny for disobeying the lockdown. Financial services have been labelled as essential services and hence Mr Banker makes his attendance at work without fail following the same measures every day. Today half of his time is spent in administering sanitizing operations at his branch frequently which takes up most of their time and there’s little left for new business. For now, focus is on evolving sanitizing solutions than banking operations or financial services.

Delivery Guy – Mr Delivery guy lost his job at his Fast Food franchise because people were too scared to come in contact with unknown persons after the pandemic outbreak. Born and raised in this city of Mumbai, he laments, that not even terrorist attacks, bomb blasts, floods or riots could achieve what COVID has done to them. Not only robbed millions of a livelihood but scared people into the confines of their homes, unwilling to confront new people. With a family to feed and old parents depending on him, Mr Delivery Guy is battling it every day, hoping the next sunrise would bring about a change for the better.

Housekeeping Maid – Housekeeping maids are the bottom rung of the eco system in the city of Mumbai. They render their cleaning, washing and tending services at different domestic households in exchange of a paltry compensation. They usually stay in the nearby slums which are the worst affected during the COVID outbreak due to the sheer congestion in which they live. So automatically with the isolation guidelines being floated around, the house maids were first to be struck off the list as they live in a seat of infection and contagion. As a result our maid lost her last lifeline of survival, her job as household societies started getting stringent on influx of outsiders to keep contagion at bay. Hand Sanitizers or certified PPE suits could not win her case for her even.

Stock Broker – Mr Stock Broker, director of his venture capital agency was still reeling from the shock of the pandemic induced lockdown when he was struck by the wrath of technology along with the COVID induced pandemic. With markets collapsing from the economic meltdown propelled by COVID, his last chances of retaining clients also went down the drain with people exploring stocks and shares by themselves through digital technology. With ample time on their hands, and locked indoors fr their own safety, people started eliminating the need for a Stock Broker and started getting involved personally in the trading process, thanks to the benefit of technology. Now Mr Stock Broker has not only lost many accounts but is grappling to make a foothold in the industry he once called his kingdom.

Actor – Bollywood, as Mumbai’s film industry is called, a la inspiration from Hollywood, is largely dependent on human intervention to get work done and things moving. Due to the lockdown the movie industry has also come to a virtual standstill with many supporting professionals losing their livelihood and many others failing to recover their dues. Though authorities have allowed some work to resume with strict restrictions, very few new projects are commencing under such strict scrutiny. Our beloved Actor, who is still to make a mark in the industry, is still scouting for opportunities, in the hope that things will change soon. But will they? And if they do, will it be soon enough?

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