Once bustling places where people gathered for pleasure and solace were suddenly vacant reflecting the suspension of social and community life in Mumbai.
2020 will go down as the year in which the city that never sleeps came to a sudden grinding halt. When “locals” didn’t run and crematoriums became as busy as railway stations. Of small weddings and smaller funerals. Of no dabbawallahs, and no bhelpuri stalls. Of learning from home and online for those lucky enough to possess “smart devices”, a year missed for those without.
When doctors, nurses, sanitation workers, policemen, conservancy and ambulance staff were the army that defended Mumbai. As the year in which lakhs of migrant workers who had once come to the city in search of a better life feared starvation by lockdown more than the disease, and decided it was better to walk hundreds of kilometres back to their villages in other faraway states.
It was a year when Bollywood had to cope with the grief of losing its finest, and seeing its most high-profile personalities drawn into a wide-ranging drugs investigation. A cyclone did its best to contribute to the annus horribilis, which was not without some silver linings though.
Despite predictions that the city’s health infrastructure would collapse, it held up while the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation hurriedly added more facilities. Improbably, Dharavi heralded Mumbai’s turnaround in the battle against Covid-19 in the year’s last quarter. The trains came back to the tracks.
And despite dire predictions, Maharashtra held off political instability despite the difficulties of an unlikely coalition between the Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party and Congress took charge of the state, and stood together. 2020 will go down as the year Mumbai will never forget.
Infection control rules in Covid hospitals barred visitors from meeting patients even during their last moments. Healthcare professionals found themselves in the heart wrenching position of not only providing care but also comforting lonely patients. Protests remained an integral part of Mumbai’s political landscape. The year started off with the anti-CAA protests by students and activists outside Gateway of India in January to protest against the attack on JNU students. Actor Rhea Chakraborty found herself as the main protagonist of a Bollywood tragedy that spiralled into a national obsession involving political parties, central investigating agencies and partisan television channels. While the allegations that Chakraborty abetted Sushant Singh Rajput’s suicide have remained unsubstantiated, the 28-year-old had to spend over a month in jail on charges of allegedly procuring drugs for the late actor before the court granted her bail. Wider investigations into drug sale, purchase and consumption are ongoing. Environment activists won a rare victory when the state government ordered that the car shed for Metro Line 3 would be relocated from Aarey forest to a plot in Kanjurmarg. However, the relocation to Kanjurmarg is now uncertain. A hunt for a new site is on. The Covid-induced shutdown of interstate borders left many fishermen stranded off the coast of Maharashtra. Over 600 fishermen from the state, who were stranded off the coast of Gujarat, had to spend weeks on their boats before being granted permission to deboard by the state government. The role of NCP chief Sharad Pawar in plotting and facilitating Uddhav Thackeray’s ascension to the post of state Chief Minister last year makes him the most powerful man in Maharashtra. His biggest political achievement so far has been ensuring the survival of the unlikely triumvirate of the Congress-NCP-Shiv Sena which has completed one year in power and emerging as the man behind the throne of the MVA government. In global politics, children of top politicians, including Donald Trump, have made a reputation for themselves for trolling the opponents of their powerful parents. In Maharashtra, however, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray had to go out of his way to defend his son and minister in his own cabinet after his name was dragged into the Sushant Singh Rajput case. The world’s hottest commodity this year, the medical face mask, helped galvanise Mumbai’s intrepid small-scale units like this one in Byculla to cash in on the increased demand. The nationwide lockdown from March 24 and the halting of all public transport led to millions of migrant workers in cities losing their jobs overnight. With no earnings, little or no savings, and no rescue by the government apparent, lakhs of workers and their families left Mumbai and its satellite towns and hit the highways, on foot, on cycles, in buses, taxis and autos to go back to their villages. While the starting of Shramik Express special trains in May provided some relief, the trains were packed. Many caught the infection on the way. But fear of being infected en route was a lesser worry than dying of hunger.
Photographs: Deepak Joshi, Nirmal Harindran, Ganesh Shirsekar, Prashant Nadkar, Narendra Vaskar, Amit Chakravarty, Pradip Das