Gudi Padwa, the traditional Maharashtrian and Konkan new year, on Wednesday was a quiet celebration for the residents of Ambewadi chawl in Vile Parle amid the 21-day lockdown. The spring festival, which is marked by the dhol, a small event in the common area of the chawl, was instead celebrated indoors by the residents. Wishes were exchanged over phone rather than by visits to neighbours’ homes.
The residents of the 50 single-room chawl have had to quickly understand what “social distancing” means. Chawls are one-room houses, usually on three to four floors, with a common verandah running down each floor, and common toilets on every floor. “No festival here is small or confined to within the family. But this time it was. The only sweet I could manage to prepare with the limited grocery stock was a sweet mix of coconut and jaggery. Traditionally, we make Shrikhand on Gudi Padwa and serve to visitors,” said Sushila Sadashiv Malin, a resident of the chawl, who lives with four other family members in a single room.
Despite their small skirmishes, residents of Mumbai chawls celebrate festivals together and lend a helping hand to each other in times of crises. In the time of COVID-19, the residents have switched to phone calls rather than visiting each other at home. The common verandah has become the new playground for children. The daily evening “katta” or gathering of people has been cancelled. But the practice of families interacting with each other over the common balcony on each floor has been a saviour.
Malin, who worked as a house-help in nearby housing societies before the lockdown, said, “I watch TV, call and check on my relatives, do household chores to keep myself busy. Not only are we not visiting our neighbours, but there is restriction on outsiders’ entry too. But to keep youngsters confined in the houses is the most difficult task.”
In the face of the lockdown, many young adults who recently started working are spending unusually long hours at home. But in keeping with the spirit of chawl living, these youths have got together to help neighbours buy vegetables, milk and groceries, daily. The common toilets — eight for women and 12 for men — are being cleaned twice. And “no family member is allowed inside the house if they have not cleaned their hands,” said Malin.
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