Coronavirus: Delhi-NCR residents reflect on life in the times of COVID-19

Young people working on daily wages seen leaving the capital to their respective cities in New Delhi on Tuesday.

Young people working on daily wages seen leaving the capital to their respective cities in New Delhi on Tuesday.   | Photo Credit: Sandeep Saxena

Delhi-NCR residents talk to The Hindu about the wholesale adjustments they have had to make in their lives due to the various measures taken by authorities to contain the spread of the deadly virus.


I have more time for my son, says Richa Vatsala

Resident of Gurugram, an employee at a media company.

“I am enjoying working from home. We all should see it as paid leaves in a way,” says 41-year-old Richa Vatsala, national head of revenue in WittyFeed and STAGE, a media company. The transition from a hectic professional life to working from home, however, has not been smooth for Ms. Vatsala, mother of a seven-year-old.

Richa Vatsala

Richa Vatsala  


With her boy running around the house and the door bell ringing constantly, Ms. Vatsala says it is not “easy to create a work environment at home”. “My phone network is also patchy on our 12th-floor flat, so I need to go downstairs several times a day to take calls. Sometimes, I make do with WhatsApp calls,” she adds.

Her full-time domestic help went to Bihar for Holi and has not returned yet. “Had he been here, I would not have faced so much difficulty,” Richa says, adding that the solution is to remain positive: “all problems can be managed if you are strong, optimistic, and positive.”

There are some plus points to being home all the time. “I am able to enjoy small breaks between work and have some time for my terrace garden. I have around 300 plants,” she says. She is also able to spend more time with her son, and focus on her painting. “My son was initially happy about me working from home, but is now wondering why I am not going to office. He is not allowed to play with his friends to maintain social distance, though he can cycle. He plays boards games, and watches informative videos. It is like a summer break for him,” says Ms. Vastala.

Asked whether her husband was also working from home, she chuckles: “He is going to office, which is even better. If we both stay at home, we might end up fighting.”


I am holding online classes... my routine has not changed much, says Pooja Sabherwal

Resident of Gurugram, assistant professor at NorthCap University

Holding online classes from her home for the past over one week now, Pooja Sabherwal, an assistant professor at Gurugram’s NorthCap University, says her routine has not changed much.

“I get ready everyday at my usual time, but instead of going to the university I go to my room to hold online classes as per the earlier schedule,” says Dr. Sabherwal, who works in the electronics and communication department.

Pooja Sabherwal

Pooja Sabherwal  


“The only difference is that now I can see my children more. They are happy that I am at home,” says the 37-year-old mother of two, adding: “With no need to commute, I have more time for my family.”

The university discontinued traditional classes from March 15 and started “live lectures” for its students in the wake of the COVID-19 scare. “We already had a system in place for holding live classes. Faculty members as well as students had laptops and other necessary equipment for online classes,” says Dr. Sabherwal, who has been teaching for over a decade.

Despite being at home, she needs to work from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., holding live classes and laboratories for the students. “The students can also ask questions if they have any,” adds Dr. Sabherwal.

Holding virtual classes is a good solution for the current situation, but Dr. Sabherwal says she misses “emotionally bonding” with her students. On whether she misses interacting with her colleagues and socialising with them, Dr. Sabherwal says: “We still hold departmental and other university-level meetings online. So, we still socialise, but online.”

Dr. Sabherwal did not face much difficulty in adjusting to working from home as they already had a system in place for the care of their children. “My kids enjoy seeing me hold live classes. They listen to the replies of my students. My elder son, a Class IV student, said that his teacher should also conduct online classes,” she chuckles.


Working from home is a pain but I am getting more time with my family, says Vaibhav Sharma

Resident of Gurugram, an employee at a software company

Working in the sales and marketing department of a prominent software company, Vaibhav Sharma feels that “going to office is a much better option than working from home”.

“In India, going to office is in our DNA. What we are doing now is learning a new way of living life. It is a pain,” says Mr. Sharma, who has been working from home for nearly three weeks.

Working from home is a challenge with the children and family members around.

