The Covid Impact on Twenty Somethings in India’s Most Expensive City

With a version of a lockdown still firmly in place, and many taking precautions to not contract the ever-spreading coronavirus, the economics of the situation is rather grim for many people in their twenties and thirties.

According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, 27 million youth lost their jobs in April alone. Many employees are also being expected to work double the hours they usually do, with very little work-life balance – just to keep their jobs.

Even as the stress of keeping a steady paycheck, or ever finding one, soars, the youth who look to the gig economy for have been badly affected. With no culture of forming unions, red-tapeism and a slow and expensive legal system, legal recourse remains a far reality for most.

Uddhav Thackeray had said in April that landlords in Mumbai are to not ask for rent for three months and a tenant cannot be evicted for non-payment – but a lot of tenants are either unaware or have landlords who pressure them for the money anyway.

Work has dried up for daily and monthly-wage labourers and street vendors while rent collection and other fixed expenses like electricity bills continue. Essential workers like doctors and journalists have also been evicted in some cases, while a few others have not been allowed entry into their colonies due to the collective fear and stigma associated with coronavirus.

Also read: How COVID-19 is Hurting the Aspirations of Young, Broke and Skilled Indians

Amidst all this, mental health problems have spiked even as the public discourse continues to not shine a light on the issue. Some people have also returned to homes that are abusive and do not have adequate physical or emotional space to deal with the repercussions.

I speak to several people who live in India’s most expensive city, Mumbai, to understand what’s exacerbating their vulnerabilities. While some are still in the city, many of them were forced to pack their bags and head to the places they hail from.

Pari (name changed), 23, project manager

“I rent an apartment in Khar, but I’m back home in Chandigarh. I had enough money for rent up until now. I’m waiting for a confirmation from a job, but for this month I’ll have to borrow money from my parents because I’ve spent all my money on therapy. My relationship with my parents is not good. I do not like spending time at home, and I wasn’t expecting to be stuck here for two months.

It’s been especially bad because it feels like I’ve regressed emotionally and I’m reliving a lot of trauma. The feeling of displacement (not being in my room, or having access to a book) is putting me on edge and making my daily anxieties much harder to deal with. I would be worried about money but first, I’d like to focus on my mental health because it feels like I’ve gone back on any progress I made over the past few years.”

Usha, 35, house help

“I stay in Oshiwara with my two kids, a boy and a girl, my husband and his older sister. We’ve been home since the lockdown started. Some of the houses I work in are continuing to pay me but most have revoked their payments. The school fees – about Rs 6,000 – are pending. My rent which is about Rs 10,500 rupees is also pending. Luckily, my landlord hasn’t asked me for it but the school is pressuring us to pay the fees.

There are a lot of containment zones around my area and shops are only open for an hour everyday – the queues are very long so getting basic vegetables is also very troublesome in the heat. Sometimes, some people from the government drop rations off but that’s very rare. We’re all safe though and I’m thankful to god for that.”

Priyanka Paul, 21, illustrator

“I live with my parents, so I have no major expenses. A lot of creative projects I take on in my personal capacity have been put on hold. Living at home has its own set of problems – my relationship with my parents is strained – I live in a toxic and abusive household. It’s a constant struggle to maintain the peace. My parents are also nonchalant and I stay in my room for a large part of the day. I’ve been planning to move out of my home for a long time now. Living in Mumbai is, however, too expensive and the freelance life is just not sustainable.”

Also read: Lockdown in a Toxic Household

Pranjal Asha, 21, freelance AD/photographer

“Currently, I’m in Delhi, which is my home but I spent a majority of the lockdown at my rented apartment in Mumbai. Money wise, it’s tricky and whatever savings I had are evaporating. Currently, I have no job because I freelance. People are working remotely, shooting for things during quarantine but it’s not really heavy on money.

When you’re in media and you freelance, people expect you to work for free or for very less than what you should actually be getting in such a situation. Working from home can get tiring because the mind space isn’t there – it’s not a vacation, it’s a pandemic. I am soon going to be dependent on my parents again. It’s not a nice feeling. Uddhav Thackeray advised landlords to not collect rent but I guess it isn’t a rule. I know a few friends who have been suffering and are being forced to pay rent.”

