Can we truly exorcise the ghost of Covid? The virus may be waning, but it has fueled dispute and left people with lost connections

21, May 2022 | Shaba

At first, I thought I should just stay at home like my mother wants me to. But I had not stepped beyond my lane in a while, and wanted to go for a walk. So, I gobbled the taunts dished out by my mother and set off. I always preferred to walk, and eventually reached Bhajanpura. The weather was so pleasant that evening, and the colours of the blue-pink sky soothed my eyes. Maybe it was because I had stepped out after a long time, and to me it seemed that it was a bright and somewhat cool summer evening.

I smiled at the board that declared “tow away zone” as there was a row of cars parked all the way till the outer wall of the police station. It was quite strange to me as I’ve never seen so many cars here before. I moved towards the park where my father used to take me when I was a child. It was here that he taught me how to ride a bicycle, this was a safe place for children, and the thick grass ensured we didn’t get hurt when we stumbled and fell off our cycles.

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This park is closest to my heart. It was here that I spent many childhood days learning about different kinds of plants and birds too. Some of the memories of life for many of us as this park was the nearest and safest place for us kids to play.

I was now visiting it after over two years. The park was closed when the Covid-19 lockdown started. We used to stay home all day. So I had looked forward to spending some time here and soaking in the fresh green ambience after so long. However, I was in for a shock. We, the locals, were not allowed to enter the park anymore! During the two years of the lockdown, this public park had apparently been converted into “a society park”. I had been told this by my uncle Jamaal. He said that apparently a private group housing society or some such organisation had stopped the locals from entering the park. A few months ago they appointed a watchman to keep guard. Gates were installed as  bright colours were notice boards announcing the new “visiting hours and rules”.

So I went to see it for myself. Before the lockdown this was open to all neighborhood people, now these new ‘rules’ will keep those who need such a space, and enjoy it most. As uncle Jamal said, “Safety is important, but the neighborhood has many  children and elderly folk. They need a place to relax, walk and play.” I could sense his disappointment and anger. To calm him down I said maybe it is just for safety reasons that the new entry rules have been enacted. However, he was right when he said that the new timings were all that was needed. “They don’t have the right to deny entry to a group of people this way,” he had told me then, feeling a bit crestfallen.

When I visited, I spoke to the watchman at length. I told him about all the happy childhood memories we still remembered of the days spent at the park. I told my uncle Jamal that I had been allowed to visit the park like before, and maybe they are once against letting all the regulars visit. “I’ll never go there again, I stopped it from that day,” said uncle Jamal, still hurting from being turned away the other day.

I was in college when the lockdown was suddenly announced, and everything was closed. After two years, I entered the “society park” from a different gate but saw something familiar. Children playing, and senior citizens enjoying their walks in the cool breeze.

I met the guard at the end of the street and asked why the people of the neighboring colony were not allowed to come here anymore. He replied politely that it was during the Covid lockdown that these rules were put in place. “But now it’s open again for everyone. You can come here alone or with family. I don’t know about husbands but boyfriends are not allowed,” he said with a smile. He told me that there were three guards who worked in shifts, and kept the place safe for all.

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Once back home, I saw a senior member of our mohalla committee sitting on a chair and greeted him. Just then I remembered I’m not allowed to talk with committee members, it is a rule set by my strict mother. So. I rushed home. My mother is a strict woman and doesn’t like talkative people, but she was in a good mood that day so I asked her why “our people” were not going for a walk or allowing their children to play in that park?

My mother said that when the “society people” stopped the entry two years ago, the locals here took it as an insult. “When people start believing in something it’s hard to control,” she said. My mother had very simply just explained the emotional and social change in society that began during the sudden lockdown, and the aftereffects continue to this day. This too perhaps is an example of ‘long Covid’, one that affects the social fabric.

This report is part of CJP’s Grassroots Fellowship Program, and has been written by Shaba, who is documenting lives, conversations around Delhi’s neighbourhoods.

Meet CJP Grassroot Fellow Shaba

Shaba’s family lived in Garhi Pukhta a small town in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh. Soon after her birth, they moved to Delhi to give her a good life. She hails from a conservative clan where a girl’s education is not considered a priority. Shaba, who prefers to only use her first name, says she is lucky to have parents who support her.

She wants to be a teacher and is pursuing a Diploma in Elementary Education and has also passed the Central Teacher Eligibility Test (CTET). Shaba also wants to work to make education accessible to the underprivileged populations, and be part of a system that works towards a welfare state. Her top priority is to make her parents proud.

Related:

The struggles of a young Muslimah

Walking the talk this Ramzan: Exchanging thoughts, ideas and fellowship

 

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