Auto rickshaws have been off the streets
Auto rickshaws have been off the streets

Mumbai: For Pratap Kumar, 41, the day began at 7 am in the pre-lockdown days. Now, it begins at 4 am. Before May 25, Kumar would set off from his residence in a chawl in Andheri East in his autorickshaw. His father had come to Mumbai in the 1980s and drove an autorickshaw for a livelihood. When his father grew old, Kumar became the driving force.

But the 46-day lockdown has made life next to impossible for Kumar, as he has no earnings at all. He was the sole breadwinner in his family of five. To hold body and soul together, all five of them, Kumar has started selling vegetables in his ward.

Every alternate day he sets out at 5 am to procure vegetables from farmers who have been supplying farm produce directly in several pockets of the city. He then takes his wares to various housing societies and residential colonies for selling. "I had to do something to sustain my family.

Apart from our daily bread, I also need to pay for water, rations, and other essentials," said Kumar. Just like him, several other kaali-peeli and autorickshaw drivers have ditched their wheels and taken up other jobs to support their families. Sai Pawar , a kaali-peeli driver, has taken up a job as a loader in a relief camp.

Pawar now unloads goods from trucks and also helps clean a relief camp set up in Mumbai suburbs. Earlier, Pawar earned Rs 30,000 per month on an average, but now his weekly income is between Rs 2,500 and Rs 3,000.

"Every alternate day, a relief truck picks me up from Dadar. I do the loading and unloading work at the camps and then help in sanitisation as well," he said. "I believe no job is small. I have a family to care for, so I have taken up this job because no other job is available during lockdown.

I believe this is just a temporary phase and this too shall pass," he philosophically observes. Apart from providing two meals to his family, Ramesh Singh, 39, has to buy medicines for his mother, who is asthmatic and diabetic.

As these medicines are costly, Singh, who once used to be an autorickshaw driver, has started selling vegetables door to-door, along with his wife.

"My brother-in-law is a vegetable seller. Since lockdown, no market is open, so almost every vendor in the city has started door-to-door delivery. We have joined him, too, and are earning a small income," Singh said.

Surprisingly, not one of these men displayed negativity or blamed anyone for their plight. Rather, they were all inclined to be optimistic and insistent that this was just a phrase. "The whole world is in danger now. There is no point in playing blame games.

Everyone is doing their best," felt Kumar. "This is a pandemic and wasn't started by anyone intentionally. If we blame people, this will affect their morale badly. All I can do is be positive and hope things get better at the earliest," said Pawar.

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