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Lockdown heroes

We doff the hat to people who are at work so that our lives run smoothly even during lockdown
Sujit Naskar cycles out of the godown at Sarat Abasan with gas cylinders

The Telegraph   |   Published 10.04.20, 05:48 AM

LPG delivery man

Sujit Naskar

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Of: Cooking Gas and Appliances, BD Market. Serves entire Salt Lake

Travel tale: Commuting has become a nightmare. Out of 22 delivery men, only six or seven are being able to report for work. Some of us are cycling from our homes near Shapoorji (Shapoorji Pallonji complex in New Town). It’s taking us an hour. Today one of us had a tyre puncture and he had to walk all the way to work. There is such a rush for orders now that we have arranged for a lorry to make deliveries. They can move faster than our cycle vans and carry 40 cylinders as opposed to our 12. But yesterday that lorry driver himself was stranded at home. The owners of our shop drove down to his house to pick him up. Then of course, we are being stopped by the police for loitering outside. Our owners have spoken to the cops to give us special travel passes.

Experience at work: It’s paradoxical. While on one hand, residents are driving our owners mad pleading for urgent delivery, when we go over they are treating us like dirt. They think we could be carriers of the virus and won’t let us in. All transactions are happening outside the gate.

People are themselves carrying down empty cylinders from three-storeyed houses, washing the cylinders we are giving them and then taking it up. Only then are they coming down with the money. This is taking much longer than if we went up. It’s slowing down our work.

Then of course, 10 out of 12 customers are refusing to even take the receipt and the money they are keeping on the ground for us to pick up. Some are even throwing it at us. It hurts.

It has become very hot outside and our throats get parched cycling with these heavy cylinders. We work from 9.30am to 6pm and, of course, there are no tea stalls for us to stop at for a sip anymore. We’re carrying bottles with us but the water soon becomes boiling hot. Even if we ask for water at a customer’s house, now they are flatly refusing. At least lunch is being provided from the office.

There is major panic among customers too. Two days after receiving a cylinder they’re placing orders for another one, claiming it has finished. It’s only when our owners are threatening to go check the cylinder that they are relenting. Usually we have 1,000 orders at hand but now we have 3,000. While we usually deliver in one or two days of an order being placed we have a backlog of a week now.

The only other time we’ve seen madness like this was during the Babri Masjid curfew in 1992. Our senior-most delivery man was in service then and he says the police had to deliver gas cylinders to homes at that time.

Home front: My family is worried but I can still pacify them. It’s neighbours that are giving us a tough time. Some of them are asking us not to return home as our work involves visiting people’s houses. They fear we’ll pick up the virus and spread it among them.

Petrol pump staff

Raghunath Das

At: Daga Auto Service, CK Block

Travel tale: I’m not travelling at all. While my city-based colleagues aren’t stepping out of homes, three or four of us, who hail from Bihar and Odisha, are staying at the office itself. The owner of the station is elderly so there’s no question of him coming. He is calling up and taking updates.

Experience at work: Work pressure is low. While we usually serve a thousand cars and bikes each, we are getting less than 20 vehicles now, that too only police, health-related and home delivery bikes.

Our living conditions are very difficult. We can’t cook in office as it’s a petrol pump and could prove inflammable so we’re living on sattu and fruits.

CK Market is close by but the queues are too long. Other residents shop and head home but we have to forgo shopping so we can return to work.

There used to be a pice hotel on the footpath outside but when the lockdown began they packed off. We requested them to leave their stove back for us and they did. On days we manage vegetables, we are cooking on the footpath for ourselves.

We are consoling ourselves by saying that we are supporting essential services. No doctor would have reached the hospital if his car did not have petrol.

Home front: My family is asking me to return home but it’s too late now. My hometown is in Odisha and without trains I’m stranded.

Food delivery man

Mithun Adhikary

Travel tale: I’m cycling from Beleghata to Salt Lake, my service area.

Experience at work: I’m ready to work as hard as ever but orders have become so rare that I’m making peanuts. Previously I’d get 20 to 22 orders a day. Yesterday I got one, that too from a sweet shop. We get a fixed amount of money per order so you can guess how much I’m making.

