Nasreen Ansari lives in Rafi Nagar just 2 kms away from the Govandi Harbour line suburban Railway Station in Mumbai. This 21 year old was all geared to appear for her final year BA examinations when the sudden lockdown due to COVID-19 was announced.
The word ‘Nagar’ means city and ironically Rafi Nagar, a large cluster of informal settlements, flanked by an open nallah or drain and the garbage dumping grounds represents the city within. The tallest imposing structure in the area is a Mosque. All settlements are not higher than ground level with few one storey above ground level settlements.
Like every city that attracts people from within and neighbouring states in search of a living so also Nasreen’s father Tajjamul Ansari came to Bombay now Mumbai as a teenager. After pursuing various trades he became a tailor by occupation and made Rafi Nagar his home where he lives with his wife, and four children in a 10×10 room. Tajjamul works in a garment ‘karkhana’ at Ghatkopar along with his wife Fatmabanoo who helps with the sewing and handwork at the factory where together they earn 10,000 rupees a month.
Whilst the parents were away at work, the eldest daughter would look after domestic chores, a year ago she was married and now Nasreen and her younger siblings take care of the house. This picture of ‘relative domestic bliss’ amidst the drudgery of existence is forever altered with the COVID-19 prompted lockdown. Nasreen’s uncle a daily wage worker one day turned up to live with them since he could not travel back to their village after his workplace shutdown.
A few days into the lockdown, they gobbled up the meagre savings of the family just to feed the family each day. “Every day is a tension”, says Nasreen because there is no stored grains or lentils in the house, that used to be stocked each month. So each morning deciding whether the family can eat is a source of tension! Nasreen’s father spends the day lying on a mat and staring at the ceiling and speaking only to reprimand any decision or action by the family members. He complains that he is ‘not feeling well’ with no sign of illness. Fatmabanoo who used to accompany her husband to work now scolds the children and has become impatient with them according to Nasreen.
Earlier any article of purchase for ten rupees was not a matter of discussion in the family. Now every ten rupee expense is considered and discussed leading to a quarrel. It being the time of Ramzaan, they are unable to buy even simple fruits such as bananas and dates to break the evening fast. Nasreen used to tutor the children from neighbouring homes, and with schools shut now, that has stopped. Nasreen has a question for us: Which is the bigger tension, Coronavirus or going hungry?
Nasreen is a youth volunteer with Apnalaya and helps with Apnalaya’s relief distribution work bordering the Govandi dumping grounds.