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The Deferred Dream: Lives in the Lockdown

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There are many reasons why people migrate from rural areas and small towns to the city in search of work, but they're all tied together by an image of the city as a space of opportunity that will enable a better life. It is this dream that brings migrants to the city, and it is the migrant who makes the city into a city – who makes urban life possible. The Covid-19 lockdown was a disruption of these processes, and in that disruption it also served as a sharp reminder of this fact of urban life, otherwise often forgotten. Across our cities, the suspension of livelihoods during the lockdown pushed already precarious lives into extreme vulnerability. The urban dream was deferred until further notice. What follows are snippets and glimpses of the crisis that unfolded during this deferral, and the ways in which people responded to it. These are excerpts taken from a collection of 600 photographs and 10 interviews.

Our point of entry into migrant lives during the lockdown was through the distribution of provisions to migrant families in the Ahmed Nagar area of Hyderabad. Most of the photographs were taken by Md. Siraj, a resident of Ahmed Nagar and our points-person for relief work during the lockdown, who also appears in some of the photographs (clicked by others with his phone). These entry points emerged on the basis of prior relationships and chance encounters. Nestled within the bylanes of Ahmed Nagar is a building, semi-constructed, with exposed brick walls in many places, that houses over twenty migrant families from Banka district in Bihar. This building became one of our primary nodes of relief work in Ahmed Nagar. Our entry into this building was made possible by our prior relationship with a handful of the building's residents, who work as tea sellers on First Lancer. Upon inquiring after their well being in the early days of the lockdown, it came to light that there were a number of families in the building struggling to make ends meet. What followed was a weekly round of delivering provisions – rice, oil, pulses, vegetables, sugar, salt, soap, detergent, biscuits, gas cylinders through the duration of the lockdown.