In Focus

COVID stirred up a Crisis for Colaba's Cooks!

By Manu Shrivastava

Bablu and Kailash are friends. Today, as they meet to buy vegetables or shop in the vicinity of their workplaces in Colaba, they're relieved that the worst has passed. The cooks, by profession, had diverse experiences during the two waves of COVID-19 and the ensuing lockdowns. While Uttar Pradesh's Basti resident Bablu Gupta who has been working in Mumbai for over three decades and, for the past 15 years, at a home whose members treat him no less than 'his own family' can't stop counting his lucky stars, his friend Kailash didn't have it as easy.

FACED AN ORDEAL: Kailash Kumar found himself jobless during the lockdown
The times were trying to say the least. Particularly so for cooks working at homes in Colaba where their presence was almost mandatory considering they served the elderly living alone without extended families that had either shifted to the suburbs, to other cities or simply overseas. During the lockdown, with the ensuing bans on househelps and cooks in particular who were prevented from entering societies and housing colonies for fear of contracting and/or transmitting the virus, it was nothing short of an ordeal; An ordeal for both senior citizens, incapacitated by age or infirmity, left to fend for themselves and for the cooks working in shifts at multiple homes to earn a living.

So, while sole-earning family member Bablu had little to fear as his employer in Colaba's Dubash Lane, where he worked as a cook for the last 15 years, treated him like 'family' and didn't terminate his services during the trying period, a lot of cooks - particularly those working in makeshift arrangements in homes within Colaba - faced extreme difficulty during the lockdowns. "Forced to stay away from work because of the guidelines and the fear of transmitting the COVID virus, most of them were left jobless and faced extreme financial problems over the last two years. A lot of them left Mumbai and moved back to their villages in this time," says Bablu Gupta.

FORTUNATE: Bablu Gupta kept his job as a cook with a 'familial' employer
Like his friend and Gonda native 35-year-old Kailash Kumar who was working at a resort in Silvassa when the first lockdown was announced. While the hotel was shut down owing to COVID restrictions, he had to stay back at the resort and could not leave the premises. And then, once the railway service started, Kailash left the resort for good. "Ek toh kam pagar tha aur upar se ye COVID ke vajah se time pe bhi nahin dete the," he rued. Kailash went back to Birpur, his village in Gonda district, in Uttar Pradesh, to his family that comprised his elderly parents, three sisters, five brothers, wife Sunita and sons Naitik and Ayush.

Sadly, Kailash simply couldn't find any work in the village. And, if things weren't bad enough, his 80-year-old father fell sick. "His treatment cost a fortune. He was first administered COVID treatment as a routine and then when his condition failed to improve, he had to be admitted to a hospital," where Kailash incurred a cost of Rs two lakh for treatment that lasted over two months.

With problems refusing to ebb, Kailash facing acute penury and an associated inability to make ends meet, had to avail a loan that remains a debt, till date. And then, four months back, he returned to a job of a cook in Mumbai that came with the perk of residence in Colaba's Pasta Lane. Here Kailash saves on his salary and hopes to repay his loan back home, sometime soon.

The times for Colaba's residents, in general, and for cooks and househelps, in particular, were trying, to say the least. Lalchand Mansion resident and actor Dorothy Yazdegardi didn't employ the services of a cook and always cooked by herself for her family during the lockdowns. But, for her, living with ailing husband Sohrab Yazdegardi, having a househelp and availing the services of home delivery personnel was imperative. So, during the two lockdowns, unable to move freely herself, Dorothy faced immense problems in getting groceries and other supplies over home.

RESIDENT WOES: Dorothy and Sohrab Yazdegardi
She contracted COVID in April 2021 at a time a lot of people in her building, "including immediate neighbours and jamadars of surrounding buildings tested positive for COVID". Then, she was home quarantined for 28 days and her maid had to stop arriving to work for a month. "If it weren't for my neighbours who helped me with the food supplies and groceries, paying for milk and bread that would be left outside my door, I would be left high and dry," she says. 

Now, at a time when she can't leave her husband alone as he "is forgetful and gets spasms," and "needs constant supervision and care." She even had to "measure his pulse, oxygen levels and other vitals five times a day when he contracted COVID," making the services of a maid necessary. Today, Dorothy who suffers from an eye condition needs assistance throughout the day and needs help at all times. While she managed the going during the earlier lockdowns, it will be impossible for her to manage running the home by herself without help, should there be another wave and an ensuing lockdown.

COVID has wreaked havoc on the lives of most residents who had to live off their savings but, for the cooks and househelps whose hand-to-mouth existence depends entirely on work, life came to a halt. Bablu would not have had it as easy if it weren't for his good fortune of working for a 'benevolent employer' who stood by him through thick and thin. Kailash, on the other hand, faced the fury of the lockdown and bore its brunt. It's time, residents take a moment to thank these...Unsung Warriors themselves!

If you wish for us to feature your cook, househelp, driver or maid who helped you or your loved ones during the COVID-19 crisis, get in touch with us through email on or phone on 9322111593.

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