Anjali (name changed), 26, development consultant

“I live in Mumbai in a rented apartment in Khar. I have gone back home to Bengaluru for the lockdown since my parents live here. Financially, there’s been a bit of a crunch. I went into part-time work from March onwards. My pay, compared to full-time, is much less now. I’m still paying rent for my Mumbai apartment. My lease is due to end at the end of May. We had a two-year agreement and we had already verbally communicated to the landlord that we wanted to extend it earlier this year.

We proposed a 30% rent cut, expecting him to kind of negotiate from there. He was open to it and quite considerate in the way he spoke to us about it. I think he’s kinder than the average landlord, especially in Mumbai. He said he would think about his own expenses and how to manage and said he’d get back to us. We haven’t heard back from him. We’re waiting to see what happens. We know about the CM asking for the rent to be waived for three months but we chose not to bring that up. It’s just a little extra sensitive because we’re at the end of our lease agreement.”

Imaan, 26, fruit seller

“My father, brother and I run this thela in Khar. Customers have been erratic since the lockdown began, and so have government instructions. The police only allow us to sell for an hour in the morning, which isn’t enough time to get customers. We’ve had to break the rules and sell it through the day too, sometimes at a slightly higher cost just to make ends meet.

My father, who’s elderly, has managed to go back to UP and I have shifted into a relative’s house so I can save by not paying rent. They’re already four of them in a small space so it gets very crowded which is a little risky. I’m afraid I’ll risk infecting them if I contract anything while I sell. But I wear gloves, a mask and sanitise when I’m selling to customers and inshaallah, I think things will get better.”

George (name changed), 24, teacher

“My parents are in lockdown in Singapore and Bengaluru respectively. My flatmate returned to his country on one of the repatriation flights. My rent is a lot and my landlord expected me to pay the entire amount so now I’m shifting to my friend’s house in the middle of the lockdown. I tried negotiating with him but he seemed quite set on receiving full rent. I thought taking up any legal recourse would be too much of a bother and between house chores and my work, I figured I’d need a space to be at peace. Moving out seemed to be my best option, despite the risk that came with that.”

Nupur, 25, journalist

“I’ve been reporting from the ground and that’s been nerve-wrecking. That being said, I also understand it’s an important part of my job to do the same. I experienced trouble with my society in Goregaon East where they were very against me going in and out of the building, even though I’ve been taking all the necessary precautions.

There’s been no cases in the building so far but there’s a few containment zones right next door. My landlord had to get involved and he insisted that I work from home too, which isn’t possible for me. For now, they’re letting me back in but I’m feeling a sense of growing resentment towards me. I might have to consider moving out soon but between crazy work hours and the pandemic, I don’t see where I’m going to find the time for it.

There’s been talks of lay-offs at my workplace too and I don’t want to make any sudden moves that’ll cost me too much money. I’m afraid they might ask me to leave so I’m in a strange kind of a limbo right now.”

Bablu, 32, security guard

“I’m a watchman at a residential building in Khar West. The residents of the building collected money to provide for my food and staying expenses, provided I stay back and continue work. Prakash, the night guard, and I switch between 12-hour shifts. I’m originally from Dindori in Madhya Pradesh and my family is still there. I miss them but I am also afraid that if I go, they might catch the virus from me. But for now, I have enough for three meals and the residents give me extra money to help with the packages they receive.”

Sogyal, 23, DJ/producer

“I managed to get out in the nick of time, so I’m back in Costa Rice at my parent’s home. Being back home has been quite odd and feels personally regressive. To some extent, though that feeling has kept me at bay from completely going crazy since I’ve managed to stay productive as a means to fight the weird internal regression I’m feeling inside. Quite unsettling. I’m still paying rent for my matchbox apartment in Bandra that’s costing me a pretty penny since I don’t see any live gigs on the horizon for a while.”

Alina Gufran is a screenwriter and non-fiction writer based out of Mumbai. 

Featured image credit: Ishan Gupta/Unsplash