The heat is also sapping the life out of me. I’m wearing my uniform over a T-shirt. They’re both thick and making me sweat but maybe that will protect me from the virus. When it gets too hot I’m resting under a tree. Otherwise I’m cycling non-stop around the township. The idea is to hover around restaurants so our location gets tagged onto the app. That way, if someone orders food from that joint, I will get to deliver it.

Previously customers would offer me water or glucose but now they don’t even come down. They are lowering a bag tied to a rope and asking me to hand over the food and leave.

Home front: People at home are telling me not to venture out but we badly need the money. And it’s not just the virus they are scared of. In the initial days of the lockdown, some delivery boys got beaten up by the police for what they thought was violation of the order. I myself stopped venturing out then. Our company, Swiggy, then got a travel permission issued and sent it to us through the app. Now I can show it to the cops if they challenge me on the road.

Traffic policeman

Chanchal Sarkar

At: Big Bazaar Island, 2 to 10pm

Travel tale: I have a bike but colleagues who live far away have moved into police barracks.

Experience at work: The first few days of the lockdown were difficult but now it’s got streamlined. However, I don’t know if people will continue to co-operate if the lockdown extends for too long. Still, I can’t complain. Salt Lake is way easier to manage than some other parts of town. Here most people as it is like to stay at home.

Most people on the streets here now are headed to medicine shops or hospitals. We’re catching cars in case we see several youths inside. They have been trying to go for drives. But rule-flouting is not restricted to youths. Elderly people are walking out of home too, for reasons as lame as buying cigarettes! Are cigarettes more important than their lives?

Work pressure is low. And not just cars, accidents and crime have nosedived too. Even thieves are scared to come out! Another silver lining is the effect on the environment. While we’re wearing masks now to protect against the virus, at other times we have to wear them to avoid air pollution!

Home front: My family is worried and asking if I can skip work but we are in the emergency sector. It’s our duty to report for work now more than ever. I’m also scared of passing on the disease to my family members. I have an eight-year-old son.

Nurse

Manika Chaudhury

At: ESI Hospital, Manicktala

Lives in: ESI Housing Quarters, GB Block

Travel tale: Our nurse training centre has a bus that we are using for pick-ups. The transport department has also given us a bus on route 202 to use at our discretion. My normal working hours are from 9am to 4pm but to adjust with the pick-up timings I’m going an hour early and returning an hour late.

Experience at work: I was the sister-in-charge of the quarantine ward at the hospital till the government recently decided not to treat Covid-19 patients here. We had shut several departments, including the outdoor patient unit to avoid crowds and my job was to ensure all beds were at a metre’s distance, that fumigation was carried out every 10 hours etc.

In the emergency ward, everyone — doctors, nurses, sweepers — was wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) suits and suspect patients too were being made to wear special gowns, masks and gloves to prevent spread of the disease.

We had one suspect — a man of about 50 years of age — who was kept under observation for two days but he tested negative. Although Covid-19 is an infectious disease, in my 33 years of experience I’ve learnt that every patient is the same. They all need care and no one deserves to be feared or discriminated against. The healthcare workers are working very hard and I think West Bengal can be saved if only people respect the lockdown and stay home.

Home front: My husband and daughter are both very supportive. Both are asking me to be careful but to continue my duty.

Garbage collector

Sonu Das

Serves: BE Block

Travel tale: I cycle from my house in New Town.

Experience at work: There is less waste being produced now since all offices are shut. I used to enter some houses to pick up the trash but I’ve stopped it now as I want to minimise interaction with people. But at least people are now thanking me for continuing work despite the times. It makes me realise how important my work is.

Home front: My family knows I’ll have to keep at it so they’re just asking me to be careful. The corporation has given me gloves, a jacket and mask. I’ve given the mask for washing so I’m using a handkerchief now.

Chemist salesman

Ajoy Das

At: Relief, beside AE Market

Travel tale: I'm cycling down from Madhyamgram. It’s taking an hour and half one way.

Experience at work: Initially customers were panicking and trying to stock up at least a month's worth of medicines. The sale of vitamins, particularly, has increased. Masks and sanitisers are still high in demand.

We have placed a bench at the shop’s entrance to stop people from entering. We are taking orders from afar. The money is being received in a box too, instead of directly. People are co-operating.

Home front: My family is worried since I have to travel a great distance and interact with many people. We are wearing masks and gloves as precaution.

