Our 'urban migrants' yearn for Mumbai

Updated: Jul 05, 2020, 08:27 IST | Aastha Atray Banan | Mumbai

It is not just daily wage workers who've left Mumbai by the droves. Musicians, design consultants and amateur actors are coming to terms with having to leave the city

Ritika Kothari, who hasn't lived with her parents since she was 18, moved back to her Nagpur home. She is saving the Rs 85,000 rent she was splitting with a flatmate
Ritika Kothari, who hasn't lived with her parents since she was 18, moved back to her Nagpur home. She is saving the Rs 85,000 rent she was splitting with a flatmate

One of the worst health crisis the world has seen also threw up an impossible social challenge for India, when daily wage workers denied food and work in the cities that they had made home, took to the highways to walk back hundreds of kilometres to their villages and towns.

Last week, the railways announced that the last special train arranged for migrants to return home had left Mumbai after ferrying lakhs over two months.

Interestingly, it's not just daily wage workers who chose the refuge of home in this unprecedented time. Privileged 'urban migrants' have also chosen to reluctantly head back home in the absence of work.

Interior design consultant, Ritika Kothari, has lived independently since she was 18. She wouldn't have returned to her Nagpur home but found the Rs 85,000 rent for her Bandra apartment impossible to pay, after her flatmate moved out in April. "I thought I could manage but after a while, clients froze their payments, and no new work was coming in," says Kothari, 32, adding that she moved her belongings to a warehouse before leaving for Nagpur, where she is put up now with her doctor parents. She has her pet Simba for company, and is back to living the life she lived as a kid "in a single bed". "I have always been in charge of my life, but I don't know when I'll be back since there is no work. I have an assignment to work on a website, which keeps me busy, but I'm yearning to return to Mumbai," she says.

Musician Anurag Mishra moved to Rourkela to help his parents during the difficult time
Musician Anurag Mishra moved to Rourkela to help his parents during the difficult time

With a ban on gatherings and crowds, musicians too have been severely hit. Sainath Bhagwat, 33, who has worked as project and tour manager, cleared out his apartment and moved back with his parents in Pune. "In February, I realised that the projects I had till May were cancelled. I knew then that the summer was going to be a tough one." With no sight of festivals returning soon or the gig scene reviving just yet, Bhagwat plans to stick it out in Pune. "Nobody is going to be brave enough to risk getting out."

Actor and host Priyanka Lalwani hopes to return after the lockdown lifts completely. She continues to pay rent for her old flat
Actor and host Priyanka Lalwani hopes to return after the lockdown lifts completely. She continues to pay rent for her old flat

But there are those who don't want to break ties with Mumbai just yet. They may have shifted back for emotional support, but continue to hang on to their apartments here. Finding a new home in Mumbai is a struggle, especially for single professionals. Model, actor and host Priyanka Lalwani continues to pay the rent for her Lokhandwala home by dipping into her savings. "I have no work and don't see assignments coming my way till November. But I can't give up the house. I want to come back post the lockdown no matter what," she says, regretting having left the city in the first place because since the gradual opening up, digital agencies that are considering her for assignments require her to drop by their office. "Brands want you to come to their office and host digital events. It's these assignments that I'm losing out on," says Lalwani, who is helping her parents with their restaurant business in Nagpur. "I thought I would go Live on Instagram to keep myself relevant, but that space is saturated now. So, I make videos about acting and fitness and post them."

Photographer Ishan Singh returned to Kolkata, but continues to hold on to his Madh Island home. He will do it till he can. "I view the lockdown as a way to take a break." But some don't enjoy this liberty. Musician Anurag Mishra moved back to Rourkela so that he could look after his parents. "I am paying my rent, but I don't think I can for long. I'm experiencing lower levels of stress since I'm comfortable with my parents, but there is no sign of work. The most common reply I get when I reach out to people for work is 'let's connect after it's all over'. "

Megha and Varsha have gone home to Trivandrum since they felt they needed to be with family during the crisis
Megha and Varsha have gone home to Trivandrum since they felt they needed to be with family during the crisis

Sisters Varsha and Megha Rao, graphic designer and poet respectively, decided to return to their Trivandrum home for practical reasons. Their housing society was against pets being around during the pandemic. The siblings live with their cat, Charlie. "During a crisis, it's best to be with family," says Megha, 24. The two are now with their parents, with whom they haven't lived this long in years. "We shifted to Mumbai for the city life, which is usually outdoors—in cafes, bars, on the streets. But if you are going to be confined to your home, why not do it surrounded by family. The isolation was affecting our mental health." The sisters don't intend to return before December.

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