When the bubonic plague arrived on ships in 1896, death and fear emptied half of Mumbai. Labor shortages have devastated the city’s cotton factories, the backbone of the contemporary economy.
Although the number of coronavirus pandemics has been much lower, there are gloomy parallels. Nearly a million workers who built the Mumbai skyline – from the Trump Tower to skyscrapers owned by global companies such as Blackstone Group LP on old mill land – fled to their villages Originally short of money after a tight government foreclosure brought the economy to a halt.
A plague-era law is used to prepare doctors for the fight against coronaviruses, and calls are mounting to decongest hot spots of infection, including the most populous slum in Asia.
A megalopolis of around 20 million inhabitants, few cities are confronted with the calculation of work and life which Mumbai now has to face. When authorities resumed some public transport on Monday, TV stations showed dozens of people rushing to board a bus, a sign of residents’ desperation to return to their livelihoods while the city remains l epicenter of Covid-19 in India.
Here, six Mumbaikars, as the city’s residents are known, share how the virus has changed their lives and their workspaces:
The union leader:
JR Bhosale, 79, has seen a lot in his six decades with the Mumbai Railways. A workers’ strike in 1974 – the world‘s largest industrial action – suspended services for 20 days and the 2006 terrorist bombings kept the trains silent for 24 hours.
However, under the lockdown, passenger services were interrupted for more than two months. Authorities are concerned about the risk of contagion, because on a typical day, trains run so crowded that stragglers leave the doors.
“It is impossible to maintain a safe distance,” said Bhosale, secretary general of the Western Railway Employees Union.
Modi announces a 21-day national lockdown as India battles an inactive VirusAn train on a platform at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj (CSMT) terminus in Mumbai, March 25, 2020.
He worries about how the system will behave after the lockout, but he needs to reopen it, he says. Trains are the main artery of Mumbai, transporting 8 million people every day from teeming suburbs to the glass and concrete financial districts of the city center, crossing colonial era docks financed by the opium trade before reaching the old districts which are home to the stock exchange and the Central Bank.
Vincent Valladares, 48, heads the commercial bank at RBL Bank Ltd. Authorities label financial services “essential” in the middle of the foreclosure, so Valladares, armed with an official letter in case he is reported by the police, goes to the office on the former mill grounds in the center of Mumbai.
Valladares and his colleagues have been bombed by a series of Reserve Bank of India and government policy changes in recent weeks. Changing instructions – from how to sanitize branches to how much capital to keep – takes most of their time and there are few new deals. For now, the focus is on how clients will emerge from the crisis and which parts of the loan portfolio could become default hot spots.
“There is a tendency to become more conservative,” says Valladares.
The food delivery man:
Nitin Sawant, 32, is one of the dabbawallas in Mumbai, the city’s famous lunchbox service. They have been delivering homemade meals to office workers since 1890 and are so renowned for their reliability that Harvard professors have sought to understand their mastery of logistics.
Today, most of the 5,000 men have returned to their villages, said Sawant, who is also secretary of the Mumbai Dabbawala Association. Colleagues decided not to work until Diwali – India’s main holiday which takes place in November this year – as their business involves contact with dozens of people, increasing the risk of contagion for themselves and for the others.
“The people of this city never sat at home, even after the bombs, riots and floods,” said Sawant. “Now they will be afraid. Many will not resume Tiffin service for fear of the risk of infection.”
Kalima Mujawar, 29, washes dishes and cleans the floors of four houses in Worli, near the headquarters of several banks and financial institutions today, but one of the villages devastated by the plague a century ago. Only one household continued to pay her after the lock-out prevented her from going to work.
“Even after the isolation is lifted, it doesn’t seem like people will want housekeepers to visit their homes for the rest of the year,” she said.
Mujawar is one of the millions of people who have lost their jobs in recent months, threatening to worsen what was already a huge disparity in lifestyles in the city. Mumbaikar Mukesh Ambani, the richest man in Asia, negotiated billions of dollars in investments despite the foreclosure, taking calls to Zoom to haggle over the details. However, families like the Mujawar generally only access the Internet through the screens of the cheapest phones made in China.
The securities broker:
Anita Gandhi, 56, full-time director at Arihant Capital Markets, sees the technology being used for another purpose.
Indian RBI frees up $ 50 billion in cash and cuts rates A security guard holds an infrared thermometer at the entrance to the Bombaay Stock Exchange in Mumbai on March 27.
In March and April, approximately 1.2 million new trading accounts were opened with Central Depository Services (India) Ltd., up from 900,000 in the first two months of the year. India’s benchmark, which gave up almost 40% of its value in a few weeks when the virus started to spread, has caught up as the country begins to dismantle the lock.
“Those who are tech savvy have realized that this is another way of making money,” says Gandhi. “They have started to see investing in the market as a good alternative source of income.”
Alistar Bennis, 24, a theater and film actor, is also looking for other opportunities.
Bollywood – as the film industry in Mumbai calls it – has practically come to a standstill and although the authorities have authorized the resumption of certain works with strict restrictions, the producers are moving filming to less infected regions of the country. But Bennis tries to remain optimistic.
The World Bank is offering India $ 1 billion in aid to help fight coronavirus, a deserted street in the Colaba region of Mumbai, India on April 5, 2020.
“The spirit of Mumbai seems very dead if you walk the streets at night,” he says. “Business people frown, stores close, but if you step up and talk to people, they’ll say,” I know a guy, who knows a guy, who will do your job. “”