IT professional based in Bengaluru city, India
Quarantined in his native village
I am so glad Mr. Ranjeet Sir shared his unique and riveting tale with me! As an IT professional based in the large city of Bengaluru, India, he had a unique experience transitioning to his native village in Nalanda, Bihar. In the following interview we discuss his story as well as his thoughts and opinions on how the pandemic affected the lives of people like him in India.
I had a great time chatting with him and getting his perspective. What struck me most was the state of the economically challenged people. While I started this interview trying to get an insight into changes in daily lives and routines, I came away with a much deeper understanding of the disparity of our experiences. Truly, people in different parts of the world are facing the same storm but are certainly not in the same boat
Shreyas Annagiri (SA) : Hello Mr.Ranjeet Kumar, please give us an insight into your profession and location
Ranjeet Kumar (RK) : I am a software developer based in Bengaluru, India. I am spending my days in lockdown in my native village, in Bihar, India
SA: How did your workplace transition to the new requirement of remote work?
RK: For the most part, my transition to working from home has been smooth, as in IT we already have the infrastructure setup for remote work. Most companies don’t require employees to be online at specific times as long as we complete our work for the day, though they recommend we keep to an 8-9 hour workday.
SA: What was your first reaction when you heard of the virus? Were you excited to get time at home, or were you scared/worried?
RK: When news of the virus first struck it was actually quite scary. Other parts of the world were getting seriously affected, so India planned a lockdown much earlier to anticipate the spread. Even with the lockdown however, the numbers are still rapidly increasing due to India’s dense population. Currently we have close to 86 or 87,000 cases nationwide, with the lockdown having been put into place for about 2 months.
SA: How does the lockdown work in India?
RK: Frankly, the lockdown rules are very strict. You are supposed to stay at home, and you can only leave the house in the early mornings to retrieve essential supplies. However, in my village and I am sure in many similar village settings, awareness among people is a big challenge, and people do not necessarily stay at home all day. You can see people on streets at all times during the day however, it is lesser compared to normal times. My guess is that in the cities there will be more awareness and people will be abiding the rules properly. Due to lack of proper education, people here don’t understand how dangerous the situation in a pandemic can be.
SA: What was the reaction of the people around you when you first heard of the virus and its spread?
RK: Again, educated sections of people understand the seriousness while rural populations do not understand the severity of the virus. They think that it is a passing crisis, and that everything will go back to normal in a matter of weeks. They still are not following social distancing. Multiple people go outside at once and very few people are maintaining good hygiene by cleaning up after coming back home.
SA: Are there any groups that have formed to aid the situation and bring awareness about the virus?
RK: No, there is nothing of the sort happening in the village where I am staying. The aid provided is mostly to meet basic material requirements.There are angel groups and charity organizations handing out food and other supplies for daily wage workers, but not much effort is directed to increase awareness.
SA: In the United States, when we heard about the virus and there was talk of possible stay at home orders, people seemed to stock up on supplies. Did you or some people you know do this in India as well?
RK: Yes. The first lockdown was when most of the stocking up occured. Right now we are in the third lockdown, and within a couple of days we will be in the 4th extension of the lockdown order. People started hoarding some essential items, making several trips to the grocery store, while everything was out of stock online. The government has however made sure that some medical, grocery and essential item shops remain open during lockdown, but with very strict rules. There are time periods in the morning and evenings where people are allowed to get supplies, but these are only a few hours each.
SA: What is your daily Schedule during quarantine?
RK: For me , the change is not too significant, except there is no commute.
In Morning I get up, get dressed up, and then log into work for a very long amount of time. The only roadblock I have run into is issues with occasional internet connectivity. We are required to connect to work via a VPN (Virtual Private Network), but those kinds of connectivity issues get resolved fast and I am back on track again
SA: Did you pick up any new hobbies during quarantine?
RK: When I get the time, I love learning new programming languages. However, since my schedule has not changed that much, I am still as busy as normal during quarantine. Added to that, in the village I am staying in, people go to bed very early. For example, back in Bengaluru, I used to sleep around 11:30 – 12:00 pm, but here in my village people sleep around 9:00 – 10:00 pm. This changed my routine a bit as well forcing me to get to bed earlier than usual.
SA: Are there any health benefits for eating home food and staying simple during quarantine in your village?
