In Focus

Locals fiercely guard lanes, prevent entry in societies to stop COVID-19

By Rashmi Singhvi

The fear is palpable and transcends borders. COVID-19 virus does not discriminate between religion, caste, gender, nationality or economic status. And, while all of India entered in a lockdown mode for three weeks following PM Narendra Modi’s announcement on 24 March 2020, the world watched with bated breaths, the largest democracy of 1.3 billion people, about 17.7 per cent of all humans, take charge.

Yes, there were snags and hitches – all sorts of complaints for the inconvenience caused, but, for the first time, all of India stood as one single formidable hurdle in the way of the coronavirus spread. After all, the virus didn’t spread by itself, it spread with humans. And, India – bearing the world’s largest democratic population – had stopped moving and with it the movement of the virus.

Streets in Colaba deserted during the nationwide lockdown

Colaba that, legendarily, refuses to slow down even in the dead of the night, has dimmed its lights. True to its wont, Colaba proved it is far ahead in the nationwide fight against the deadly COVID-19 pandemic that has gripped the world. Mumbai’s oldest zone’s warriors have stepped out to hold guard for its old, weak and infirm. Working closely with law-enforcers, even taking charge at times till the authorities arrived, the zone’s poor, rich, old and marginalised shed all differences and joined force against COVID-19. The job was well begun and half done.

Being a world tourist hotspot, Colaba stood extremely vulnerable to the pandemic but with efforts by residents, sanitation workers, rag-pickers, shop-keepers and essential service providers such as gas delivery personnel, police, civic authorities and others, Colaba has managed to keep things under control.

The Draft Colaba stepped out to meet housing society secretaries, members of the public, essential services workers and self-driven local volunteers. Here go glimpses of the work in motion:

Enforcing the spirit of the lockdown
Our society has strictly enforced the spirit of the lockdown even before the official announcement was made. Now, we aren’t even allowing any outsider to enter the society premises, and this includes maids, helpers and others. All society members have been abiding by the rules. The society was instituted in 1958 and has 35 members of which 40 per cent are senior citizens.
- Strand-based Owners Court Secretary Raymond Goveas

Strand-based Owners Court Secretary Raymond Goveas, wife Jacintha constantly remind the society 
watchman Sudhir Paswan to maintain the mandated distance when dealing with visitors

Colaba’s Pasta Lanes are as legendary as the precinct itself. The four Pasta Lanes are home to residents mostly born here and staying in old, ancestral properties some even close to hundred years old. Once bustling with activity, the four lanes now maintain a dignified silence.

Keeping busy, keeping a watch

Things are not too different in Second Pasta Lane that lies deserted amid the lockdown. With all the time on hand, many locals have sought refuge in pursing ‘hobbies’ of sorts. At the fag-end of the lane, resident Rajesh Kamble - a driver by profession – sits on the pavement, engrossed in carving out table tennis rackets from a big sheet of ply. “Since I don’t have any work due to the lockdown, I am more than happy to utilise this time to hone my other skills and hobbies,” he quips briefly raising his head to keep an eye for ‘unwelcome’ outsiders sauntering about, before returning to his chore.

Second Pasta Lane resident and driver Rajesh Kamble has been staying busy
making table tennis rackets out of cardboard

‘I guard my lane like my family’

Second Pasta Lane resident Lawrence Naidu spends most of his waking hours during the lockdown manning the lane, keeping an eye for visitors and outsiders, the old-fashioned way. “The lane is my family and it’s my duty to guard it just like my own home,” he says with a hint of pride as he poses with his daughters and grand-daughters for ‘a group selfie’ for his shutter-crazy daughter Charlotte.

As head of the family, he ensures they stay in, sanitise regularly and avoid contact with others. “My father allows only one person to go out to shop. He is really worried for us,” says elder daughter Simran. And, few guesses for who can go out to shop. Lawrence, himself, of course. “I am taking no chances with my family,” he quips.

