Rinku Patnaik, Country Chief Client Officer, Ipsos India, says there’s very likelihood of a quick return to ‘normal’ any time soon, and that only those who adapt quickest to the new normal would be best off during the COVID-19 crisis.
In this exclusive piece, Patnaik also thinks aloud for two vulnerable groups – the silvers (seniors), and the labour force of skilled and semi-skilled workers. Read on.
The most frequently uttered phrase I’ve read in the last 60 days, soon after the first few cases of COVID-19 surfaced in India, has been ‘Let the vulnerable be at home’. And with lockdown and social distancing, there will be two sets of vulnerable who stand out from the rest; the elderly who must maintain social distance for many more months. The other vulnerable group are the unskilled / semiskilled workers. There are completely different reasons which make both sets vulnerable, as we try to resume our regular lives.
The Silvers, above 60 years, is the set that opposed social distancing more than the others, when the virus just began to set in. Social engagement is probably their biggest high point in a day. Hence, social distancing and restricted mobility added to their woes of loneliness. Any form of social interaction be it with neighbours, morning walk partners or evening conversations in the park, is an out of home activity that they look forward to and suddenly these restrictions almost put fetters on them, making them hostage to the new laid out norms.
Even though many could be lucky to have the family support and stay with their children, lockdown has ensured that everyone is super busy leading a virtual life, with no time to spare for a conversation. Further, there is no need felt to have an evening conversation with other members about ‘aaj din kaisa tha’ as everyone is confined to the four walls of the house, almost literally sitting on each other’s head. So, one is even lonelier, though sharing the house 24×7. For the others who stay alone, the complete absence of any face to face interactions and low-tech adaptation for many has impacted them in participating digitally and staying connected with their near and dear ones.
The chores have increased for every member, with the absence of domestic help in many households due to the lockdown. The fit and healthy elders help as much as possible and those staying alone are learning to fend for themselves.
The daily chores of jadoo, pochcha, bartan and cooking is not something that most of the urban Silvers would be used to. And since cleaning the house is a critical morning ritual in almost every Indian household, skipping it is not an option unlike in the western world. It’s associated with morning puja that marks the beginning of the day and sweeping and mopping is not an easy task. So technically there is a multipronged disruption for the Silvers.
Further, not being able to step out of the house even for groceries or bank related work has further added to the sense of helplessness. There are many self-help groups and task forces that the government across states have for senior citizens, yet there are many who have no access due to lack of awareness or not sure how to access the service. Also, it’s a risk to personal safety.
The other day Mrs G, my seventy-six-year-old neighbour, was sounding helpless about her driver not being able to come on duty due to lockdown. But I realized she was mentally anxious thinking of emergency during this period and did not really want the driver to help in anything. More than the physical presence, it is the mental loneliness and anxiety that is playing in their minds.
This is not going to get over soon and is likely to be the new normal going forward. The ones who adapt smarter ways of living and managing their lives more efficiently by practising social distancing, will be able to tide over these trying times.
As we move on with lockdown being relaxed in a phased manner, social distancing will be the way of life. Some things that one needs to be cognizant of for elderly parents, aunts, uncles and neighbours:
- Meaningful daily routine: Have a purpose and feel useful; write your own life story or do the religious ‘paaths’ or prep up the dinner
- Being active within the walls of the house both physically as well as mentally.
- Happiness is a call away – so call up your friends, relatives, near and dear ones via the smartphones or using whatever gizmos.
- Take up a hobby – colouring, solving puzzles or singing. Something that keeps them mentally active
- Fun group call – encourage them to have some ‘WE’ time by playing cards, watching a movie or listening to music together.
- Tech savvy stalwarts – being technologically up to date will make them independently do family zoom calls, browse through Netflix and even shop online.
Semi-skilled and Skilled Labour Force
The other vulnerable set are those who are on our regular dialled numbers. They have a struggle of a completely different kind. They’ve had no earnings in the last 40 days and have been at home. Most would be leading a hand to mouth existence even in the pre-covid world. Post lockdown, it will probably be even more difficult.
The electrician who is always there for any small repairs will be facing a major dilemma right now. Having no earnings and means of livelihood in the last six weeks, his main thoughts would be around his survival and how quickly can he get back to work. There may be an inclination to start work even though it may mean putting his life and of his family at risk, but there is no other choice available.
His clients would also be thinking twice before calling him home. Will we be reducing our interaction with him and our exposure given he would be visiting many other households? So, he will need to make a judicious call on what assignments to take on and what he could refuse for the initial period, when he resumes work. This could also mean losing a client forever, but he may have to take that call and may also need to revise his charges upwards, which I’m sure the clients will be willing to pay, for their safety too.
The ubiquitous gardener who tends to the plants every week, also goes to thirteen other households, to look after the gardens, pots across houses. He may get back to work and people may be more open towards him as he will not typically come into the house. But for some others he may have to come into the house tend to the plants and many could be apprehensive to allow external help coming into the house and may stop his service completely.
And then you have the caddies in golf clubs who are engaged and are paid per game. In our country, a lot of seniors play golf regularly but it will be some time before the elderly come out for their regular game. The younger lot who will probably come back quicker could maintain some form of social distancing and not engage caddies. The overall earning and livelihood is dependent on not how efficiently he works but how quickly people get on to a new normal and have different forms of engagement.
These are only a few and the list is a long one. But social distancing is here to stay, and people will need to adapt and find different ways of engagement for a better life and means of livelihood.
There are many others in the informal sector, the regular bevy of maids, car cleaners, washermen who are being paid their full wages by their employers, even if they have not reported for work due to the lockdown restrictions are probably better placed. And once the restrictions are lifted, the new normal would mean that they too follow regular hand washing, wearing of masks and social distancing. This too will need to wait for some more time.