Nowhere to Go, 80-Yr-olds Live Under Tree in Chennai Amid Lockdown

It has been more than two months since they have been taking shelter under a tree.

Published30 May 2020, 04:52 AM IST
Coronavirus
3 min read

Video Editor: Smitha TK
Cameraperson:
Smitha TK

I was walking around in the shopping hub of Pondy Bazaar in T Nagar, Chennai shooting a story. Just then a group of five old men cheerfully wished me a good evening. Assuming they were just resting after an evening walk, I asked them how they’ve been. They told that they had lost their jobs because of the lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic and have nowhere to go now.

It has been more than two months since they have been taking shelter under a tree. The summer has been quite harsh with temperatures soaring to 41°C. The state and central government advisory dictates that elderly people should stay indoors as they are more vulnerable to contract the virus.

To which, Ramasami laughed and said,

“They are all asking us to stay inside our homes. But where is home?”
It has been more than two months since they have been taking shelter under a tree.
It has been more than two months since they have been taking shelter under a tree.
(Photo: Smitha TK/ The Quint)

Three of them were earlier part of a catering group, cooking food for weddings. But with no mass gatherings allowed during this lockdown, they have no means to earn.

“Since I am 84 years old, no one is giving me a job. We have been surviving by getting donations from benevolent people here,” said Ramasami.

80-year-old Swaminathan was once a head chef but he is now scrambling for money by reaching out to people he knows. “I go to a temple in the morning every day to do pooja. If I get a job, then I will go work. Otherwise I will continue staying here and hoping people give us Rs 10 or Rs 20 looking at our plight,” he said.

The summer has been quite harsh with temperatures soaring to 41°C.
The summer has been quite harsh with temperatures soaring to 41°C.
(Photo: Smitha TK/ The Quint)

“There is a Corporation bathroom where we go to take a bath. We get free food at the Amma canteens. In fact, all people who have lost their jobs and have nowhere to go are all dependent on this food,” he added.

Totally Dependant on ‘Benevolent People’

Swaminathan was living in Perungalathur, which is about 30 kms from T Nagar, which is in the city centre. When asked if he would like to go back to his house if someone arranged for transport, he said no.

“I can go but there is no means to earn there. At least, people walking by here, will help us. If we go there, we might just die of hunger.”
Swaminathan, Cook

Rakesh* (name changed) was working as a hostel warden until April. Once the students left to their hometowns, the hostel was shut down and he was sent away. With no buses and trains to go to his hometown in Thoothukudi, he has been sitting along with the others for the last 15 days.

All that they want is proper shelter and food.

All that they want is a proper shelter and food.
All that they want is a proper shelter and food.
(Photo: Smitha TK/ The Quint)
“I am always sitting under this tree or that bus stop and wondering if coronavirus will catch me. I am definitely going to get caught soon. But what can I do?”
Swaminathan, Cook

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