Why Personal Space Is Dearer Than Gold for a Mumbaikar

Lack of space is driving people in Mumbai insane.

Photo by Yash Bhardwaj on Unsplash

I live in Mumbai, India. Also known as the city that never sleeps and is always on its toes. This financial capital thrives because of the diverse people that make this city cosmopolitan. Every festival is celebrated here as people from every part of India come to Mumbai hoping that their dreams will come true.

Because this city, also known as the city of dreams, is filled with opportunities that millions of other folks are eyeing, this city lacks space.

So how does this city help millions get to their dreams? The answer — local trains. With three routes, Western Line, Central Line, and Harbour Line, it connects people with every possible location of the city. Since this is the most convenient mode of travel, the local trains are packed with no space.

If you witnessed the mad rush at the busiest railway station, you would think that you won’t ever make it into a single train. Sometimes people are barely hanging by the edge, and you would pray that they don’t fall off. It’s terrifying, but it’s true.

Space is dead in a local train. People stick to each other with barely enough room to breathe. In the women’s compartment, it’s always advised to wear minimum jewellery as you may never know where or how your jewellery gets stuck in another’s arm, causing painful cuts while getting off to your destination. That’s how crowded it gets.

Looking for an Escape

So why does the local Mumbaikar go through this treacherous feat six days a week?

We all need to put food on the table. There are other modes of transportation, but they are for the ones who can afford them. Those still trying to make ends meet with the bare minimum would prefer using the most cost-effective mode of transportation.

Some of us need an escape from home. They want to head out into another space called work. Work provides people with an opportunity to get away from the troubles at home and meet people at a workspace whose only motivation is to receive a text on their phone that their salary has been credited at the end of the month. But to be fair, they also want to meet their colleagues, share their troubles and triumphs, and breathe a sigh of relief in their designated cubicle at work.

Nationwide Lockdown — a Living Nightmare

24th March 2020. The government imposes a 21-day lockdown.

Initially, it was seen as a holiday, as a break from the regular hustle. But little did we know that this vacation would turn into a living nightmare.

Mumbai is home to people from all financial backgrounds. The filthy rich, the upper-middle class, middle class, lower-middle class and those who wonder where their next meal will come from. Naturally, you would guess the size of a home each class will reside in.

Some stay in slums, some in chawls (a better upgrade compared to a slum). What kind of space are we talking about here. Well, probably a box in which you have a family of six. Then those fortunate enough live in one to two-bedroom apartments that would constitute the middle-class population. These homes, too, would accommodate a family of four and then the upper middle class with three bedrooms. Here there is space, but with it, it’s share of family struggles. (That’s why they escape to work). Then it’s the filthy rich. Here space is never an issue. But talking about how you feel is. So, when you lock people up for god knows how long, lack of space is equivalent to a prison cell.

But what happens when you steal this sacred space? What happens when a workforce begging to stay away from home is told to stay at the very same place?

The Veil of Pretence

It’s Monday morning, laptops on the charge, and you look at a software that somehow is supposed to be your virtual workspace. How does such a vast population adapt to a Zoom or MS Teams call when you have no personal space. What are the possible consequences of forgetting to mute yourself, and why we must use artificial backgrounds?

It is because if the real one were revealed, you permit people to see what you are struggling with. People leave behind the very same struggle and try to alter it while working in an office space that allows people to put on a veil of pretence.

Background Music — Toilet Flush

“Good morning to everyone. This is the first team meeting from your home….”

There I was attending my first team meeting on an MS Teams call. This team included 12 members, each from a different department but with the same objective — online marketing.

“So let’s understand what our schedule looks like for the day.”

As I get hold of a pen and my notepad, I hear the sound of toilet flushing in the background.

“Is someone attending this meeting in the washroom?”

That was the day we all discovered the most crucial button in any online call — Mute.

Can You Take a Look at The TV Remote

“Yes, I’ll send you the minutes of the meeting as soon as this call is over.”

“That would be great. Also, could you….”

Suddenly, we all hear…

“Beta (my child in Hindi), can you take a look at the TV remote. I need to change the channel….”

We all didn’t know what to say. But I quickly messaged my colleague to hit mute. I didn’t figure out at that time that I could mute him too. But work from home here means that people around you think all you do is stare at your laptop and make calls.

The element of privacy flies out the window. Being an obedient Indian child, parents are given utmost respect. And so my colleague excused himself and attended to his TV’s remote issue. For him, the call could wait, and so did my overseas boss realise that in front of Indian parents, even the most critical work call must wait.

Power Out and Kids

“Hi there, shall we begin?”

“Sure, hold on….”

The call drops. And I wait.

“Hi, sorry. My niece just decided that it’s completely okay to play with switches, and she turned off the main power button.”

When Work from Home and Work for Home Merge

With work from home, people need to work for home too. The second aspect was taken care of when a Mumbaikar steps out of the house at 7 AM for a typical workday, with two converging, the lines blur, and the responsibilities that otherwise were taken care of at a specified time now must be taken care of during work hours.

This merger results in a lack of concentration: frequent interruptions and the guilt of rejecting pleas. So a commitment of working for 8 hours and 45 minutes flies off the window.

Now, it’s been more than two years, and the situation is still the same. People juggle work for home and work from home and are dealing with stress levels because of lack of space and mental peace.

Heading out to work meant an excuse to get some fresh air. To spend some time alone at a café or the beach before coming home on a Friday. Household trouble would be dealt with only two hours a day, once home for six days a week. And we all know how fast Sunday arrives and says goodbye. So focusing on the home front for one day a week wasn’t such a burden.

The importance of keeping personal and professional life separate is probably felt the most by Mumbaikars and India as a whole. With the staggering population levels, you can imagine why space is equivalent to gold. Precious but unaffordable to a common Mumbaikar.

The pandemic not only then took countless lives but also mental peace. Lack of space thanks to working from home has left people hungry for freedom — that space which they would relish in a tiny cubicle.

As for a hardworking Mumbaikar, we don’t need much space. All we need is a tiny area where we can breathe in peace, where we can be ourselves without having to reveal it to others. As the joy of staring at a laptop screen without having someone look over your shoulder for eight hours in a day is probably all it takes for a Mumbaikar to be happy. And that, to me, should be a fundamental right every hardworking employee deserves.

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𝘈𝘶𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘯𝘵𝘪𝘤𝘪𝘵𝘺, 𝘷𝘶𝘭𝘯𝘦𝘳𝘢𝘣𝘪𝘭𝘪𝘵𝘺, 𝘢𝘸𝘢𝘳𝘦𝘯𝘦𝘴𝘴 & 𝘨𝘳𝘰𝘸𝘵𝘩 𝘵𝘩𝘳𝘰𝘶𝘨𝘩 𝘴𝘵𝘰𝘳𝘺𝘵𝘦𝘭𝘭𝘪𝘯𝘨, 𝘴𝘩𝘢𝘳𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘰𝘧 𝘱𝘦𝘳𝘴𝘰𝘯𝘢𝘭 𝘦𝘹𝘱𝘦𝘳𝘪𝘦𝘯𝘤𝘦𝘴 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘬𝘯𝘰𝘸𝘭𝘦𝘥𝘨𝘦 𝘰𝘯 𝘴𝘱𝘪𝘳𝘪𝘵𝘶𝘢𝘭 𝘮𝘢𝘵𝘵𝘦𝘳𝘴.

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