Gita Desai, 38, has been spending at least 3-4 hours a day playing indoor sports like Langdi, Andhali Khiskoli (in which a blindfolded player tries to catch other players in a marked area) along with other games like carrom, ludo with her three children.
Living in one of old Ahmedabad’s heritage Pols (a typical long, narrow and close-knit colony of houses distinctly marked by wooden architecture) – Desai ni Pol – Gita is not alone who sees this lockdown as a blessing in disguise as it has given her time to spend quality time with her children at home.
Desai ni Pol is situated in Khadia area of Ahmedabad known as ‘politically proactive’. With total population of around 1.50 lakh, there are around 179 Pols in Khadia area. It was from this area that on March 22, when the entire country observed Janata Curfew, around 100-150 people from the area carried out a celebratory procession defeating the object of Janata Curfew, an incident that has embarrassed residents of this Pol. Police have also registered an FIR against a number of persons for carrying out the procession defying police notification.
“Following the lockdown, we understand the situation is very critical. Generally, in Pols, the atmosphere is very social and people intermingle quite casually. But now, I do not allow my children to step out of the house. And when we restrict their movement, they will get bored and need means to spend time. And so, I introduced them to indoor sports like Langdi and Andhali Khiskoli which we used to play during our childhood. Nowadays, those sports are almost forgotten,” says Gita.
Gita’s 11-year-old daughter Gopi says, “We are not allowed to step out of our house. So, my mother explained the games and now we are enjoying playing them. Before this, we did not know about these games.” Gopi’s two other elder siblings – Yesha and Honey – also join her.
“In fact, we enjoy it so much that we spend at least three hours in the evening playing the games with my mother,” says Yesha, a third-year engineering student.
Their father, Hitesh Desai, a businessman, does not join them since he has recently undergone an operation of lower limb. “I cannot play with them, so I am utilising the time clearing the account books of my business at home while also reading books, newspapers and magazines.”
Like Gita, 63-year-old Kiran Soni from the Pol is also spending time with his 10-year-old grandson Shubh playing cricket on their deserted Pol lane.
“I am a jeweller. And I hardly get time to spend time with my grandson. But this lockdown has provided an opportunity to spend quality time with our family members. Now, I play cricket with Shubh and intend to spend time like that during this entire 21-day period of lockdown,” says Kiran.
Similar feelings were expressed by Darshan Oza (38), who is doing a private job in Prahladnagar area of the city. “Due to the nature of my job, I hardly get time to stay at home and spend time with my children. Now with this lockdown, I am utilising the time. I play games, watch movies with them. The situation of COVID-19 is certainly not desirable, but it is at least giving me time for my children,” says Darshan.
Culturally, Desai ni Pol is one of the significant Pols of Khadia where noted medieval Gujarati poet Akha Bhagat used to reside. A chowk in the Pol has been renovated and a statue of Akha Bhagat has also been installed there; it is known as Akha Bhagat no Chowk.
With total 90 residential units, majority of the Pol’s 350-400 population are businesspersons – that too from goldsmith community — for whom it is not possible to work from home. As a result, almost all of them are spending time with family during the lockdown.
On Friday, contrary to the usual scene of a Pol which is otherwise lively, Desai ni Pol wore a deserted look. Both the entrances have been blocked for outsiders. Even two temples in the Pol – one each of Lord Hanuman and Lord Shankar – have been kept closed for devotees.
Jigisha Patel, a resident who sell dry snacks to shops, said, “We are staying away from each other. Nobody is moving here.”
Mahesh Soni, president of the Pol’s resident’s welfare association, says, “We have asked all the people of the Pol to stay indoors. We get our essential items like milk, vegetables, grocery and fruits from shops outside our Pol. However, we are afraid of stepping out as have heard that police are beating up people from nearby Pols when they stepped out to buy essential items. Police should be a bit humane in such situation.”
“Within a day or two, we are planning to make a kit of essential grocery items for the people of the Pol from our fund so that people do not have to move out,” Soni added.
The sanitation workers of Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation are also coming regularly to collect garbage here, Soni said.
Referring to the infamous incident of March 22, Hemant Bhatt, a gynaecologist from the Pol, says, “There were some immature people who took that procession out bringing notoriety to the entire locality. We have population of around 1.50 lakh people in Khadia. But those 150-200 people have brought bad name to the entire area.”
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