“When you are physically present at home you have to participate in household activities. You cannot just shut the door and continue to work. You can do it for an hour or two when you are doing critical work, but not for nine straight hours. Especially, when you are part of a family. If you are just husband and wife, it is probably a bit easier,” says Mr. Sharma, whose wife is also working from home.

“When at home, you tend to get distracted by television or social media. You are more productive when at office,” Mr. Sharma believes, adding that he misses learning and dealing with his colleagues.

But the flexible working hours and more time to connect with family has been a boon.

“I have conference calls at odd hours, but since I am working from home I manage to catch some sleep. It is an advantage. Besides, you have more time to connect with your family emotionally,” Mr. Sharma smiles.


I have two children and parents living with me, I cannot afford to sit at home, says Baboo Khan, a barber and Shahrukh, a welder

Residents of Ghaziabad

The road to Sahibabad Railway station is one of the most crowded spots in Ghaziabad, but it has been wearing a deserted look since last week.

Baboo Khan, who runs a salon on the busy road, is nonplussed. “Before COVID-19 emerged on the scene, I used to earn at least ₹1,000 every Sunday, but this weekend I made only ₹350. This is the impact of the virus. I see people walking around with long hair or beards, and here I am looking into the mirror,” rues Mr. Khan.

Baboo Khan

Baboo Khan  


“I have two children and parents living with me. I have to devise a new plan to make ends meet,” he sighs, wondering whether his decision to shift from Hathras, U.P., was right. “I shifted three years ago. Back home, the business is not as much affected,” he adds.

A small television perched on the wall blares out a message promoting online shopping during this period. “Can I do this? Is the government thinking of us? They are closing down our weekly haats (markets),” he says, adding: “The keeda [virus] does not differentiate between the rich and the poor but I guess our policymakers do. We are losing now. I cannot afford to sit at home for a single day.”

As the conversation shifts towards personal hygiene, Shahrukh walks into the shop to get his beard shaved. “I work at a welder’s workshop. How am I expected to wash my hands every hour? Our realities and behaviour are not going to change overnight. How can Baboo maintain distance while shaving my beard,” he asks.

What will they do if they show symptoms of COVID-19? “We will go to the neighbourhood doctors in Shyam Park,” says Shahrukh, referring to the quacks who practice in the area. Neither know about the sample collection centres in Ghaziabad.

Mr. Khan says they still offer Friday prayer standing shoulder to shoulder, and innocently wonders: “Does the keeda [virus] affect you even when one is not facing the other?”, not knowing that people must maintain a distance of one metre to avoid infection.


It has been a busy few weeks, says Shikhar Gupta

A resident of south Delhi, owner of a chemist shop

Its 9.30 p.m. on Saturday at the Defence Colony market in south Delhi and most of the shops have barely seen any visitors over the past few days due to the COVID-19 scare.

Shikhar Gupta

Shikhar Gupta  


However, there has been a din of activity outside 3G Chemists which recently received a new consignment of face masks and hand sanitisers. Between attending to a steady stream of customers and unpacking his consignment, Shikhar Gupta, the owner of the shop, says he has been counselling shoppers and dispelling myths about the virus.

“We are a market that is frequented by expats. While most Delhiites can do social distancing, we chemists cannot... Back in early February, when the scare started, people who were scheduled to travel would come to buy masks, but since then so much has changed. We are trying to keep a stock. There are many who are trying to make a quick buck by selling subpar products at a high price. As chemists, people trust us with their health and we have to deliver on that trust,” he says.

On what steps he and his staff are taking to stave off infection, Mr. Gupta says: “We are following basic hygiene such as frequent washing of hands and using sanitiser. We had a customer come in a few days ago who was coughing and showed signs of the virus. We immediately gave the person a mask and told him about the precautions.”

Though most people are well informed about the virus some customers come into the shop in a panic as they have been misinformed. “Some customers feel that the city is about to shutdown and want to buy in bulk. We assure them that the messages on social media are false.”

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Printable version | Apr 5, 2020 3:00:37 AM |

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