With the lock-down, Times Of India had started a column and published how urban women are coping with being home. It appealed to me to share what I was doing and I sent them a write-up. It did not get published and with the easing of the restriction, they looks like have stopped the column.
Here it is. Written over three weeks ago, so I have much more to add.
I am seeking out what other women are doing, responding, coping….
I see the cooking, baking, painting, stitching, and other creative pursuits, try them, find them quite engaging. I hear of the inconvenience of not being able to live as we lived earlier, no beauticians, no gyms, no bridge sessions, no shopping, no travel and the miseries versus benefits of WFH.
I read in this very newspaper, the anxiety of house-helps whether they will have their salaries and jobs after the lock down is lifted. I over hear comments by women, justifying deducting their salary, “they did not come” they say, “but we are working from home’. I wonder since the house-helps had no role in causing this pandemic. Then how can we even think of cutting their salaries?
I see the picture of a migrant woman, one child sitting up on her shoulder and another in her arms braving the heat and the distance by foot to go back to her village, which is miles away. She even smiles at the camera recording her. I watch the video of a woman pulling a wheeled suitcase with a toddler sleeping on top of it. Another woman, I read, with a three-month-old child walked over thirty kilometres as her husband at home threatened to kill both of them.
I read about the women doctors and nurses who are going to the hospital and taking care of the sick. About ninety percent of nurses in the whole world are women. There are nurses who are sleeping on their desks, living in temporary accommodations, exhausted, overworked, slogging, working despite shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) being fully aware of the danger . But isn’t it terrible that some of them are being ostracised, denied entry into their housing societies and stigmatised.
The Health Minister of Kerala, K.K. Shylaja, on the cover page of Vogue magazine, always calm and composed, carefully navigates the path towards recovery. Also in Kerala, Kudumbashree, a community network of women, is on the forefront and meeting several kinds of needs that have cropped up suddenly. They have prepared grocery kits, cotton masks, face shields, sanitizers, are running community kitchens, supplying cooked food to isolation centres, spreading awareness about elderly care and mental health. You name it and they are doing it. The preparedness of those women groups just amazes me.
New Zealand, led by a woman Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, is the first country to call for thousands of new ‘green’ jobs for reviving the economy. She is one strong woman and how she responded to the Christchurch shooting was the hallmark of a great leader. This pandemic is her second crisis after taking over as the Prime Minister and she is certainly holding her head high. She says, “One of the criticisms I’ve faced over the years is that I’m not aggressive enough or assertive enough, or maybe somehow, because I’m empathetic, it means I’m weak. I totally rebel against that. I refuse to believe that you cannot be both compassionate and strong”.
Closer home in India, there are many heart-warming stories of how women have risen to this difficult time. Gouthami, who has her own company to promote eco-friendly tourism, got a call from a group of stranded migrant workers, thinking her company to be a travel agency. They wanted to hire a bus to go back home to MP. She of course does not own buses or knows anyone in transport department, but she goes ahead and asks others, uses social media to reach out for advice and help, keeps in touch and listens to the worries of the migrant workers. Many phone calls and several back and forth, she finally manages to get permission for inter-state travel pass for them. “It is not as if home is easier”, they tell her, after all there are reasons why they migrate in the first place, “but we are relieved to have made it back”.
Manisha spots a group of workers in an under-construction building in her neighbourhood. She reaches out to friends, the Residents Welfare Association (RWA) and organises food and other essentials. They however, leave the city when lockdown is relaxed, with their head held high, a journey of hundreds of kilometres, part by foot, part over trucks, and whatever else is plying. “We live with our income, and feel ashamed to live on charity and be a burden to others,” they say.
Chitra, a former colleague of my husband and her friend Indira drove to the nearest highway and distributed well thought out food packets, food that quenches thirst and survives the heat. They continue to help the migrant workers figure out logistics to go back to their villages. Bindu is feeding five stranded families near her home since the lock down. Divya a women restaurateur is distributing cooked food.
Ipsita, a friend’s friend is coordinating food at Medchal, the exit point migrant workers. Manshi is participating in a chain fasting to register her protest against the injustice of all that is going on.
My friends Sudha, Pavithra, Switha, and their teams who work with artisans in villages have distributed dry ration and driving campaigns to clear the piled up stocks as all exhibitions are cancelled and the artisans have nowhere to sell their products. Ambika Devi a Madhubani artist paints inside her house a depiction of lock down and stay home. DSS, an organisation working in rural Odisha is training adolescent girls in spreading awareness on the virus and the need to maintain hygiene.
A friend who has a garden says men in the neighbourhood are coming and working in her garden, raking, and digging, things they have never done before! Young teenage girls in my neighbourhood are giving cycling lessons to other small children. I see new friendships, offers to bring things when neighbour is walking to the nearby store, exchange of fruits and vegetables. A new kind of looking out for each other.
I feel my spirit rise. These are all ordinary people rising to the crises and helping others cope. This time of shared uncertainty has brought about a shared camaraderie.
May be we will go back to the same. May be we won’t. May be Nature would not let us go back to the endless frenzy of unending chase.
In reading and writing about these courageous women with souls full of love, care and compassion, I am choosing their kindness and courage to guide me out of this pandemic and for the rest of my life.