Second Pasta Lane’s Lawrence Naidu with wife Savita, daughters Simran, Charlotte and other family members

'I know everyone in this lane'

Third Pasta Lane resident Jaibunnisa Shaikh is a familiar face in the locality. And, why not? After all, she knows just about everyone from the lane and nearby. "Aaj kal is beemari ke kaaran kisi baharwale pe bharosa nahin kiya ja sakta," she says as her eyes sweep the road for unknown persons. She has taken it upon herself to walk down to the bottom of her building and 'ask' stray 'baharke' youngsters to move away from the building. For Jaibun, as she is called in the lane, it's her 'zimmedari'.

Third Pasta Lane resident Jaibunnisa Shaikh playing her part in the lockdown

Businessmen, shopkeepers turn volunteers 

Third Pasta Lane, the busiest of all four Pasta Lanes, is a sight beyond recognition. From the usual hustle, the street – also a thoroughfare for those moving towards Budhwar Park through a by-lane, lies still. The quiet is a welcome change from the constant cacophony of the sea of passers-by, vehicles and motorists. Resident shopkeeper Abdul Hamid sits outside his shut shop and ensures suspect 'outsiders' remain at bay by calling out to them and checking their credentials on his own as they pass by.

Third Pasta Lane resident shopkeeper Abdul Hamid ensures that
suspect 'outsiders' remain at bay by checking credentials as they pass by

Local 'Star' turns vigilante

A little ahead, in ‘3.5 Pasta Lane’ as is locally known, a small lane that lies between the Third Pasta Lane and Fourth Pasta Lane, Lalchand Mansion resident Dorothy Yazdegardi has been ensuring social distancing in and around her building. Even before the lockdown, she could be heard several blocks away, reprimanding the watchmen in the area to desist from huddling together lest they spread the virus. “People have forgotten the old ways when residents would stop visitors and enquire the purpose of their visits to ensure safety in the area. We need to get back to simpler ways of keeping our area safe,” she says.

Pasta Lane resident Dorothy Yazdegardi
has been ensuring social distancing in her locality

Colaba residents aka Colabakars have displayed true sense of loyalty to the nation and to Colaba. They are being disciplined, compassionate and vigilant by maintaining social distance, even while shopping in the locality.

Risking lives so residents stay ‘in’ and ‘safe’

The role of ragpickers and cooperative housing society employees cannot be ignored. They stay away from their families to fulfil their responsibilities even amid the lockdown. It’s important, Colabakars recognise and express gratitude to these ‘workers’ who work, day in and out, risking their own lives, just so residents can stay in and at ease.

Look at Watchman Baliram Paswan who has not missed a single day of duty despite the lockdown. Arriving not a minute late, rain or shine, with or without breakfast, not worrying whether his tiffin delivery guy will bring his lunch or not, he does his duty, diligently every single day. A native of Chandauli Village of Aurangabad District in Bihar, Baliram came to Mumbai 15 years ago. “My family worries for me and want me to return home to the village till things are better but I cannot leave my duty.”

Bihari watchman Baliram Paswan, like most of his ilk, has been taking due care - complete with
a mask and hand sanitiser - during his daily duty at a housing society in Third Pasta Lane

Despite the lockdown and the rush of migrants rushing back to their native towns, the watchmen in Mumbai are staying back performing their duties. “My daily tiffin service has informed me they won’t be delivering food starting 1 April, I don’t know why…I won’t know what to do then,” he continues in a pensive tone, sitting intact at his desk, continuing to ensure no unnecessary visitor slips in the building.

At times like these, it’s those working on the roads, in drains amidst garbage who are at high risk - generally and especially in a situation like this.

Ragpicker Lakshmi who stays in Shiv Shakti Nagar has been picking garbage in Colaba for more than a decade now. Hailing from Tamil Nadu, she lives and works with other women from the same region. Despite being aware of the gravity of the situation, Lakshmi cannot even afford completely sanitised conditions owing to the very nature of her work. She wears a mask given to her by a well-meaning chemist shop worker but can hardly afford to keep washing or sanitising her hands regularly.

Lockdown or otherwise, ragpicker Lakshmi doesn't take a day's break smiling through her work
even as she risks contracting a disease as a collateral damage to her occupation