30 Apr Corona Times in the City, Part III, Ahmedabad — How the Virus is Affecting People and Places
Empty streets, deserted parks, worried people — these are strange times for cities worldwide. Historic neighbourhoods in cities across Asia — our workplace — are no longer the vibrant living spaces they used to be; they are a muted décor of an injured society. How do we at iDiscover experience the silent city? Can we still go outside? How do urban communities in Asia deal with the ‘new normal’ of social distancing? How does it affect our mood? How do we perceive the change of place? We talk to iDiscover contributors in different countries to find out what their life, and city, is like these days. Sameeha Sheth, founder/director of the International Center for Innovative Developments (ICID), one of iDiscover’s collaborative partners, shares her insights from a curfewed Ahmedabad in India.
“Where is my Ahmedabad, the city that I know, live and work in?
It feels like ‘my city’ is playing hide-and-seek with me, and I am far away from catching it.”
It started with one day of lockdown. One day became 21 days, followed by the second round of 19 days of lockdown in the fight against the coronavirus, which came into effect the last week of March 2020. It has been over 40 days since the city has become quiet. It is strange, sad and disheartening to see an ever-buzzing city of seven million people turn into a quiet and empty place.
Ambawadi market, Ahmedabad, 11 am
What is life in Ahmedabad like these days?
The city I grew up in looks very different from what I am used to seeing. Ahmedabad is a 600-year-old city that has a vibrant and lively historic core. Usually, our streets and food markets are overflowing with people at any time of day or night. These days, all of the streets, parks, chawks (plazas), markets and malls are empty as the city is under lockdown. The city that never sleeps is now in ‘standby mode’.
We are under strict curfew to cope with the virus outbreak. All residents are allowed to go outside to buy essential goods, but only in the morning for about two hours each day. While buying vegetables in my neighbourhood, I saw some of my neighbours, our local fruit and vegetable vendors, the grocery store uncle, and a few other people I am used to seeing often. Their usual happiness and zest for life were missing; instead, I saw fright and vulnerability on their mask-covered faces. But I also saw a glimmer of hope in their eyes!
This car has been parked here for days. These days, stray dogs sleep on or below cars as even they have nothing to do…
How are people coping?
As people are confined to their homes for the unforeseeable future, they are craving for freedom. The freedom to just go out whenever they want, without having to wear a mask. The freedom to freely talk to people in the streets, without fear. Everyone is reading troubling news every day, watching videos and seeing how people, daily wagers and businesses are struggling to make ends meet.
People in privileged and safer positions are helping others. Young people are trying to help senior citizens, and in general, I do see a sense of camaraderie, warmth and concern for one another. People are hopeful and empathetic, which is it’s heartening, but the fear is still there. There are just so many questions hanging in the air – Why and how did this happen? When will it all end? When will I be able to go back to the office, or fly somewhere again?
Sunset from my terrace
How are you doing?
Despite those thoughts, I am still doing ok, because I am at home with my family. I have my laptop to do work on, and a kitchen to occasionally experiment in! Days are slow, sad, and sometimes, I lack the motivation to do things, but I am staying hopeful!
Amidst the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus and chaos of a complete citywide lockdown, I do feel grateful. I am grateful to have a safe home that provides comfort and warmth, parents to talk to, and to have time to myself. This is a one-of-a-kind situation, unwanted in many ways, but it also brings back memories of hot summer vacations of school days.
I watch the sunset from my terrace every day at 6:45. I often see many people around who are looking up to the sky with longing, hopeful eyes, just like me. These days, the evening is my favourite time of the day: I get to see beautiful sunsets and a few faces I can wave to!
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Words by Sameeha Sheth
Sameeha is the founder/director of the International Center for Innovative Developments (ICID) in Ahmedabad, India. As an architect/planner she loves to work in complex inner-city projects in Indian cities elsewhere in South Asia.