Vegetable vendor

Madhab Malo

Serves: HA, HB, IB and GD blocks

Travel tale: I have been vending vegetables in Salt Lake for 26 years. I did not go out the first few days after the lockdown out of fear. I resumed vending on March 27 as I need to make ends meet. I went to the wholesale market in Muchibazar from my Sukantanagar home on my bike to buy vegetables and later took my cycle van out to ferry the vegetables door to door.

Experience at work: The police has not stopped me. Residents are happy to see me back and complained that they had trouble getting supplies. Prices are a bit high in the wholesale market. Other expenses too have gone up. Cauliflower was going at Rs 15-16 per piece till the other day. Now I am having to buy at Rs 18. So I am selling at Rs 20-22 to keep a margin. When raw papaya cost Rs 150 for five kg consignments, we sold at Rs 35-40 per kg. Now the wholesale price is Rs 250 for 5kg. So we have had to raise prices. My purchases come to Salt Lake from Muchibazar in a rented van. Since there are less vans, I am being charged Rs 250 instead of 180-200.

I cannot stay as clean as I would like as I have to touch all the vegetables. It is not possible to wash my hands as frequently as I can at home. Yes, I did try to buy a sanitiser but it was too costly. I have never seen such empty streets. Though we stay home when the ruling party calls a bandh, we do venture out when the opposition parties do. Now I am not even getting a tea stall open to drink a cup. I am surviving on biscuits all morning.

Home front: People at home are worried that I am going out daily but how will I feed them otherwise? My wife is asking me to come home as soon as I can. She is scared.

Milkman

Birender Prasad

At: New Town

Travel tale: I am commuting on my cycle, with my milk can hanging from a side carrier, like I always do, from Kestopur. The office of our company Brijwasi is in Kankurgachhi. Milk comes there directly from the cow shed in Ganganagar. I collect my share from there and distribute.

Experience at work: I have not stopped supply for a single day. Towards the first few days of the lockdown, my regular customers used to call me, with requests to come. I assured them that I would if I was not stopped on the way. I usually cater to Greenwood Sonata and Ujjwala in New Town and a couple of complexes near Chinar Park like Srijan and Club Town. Demand has gone up a bit. People are asking for about half sher (a sher equals 880ml) more. So instead of 47-48 sher, I am carrying about 50-52 sher. We have not increased prices. It is still Rs 61 per sher.

Home front: My wife and son are in Rajouli in my home district Bihar while my parents, brother and his wife are in the village there. My wife owns cattle too and sells the extra milk. I am in Calcutta for 16-17 years now.

Social worker
Samaresh Das

Serves: New Town

Travel tale: I am driving around in my Ford EcoSport from my CD Block residence. I have travelled around the country in this — during floods in Chennai in 2015 and across Midnapore, Malda and Dinajpur in 2017 — and even 20,000km across Asia and Europe in it for a car rally.

Experience at work: I realised things would get difficult on the day of the janta curfew so I decided to mobilise people in our Facebook group of New Town residents. It is more difficult getting volunteers during an infectious pandemic like this than during a flood. I did not want to go out on the streets for a day, get clicked doing some charity work and then vanish. The challenge for our Facebook forum of residents was to sustain the drive. We have divided our volunteers into sub-groups. A team of three is feeding 27 homeless people. Another 60 volunteers are feeding 2,300 streetdogs across New Town. The cost comes to Rs 12 per day for each dog. The police have been very helpful in granting us permission. They are also helping us distribute about 350 parcels daily with 2kg rice, half kg lentil, 1kg potato, salt, soap and oil every third day among caretakers of incomplete buildings and construction workers with families who are trapped here as well as daily wagers who have no work. I am also co-ordinating the movement of private bakery, livestock and vegetable vending agencies to the residential complexes, ensuring they do not have to go far to shop for essentials. Another group of eight volunteers is helping deliver medicines and essential commodities to the elderly who are running out of stock.

Home front: I deposited my wife at her father’s place in Sodepur as I knew I would get involved wholeheartedly in social work if things took a turn for the worse. She is aware of my nature and does not stop me. Our building gatekeeper’s wife cooks for me.

Compiled by Brinda Sarkar, Sudeshna Banerjee, Shatadipa Bhattacharya



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