52kms separate Nallasopara Station from Grant Road Station. Add in a few more either side to get to and from the station. Those 56kms separate T from hunger.
T is a cook. She works near Grant Road at only two homes now. Earlier, she used to work in 5 kitchens, apart from her own. COVID-induced lockdowns saw to the end of that.
The first lockdown lifted completely after 8 months. In those 8 months, she, her husband, and their son and daughter survived on 1 meal a day and endless cups of tea to drown out the remaining hunger. Two months into the first lockdown, a cyclone tore through their home at the beginning of the monsoon season. It ripped out an asbestos roof. T’s family, who buy 30 or 60 kg sacks of grains saw rice and pulses rot before them as rain poured in fron the top and water flowed in through the door.
Thankfully, somehow, even up against a system not geared for their survival, they survived. Neighbours and community organisations saw them through.
The second lockdown was harder, in many ways. Though just two months-long, it slaughtered cash reserves, bank balances and land holdings. T and her family were back to a meal a day and endless cups of tea, both milk and black.
Their health suffered. Another cyclone at the stary of the monsoon ripped their roof out, yet again and they saw the grains turn to mush yet again. Between persistent hunger and pervasive poverty, the want of a solid metal roof started assuming monstrous proportions.
T is now working at two homes. She travels at least 56kms from her home to reach them. The decision of shifting to a bigger home in the outskirts of the city is now an existential dread.
Further, as she is not classified as an essential worker — keeping hunger at bay by earning does not seem to be considered essential — she uses a false pass, a toe and a prayer to access the railway system, the quickest way to traverse that distance. The lockdown has not lifted completely but hunger has been heavier to bear.
As yet, ₹8,000/- has been enough to keep humlnger at bay. That said, a third wave and another lockdown may happen soon. A proper roof waits too. In keeping hunger at bay, until when will T survive?