RK: Due to the quarantine, we cannot order takeout from restaurants. We adhere to very normal home food, so it can get boring sometimes. The media portrays village life as very healthy and simple, but in modern times that has completely changed. It is also very densely populated, and very little greenery is present. However, we do have access to fresh fruits and vegetables in villages when compared to cities.
SA: How are the health care services and facilities where you live?
RK: When people in remote, rural places like this get sick, they are not able to connect with health services effectively. Most private practice physicians have not responded very well to the pandemic situation. There is hardly any co-ordination between the physicians. Many have closed their private practices due to fear.
In case of emergency situations , We still do have access to government run hospitals but in a country with such a huge population, wait times are very long and there is no guarantee on the quality of health care or the facility. They are mostly ill maintained and not well equipped to handle all situations. The government gave an order for private practitioners to open their facilities but few adhered and few others let the request just slide. Again, cities and urban areas might have a different experience.
SA: If you were to pick something to talk about, it can be anything, Since we are coming to the end of the interview. Let’s choose one topic and have a discussion.
RK: I think it will be appropriate to speak about India’s economic disparity during the COVID – 19 situation. During the lockdown, the state of migrant daily wage workers has been heartbreaking. Migrant workers are the people that migrated to large metropolitan cities from rural areas in search of work and opportunity. They depend on their earnings everyday for their survival.
When the lockdown went into place, these workers were left stranded in the cities due to lack of work, poverty and even lack of access to food and shelter. They are unable to return to their native villages due to lockdown and no transportation facilities. Out of desperation, large groups of such migrant workers decided to make the journey home on foot . They are walking 1000s of miles to get home. They are hungry, thirsty and exhausted. There have been reports of death due to fatigue and hunger. Many people argue that they have a small chance to survive the virus, but no chance of surviving death through starvation.
A bit more planning prior to lockdown to account for this population would have made a big difference. It’s a tough situation for the government as well, since it is a country with a huge population and huge economic diversity.
There are some charity organizations helping and the government has also announced a relief fund which gives the poor a very minimal amount of rupees per month.
SA: Yes, it is a very large dilemma for the government as well, they are stuck in the middle of too bad situations.
RK: Yes, the thing is that India is such a large and dense population and this is an unprecedented situation. We are all learning as we go.
SA: Yeah, it is so new for humanity, I mean never have we ever gone through something like this before, and we usually look at historical data to say if something will or will not work. SARS was nothing compared to this, and I feel like understanding what is going on in India makes you understand how vastly different parts of the world are. America is obviously not as densely populated as India. Social distancing is a bigger challenge in a country with a dense population. When you think of the migrant workers who are walking and trying to get food, what is their focus to this virus to someone sitting at home and complaining they are bored. It is two different worlds.
Never ever did we think that something like this would happen, it is just crazy I feel like we are witnessing history now, and what we do now is going to change the way generations follow.
RK: Yes. Life has changed completely from 2019 – 2020.
I have one question: Shreyas. In the United States most people are very well educated and aware of the seriousness, good hygiene practices and access to health care. Despite this, why is the virus spreading so rapidly?
SA: Although, I don’t have a definite answer to this, I can make some guesses. Just like anywhere in the world, we have homelessness and poverty in the United states. A stay at home order enforcement among such a population is a tough job. Additionally, cities like New York city are densely populated with more people per square unit than other areas in the country. As you can see, the spread of the virus in such places is far worse. There are people who still have to leave home for work everyday, like essential service providers and others who depend on their daily earnings.
We also have diversity in belief systems where some factions are not convinced about the seriousness of the issue and believe that a stay at home order curtails their liberties and freedoms. We may see such groups of people, not follow through with the stay at home order. There have also been protests and other activities to voice opinions.
SA: Extent of testing and reporting might also affect the numbers. In the United states, testing is extensive and numbers are reported and tracked in a strict manner which might be a reason we see large numbers.
SA: Alright sir, before we wrap up, what are your thoughts about the end of this pandemic?
RK: My hunch as of right now is that we are going to end up living with the coronavirus. We may change our practices and routines to accommodate for the extra precaution we need to take to prevent becoming infected.
SA: Like how we get into a car and buckle your seatbelts, we need to have all the safety measures in the back of our minds, to just get it into our routine without having worry. Because worry and anxiety is a virus on its own.
Alright sir, thank you.