Living under lockdown in US, some Indians grapple with existential questions, others seek solace in helping neighbours

Support isn't entirely about oneself, but also the ability to help others and positively impact one's friends and the folks around, says Srikrishna Tharuvai, an IT employee who has been living under lockdown in New Jersey, US

Preeti Nangal April 23, 2020 20:01:05 IST
Living under lockdown in US, some Indians grapple with existential questions, others seek solace in helping neighbours

Editor's Note: Thousands of Indians are stranded in foreign lands across the world, some by choice, others due to geopolitical, financial and academic constraints. In this multi-part seriesFirstpost takes a look at how they are managing through the lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic

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Mohammad Ali is a veteran freelance journalist working in New York for the last one year. With years of experience behind him, nothing ever came close to preparing him for the COVID-19 pandemic, especially when it proved fatal for someone in his vicinity.

“It is a very scary situation here. About three weeks ago in Manhattan, one person working in an international hostel, which was close to my place, died of the virus and another was tested positive. These were the people who worked in the mess. That is when I panicked since that I used to go for a walk in that area. You never know how often you would have bumped into them. Some people I know have even left the area,” he says.

The close proximity to a COVID-19 death has left Ali shaken and worried.

“Sometimes, it feels like I cannot breathe when I step outside because of the infection and the hyper awareness. There are so many conflicting reports like how long the virus stays on a surface or in the air. Especially because it is a novel virus, we don’t know enough about it yet. The situation has become an existential question," he says.

Living under lockdown in US some Indians grapple with existential questions others seek solace in helping neighbours

Before COVID-19 lockdown, people would throng the riverside near Astoria Park in New York to enjoy the sunny weather. Image courtesy: Mohammad Ali

While many people, after the lockdown was announced, had to inadvertently stay back wherever they were, some made a conscious choice about where to self-isolate.

For Parasi (34), the decision of choosing her place of residence during the imminent lockdown was well thought out so that her research work was not hampered. A PhD scholar in Chicago, Parasi said that she returned to USA in mid-March.

“At that point the question was where to be when the global lockdown began. Since my work place is here where I have my own space and access to books – which was before the university library shut down for the holidays/lockdown – I decided to return.”

“There are challenges wherever one is in this crisis but overall, we, the middle class, salaried people, are all very lucky whether in India or abroad. All we have to tackle is boredom and lack of social life. News from India about daily wage workers and migrant labourers is more heart-breaking than anything we have to face,” adds Parasi.

In some cases, universities closing down their campuses after WHO declared COVID-19 as pandemic, led people into taking cognisance of the seriousness of the situation and indulged in panic buying.

“Universities like Chicago, Loyola, Illinois shut down their campuses and asked students living in University dorms to leave within a few days — unless they had nowhere else to go. This was on 12 March. It might have created some sort of panic as people across cities indulged in panic-buying. Because of this, it was difficult to get essentials like potatoes, onions and milk for one week but after that the stores caught up with the demand. One won’t find everything even now but the most basic amenities are available,” says Kovind, a PhD scholar in Chicago.

Living under lockdown in US some Indians grapple with existential questions others seek solace in helping neighbours

Abandoned streets of Astoria Park in New York. Image courtesy: Mohammad Ali

Like most Indians living abroad, staying in touch with his family back in India has been a challenge for Kovind as well.

“I cannot go back home to India because of travel restrictions but it feels like I am in two different places trying to stay updated about India and Chicago,” he says.

People are in touch with each other via calls to create a network of support. University departments are also trying to keep students updated about the situation.

Srikrishna Tharuvai (30), an IT employee in Barclays Investment Bank, New Jersey, said that even though his brother’s wedding in May in Toronto, Canada may get postponed, he tries to keep himself cheered-up and well-connected by having quick chats with his neighbours from a distance or by using online video call applications.

He also helps his landlord, who is well over 60, by getting groceries for him.

"Support isn't entirely about oneself, but also the ability to help others and positively impact one's friends and the folks around. One can help and feel much better. That's been one way to bring positivity into such times and foster a greater sense of community,” adds Tharuvai.

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