When I set out to explore how street-dwellers manage during times like the current one, I was fed with more than I could digest! What we fear is what they conquer.
During my expedition, I chanced upon a family living on a pavement housing two make-shift tents, seven adults and eight children. The ladies were busy chatting through their preps for the bare-minimum meals for the day, and I happened to get talking with this group, on the pretext of handing the kids some chocolates.
I wait to start discussing “Covid”, cautious enough to not scare them should they mistake me for a municipal authority. I ask them how they are managing “Covid”, and I am met with some silence and sheepish stares. I correct myself – "How have you all been dealing with Corona?" Ah! That sort of got me some response.
"We are managing just the way we would any other illness. We know Corona is dangerous and people are dying, but when we fall ill, we treat ourselves. If we go to a doctor, they will take and keep us separate; we don’t want to be locked up alone in a hospital".
A kid happily leaps and quite proudly claims he had Corona a few months back because he got fever for a couple of days. "I didn’t need any teeka (vaccine is what he meant). It came and it went", proudly showing off his skill to have conquered the deadly disease.
I probe ahead to check why they don’t cover their faces or mask up! Masks are too expensive, Didi (elder sister), says a lady with a suckling infant. "We barely earn money to survive and feed our children. How can we afford to buy masks?! We cover our faces when necessary", and “necessary” here was left to her interpretation.
I checked with the man if Corona impacted his balloon business in any way. "It did for some time", he says. "But, after the first time, people started moving out and started buying from us again. We initially seen them clean the balloons with water (he meant sanitizer), and now we keep our balloons clean so that they don’t get scared to buy from us". I ask how did they get to know about Corona. "Our customers told us. They told us we should cover our face as we could get it if people sneeze or cough. How long do we keep ourselves covered, Didi? We stay out in the open all day. How long do we stay covered? It is difficult to breathe. If it has to come, it will come and go like it has".
Right from behind, a concerned mother speaks up again – "But we stopped accepting half-packed food. Office people and auto drivers stopped eating at the road-side stalls, so I guessed that eating food from others’ hands would be dangerous and so we stopped taking food that was not packed. I also started covering the area I cooked, in case passers-by would sneeze or cough while I was cooking. This is the most we could and wanted to do".
I started my conversation with an aim to get my questions answered, but ended up with a few more – Does Corona only impact the rich? Is too much information harmful and unnecessary? Is Ignorance really bliss?
To these street-dwellers, Corona was just another struggle to the numerous difficulties and challenges they already face every day. It was just another disease. While Corona seemed like the end to many things for many people, it was not the end to their World.