Kamaraj Nagar – A locality in Avadi – April 14, 2020
Murugan looked at his wife and two children. It was the Tamil New Year. The corona lockdown had forced him to shut his small barber shop. There had been no income for about a month now. From all his savings, he was down to the last Rs 500 he had. He cursed himself for having hastily installed the air conditioner in his saloon based on the feedback of his customers. The AC had taken out Rs 30,000 and within a month of it being installed the government had enforced its god-forsaken lockdown. Valli his wife had managed to make a simple yet delicious meal. There was payasam and vadai with rice, sambar, and vegetable curry. The two children – twins – Haripriya and Harpit were ten years old. Excellent at studies and extra-curricular activities, their small flat in the housing board colony was adorned with certificates and trophies that the twins had won at school. The situation was problematic for most occupants of the run-down flats in the colony. He could not borrow money from anyone either. The people lending money during this crisis would extract their Shylockian pound of flesh from him. He wondered how he would overcome this crisis.
Gumudipoondi a town adjoining the Andhra border – May 1, 2020
Biswajit was walking along with a group of 15 other construction workers. They were tired of the false promises being made. They had not received wages nor had work resumed. Their contractor had tried his best to support them, but he too was caught in his problems and facing a monetary crisis. Originally from Midnapore in West Bengal, Biswajit had come to Chennai, three years ago. He loved this city and its long beach. He had worked in a small restaurant as a cleaner and then found a better-paying job as a construction-worker. This city gave him dignity instead of life as a low-caste indentured labourer in his native village. The Communists had destroyed the fabric of his beloved state. Despite changes under Mamata didi’s Trinamool – a life of comfort was still a distant dream. The group had started walking from their tenements near Royapuram two days ago. They did not know how they were going to reach their destination or when they would reach it either. They trudged along because they knew their dream had ended here. They tried to use the side-roads instead of the main highway to avoid the police. En-route some volunteers from NGOs and good-natured folks had provided them with water and food-packets. How long would this journey run? Would they make it in one piece to their native lands?
Kodambakkam – a posh apartment complex – May 10, 2020
Rhea was having a heated exchange with her husband Dev. “What do you mean – kitchen is only for women? You better come here and help me wash the dishes.” Dev chose to ignore her and this only infuriated Rhea further. Something snapped that moment in Rhea’s mind. Five years of a marriage that was filled with arguments and disagreements. They had been neighbours since their childhood and their parents had conducted the marriage wishing the best for both of them. Somehow the joviality of friendship did not translate into a successful marriage and it had been a constant struggle for both of them after the initial honeymoon period ended. As Dev continued to flip the channels on the television, Rhea walked in to the living room and stood between Dev and the TV set and said – “OK, Dev, we need to talk, now!”
Kamaraj Nagar – May 15, 2020
The police-officers had cordoned the flat where Murugan lived with his family. All four members of the family had died. Murugan hung from the ceiling fan. His wife and children lay in the bed with their mouths frothing with a foul-smelling liquid. Murugan had poisoned them and then hung himself. His letter that was kept on the alcove with the photos of several gods was clear. He no longer had any money. He could not open his barber shop, he could not pay rent, and the money that he had borrowed with great difficulty was also over. Neither could he help himself or his family-members. This was the only way out.
Midnapore – May 22, 2020
The Amphan cyclone hit with a ferocious impact destroying everything in its way. Poor Biswajit who had reached home after an NGO had helped arrange transport for them in Andhra Pradesh discovered the wrath of nature a few days after reaching his village. The winds and the rains had lashed and blown away the tin and asbestos sheets that worked as roofs. He was thankful that he was alive. His aged mother and widowed sister were safe. They salvaged some of their belongings and walked to the local government school, where a relief camp had been set up. A promise of a hot meal of khichuri and some vegetables prompted them to walk to the school where some more villagers had assembled. They were down, but they believed they could rebuild their lives.
Kodambakkam – May 23, 2020
“Amma, enough is enough. I have thought through this clearly. I am not going to endure any of Dev’s nonsense. Five years of my life I have given to him, and my role is that of a dignified maidservant. That’s all, and a trophy-wife for parties. I am seeking a divorce from him. I need to live my own life.” Rhea’s mother looked at her and nodded her head. “Appa and I are sorry for having foisted this marriage upon you. Let’s plan a new beginning for you.” Mother and daughter hugged each other as tears flowed down their eyes.