It’s been over half a year since the first case of coronavirus was reported. Even though lockdown is being lifted in a phased manner from different places, life is far from normal.
For millennials, the coronavirus crisis has acted as a triple blow. While anxiety related to health is at an all-time high, salary cuts and layoffs haven’t made things easier for people in the middle-income group, or those who had just started to experience the benefits of their economic independence. Add to it the fact, the forced isolation we have been pushed into due to the current crisis has resulted in a different pandemic altogether. We are also grappling with a mental health crisis on a huge scale. Millennials are the worst affected– most of them employed in industries such as retail, entertainment, and recreation– the worst affected of all.
I spoke to many millennials across different professions to understand how the current turmoil has affected them financially and mentally, and how they are coping with the situation.
32-year old Journalist Khushbu Ali who lives in East Delhi with her younger sister has a tragic story to tell. In the middle of a pandemic, she contracted typhoid and had to be hospitalized. Her parents, who live in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh have not been able to visit her due to the lockdown. Her immune system is very weak and she lives under the constant fear of becoming a victim of coronavirus. “I was admitted at Batra hospital in Delhi for six hours and I was praying to the God that if I die please bless me a grave. (Mujhe Kabra Naseeb Kar Dena),” she says.
Talking about the risks of calling her parents to Delhi she says, “My sister and I live together in Sangam Vihar Delhi. My parents live in Gorakhpur, UP. We feel lonely and often cry missing them but we cannot call them because Delhi is not safe and my father is a diabetic patient”. She further added “I was planning to get married this year, but we had to cancel it owing to the current crisis. I never imagined that I would be seeing such a difficult time.”
At the same time, Khushbu is almost on the verge of losing her job because she hasn’t been able to report due to her health condition. She fears that her erratic attendance might result in her sacking. “I only have Rs 70 thousand as saving. If I lose my job, I don’t think I have enough resources for somehow pulling ahead for six months.”
An avid traveller, Khushbu misses going to different places on holiday.” I used to travel a lot, for me travelling is something which gives strength and positivity but now I can’t step out of the house.”
However, she refuses to be engulfed by the constant negativity around her. She has picked up a new hobby to keep herself engaged. “I have started gardening to deal with my frustration and somewhere it’s saving my life from negativity. I keep myself busy to not let bad thoughts affect me.” She tries not to think too much about the future as it is anxiety-inducing. “I have realized that there is no ‘tomorrow’ in corona time. Live today because you never know if you would survive to see that tomorrow,” she says. Khushbu is not a story in isolation. There are many 30 somethings who are experiencing major changes and setbacks in their life and are prone to suicidal ideation.
A Noida based businessman Ajey Srivastav is finding it difficult to meet his expenses as he has invested heavily in his drone business. “This lockdown period has completely broken me and I wanted to end my life. I have invested Rs 20 lakh in my drone business without any support. I have burned the midnight oil to make this possible. All was going very smoothly until COVID-19 destroyed everything. Lockdown affected my business badly, I had no money to pay my staff,” said Ajey, a 30-year-old businessman.
Ajey further adds, “I have started my business with many expectations. It was not easy to invest 20 lakh rupees especially for someone like me who was managing everything all alone. During this pandemic, I have realized that if you are in trouble no one would be standing for you except your parents.”
Talking about the responsibility of the government he says, “Government says we have to live with the virus but it is not easy at all. I have seen people struggling for basic needs and think about those who have lost their loved ones due to corona. Can we feel their pain? No, we can’t,” he added.
The crisis has hit young mothers even worse.
Journalist Shagufta Fatma has been on maternity leave since November 2019. With a new-born, she is doubly careful not to do anything that would affect the health of her child. She is unwilling to go back to work and wants to extend her leave. However, given the current environment of sacking employees at the drop of the hat, her financial security is under threat. Yet, for the sake of her child, she is ready to sacrifice her job. “We used to watch China’s news about coronavirus but never imagined that we would be going to face the same situation. I have decided that if my company pressurizes me to come to the office then I would give my resignation because I can’t put my 6 months old baby’s life at risk. I believe that nothing is important than life. If you are alive can find another job”.
However, more than her job situation it is the freedom to venture out that bothers her. “I was on maternity leave since November, gave birth to a baby boy on 25th December 2019. It’s been nine months I haven’t seen the outside world and don’t know whether would I get the chance to feel the freedom in 2020” says Shagufta, a web journalist.
The stories of millennials dealing with a very difficult phase in their lives where nothing is under their control are in plenty. Yet, some of them are finding reasons to put this time into good use and make changes in their attitude towards life.
Pankaj Kasana, a 32-year old yoga trainer is doing something similar. Despite facing a 70 percent cut in his salary he continues to remain a pillar of strength and support for his friends and family. “I am getting only 30% of my salary but I have my own house and I stay with parents, so it is manageable for me but what about those who are living in a rented house? How will they manage with this 30%,” questions Kasana.
“This pandemic has turned in to a human crisis. People are being laid off, getting half salary but in my case, the pandemic has made me realize the importance of parents. Prior I was busy in my life and friends. I never thought about their expectations but from the last six months, I am with them. We sit and talk. We eat together, laugh together. I have made them learn yoga. We are enjoying this period. They are getting older and they need me. I have decided that I am never going to leave them alone,” he adds.
This is a learning phase for all of us. For many urban millennials, the pandemic has forced them to value relationships over materialistic pursuits.