The strains of music from the neighbour’s house can be heard, the flavour of baking from another wafts in, while another neighbour calls to ask if I wanted bread as he has decided to brave the odds and venture out to get some. Had there not been a lockdown, street traffic would have blocked the music, my neighbour would not be baking, and getting groceries would not have been akin to an adventure trip.
Ambavadi area, where I stay, is considered one of Ahmedabad’s upmarket areas, comprised of bungalows and some of the city’s oldest housing societies. The area also has one of the biggest and oldest slums of Ahmedabad dubbed “Hollywood”, after a popular photo shoot in which a few residents of the slum posed as Hollywood heroines.
The entire area is almost silent throughout the day as everyone diligently follows the self-imposed curfew. Grocery stores are open during the mornings and people can be seen wearing masks and maintaining social distancing as they wait in the circles drawn outside the stores. A few residents do venture out to walk their dogs, or themselves, at night. The evenings see a smattering of kids wearing masks coming out on the roads to cycle around, but their usual gully cricket has stopped.
WhatsApp groups of societies and groups of societies have sprung up giving information on everything from recipes for homemade sanitisers, ways to make masks, where to find a particular noodle brand to links where movies that can be watched for free. Gardening is high on the hobby list, with monkey menace and stray dog nuisance discussed with fervour in these groups.
Humour is what keeps everyone’s spirits up and jokes like “This phase shall go down in history as survival of the laziest”; “Help, the wives association is planning to petition extension of lockdown for 6 months! They are only ones who are gaining new workers,” and the lament of a husband, “Hey don’t know how it is happening, first time I looked, count was 3, then 9 (not covid figures), then it just kept going up,” of the aghast husband, who is seeing the flow of utensils to be cleaned for the first time in his life.
Question answer series are also doing rounds, like, Ram Sita hai to Ram kaun? (If it is Ram Sita, then who is Ram) Ans: Ram is a tailor.. (sita is stitching in hindi and gujarati) and “Why is not cricket a great sport in china? Coz they keep eating bats”.
In Ahmedabad’s apartments and homes, “simple living and high thinking” is now an enforced norm. Restaurants and apps promise home delivery, but the cautionary mood swamping citizens finds few takers for such services. The only traffic I see is on the Internet! Socialites who used to buzz me with their latest styles of dress and hair and the newest culinary destinations are now talking about zoom, face-time and online thambolas. “Don’t make her the host, she has a habit of muting all participants” is the new gossip buzz!
Yes, the resilient and enterprising Ahmedabadi spirit is showing itself and not letting gloom set it. Free Online zumba sessions, online meditation sessions, and classes on zoom have sprung up. Even “Covid sales” with huge discounts are floating online for products like night gowns, comfortable lounge wear, organic wellness products and Ayurvedic concoctions to stay healthy, with payment now and delivery after the lockdown. A few businesses have taken police pass, converted small delivery tempos into temporary shops and touring societies that call them. These tempo shops have a fixed schedule, so residents can pre-order.
As people learn to cope and deal with the new extended lockdown, it is heartening to see the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, the Ahmedabad Police and the District Collectorate really pulling up their socks and delivering more than was expected from them. They are pro-active, well-coordinated among themselves, in sync with citizens and very active on social media, with essentials and the not-so-essentials reaching the people. Vegetable and newspaper vendors, medicine and milk outlets (that also sell ice creams and chocolates), kirana (grocery) stores (that also now sell dry snacks), shops and malls with daily essentials and ready-to-cook meals, a few restaurants’ kitchens, are making staying at home somewhat bearable.
Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation has identified five clusters in Dani Limda, Jamalpur, Dariapur, and Kalupur in the city with around 2300 residents quarantined. The containment clusters are the corona positive hotspots while “buffer zone areas” in Rakhial in Bapunagar, and three in Central zone in the walled city, have been put under stringent lockdown. The administration has intensified identification of all people in the city who have travelled abroad, especially those with Tablighi connections.
Citizen groups, and clubs like Rajpath and YMCA, are supporting government initiatives with citizens pitching in to help in areas they are passionate about. Anita Anleshwaria, a resident near H.L.College felt that while slum dwellers were getting food, hygiene should not be ignored; she collected and distributed soaps and detergents in the slum area. Asha Darbar, who is passionate about dogs, has got a pass to ensure that street dogs get biscuits and milk, many houses have made home packed food and give to municipal workers and sweepers on duty.
The peace has been broken occasionally, with a few instances of arson and stone-pelting. A few scattered nitwits who still “go out for a stroll as nothing is gonna happen,” are being punished. But in most instances, the authorities have joined hands with the public, be it in providing meals to the daily wagers, or giving out passes to ensure that essentials keep reaching Ahmedabadis. Four cities in Gujarat, including Ahmedabad, have made it mandatory to wear masks when one ventures outside, or face fines of Rs 5,000 or three years’ imprisonment.
The police have launched www.fakenews.gujaratcybercrime.org to fight fake news circulating on the net. Seven units of para-military forces including 2 of RAF, 2 BSF, 2 CISF and 1 CRPF women’s team, have been deployed in Ahmedabad, Baroda and Surat to help police monitor lockdown, besides the use of drones and CCTV cameras.
Ahmedabad, though silent, is humming underneath. Yet, among the jokes and music shares and movie recommendations floating around, I feel a palpable sense of unease. Everyone is dipping into their savings, and yet keeping a smiling face while accepting what fate has handed them, with “How long will my savings last, and even after the lockdown, will my income pick up?” being the unspoken yet omnipresent question. I see the brave-hearts and COVID warriors of the city keeping up their strength with an unshakable faith in God, in hard work and their own capacity to bounce back after any set back.
The mantra of the city right now seems to be that expressed in the famous Gujarat bhajan that goes: “Chitttushid ne chintakare, Krishna ne karvu hoy tekare (Oh heart! Why are you worring, Krishna will do what He wishes to)
Gujarat in figures (as of April 14, 2020)
New cases in state: 78 (with 13 new cases in Ahmedabad), taking the total in Gujarat to 650
Ahmedabad has seen 373 positive cases with 14 deaths, where 8 are on ventilator, 59 have been discharged, 28 death reported and 455 being monitored.
In all, 14,204 people in the state are under quarantine from which 12,584 people are under home quarantine.
Totally, 15,984 samples have been tested. 40,781 calls have been received by the 104 helpline that include 40,068 Covid related calls.
Cases filed with police: 1006 for breaking quarantine, 3,121 for lockdown under IPC 269, 270, 271, 467 and under Disaster Management Act, 36 for spreading rumours, with a total of 7064 people under custody.