How the pandemic transformed a housewife into an entrepreneur
There was a lot to look forward to in 2020 for Lalitha* and her family. A new bike for her husband. A trip to Munnar and Idduki with her cousins and their kids, a geared bicycle for her elder son. She and her husband also planned to enroll both their children in sports coaching programs. She liked that, coming up with workable plans for the year ahead. In addition to this, she had a dream. Before she got married Lalitha had graduated with a nursing degree. And then years later, she had completed a diploma course in pharmacy. She wanted to put her degrees to use. She wanted to open a medical store. Both she and her husband felt that it was a good idea, something they should do. But they never had a concrete plan. There was no need to rush into anything.
Lalitha’s Lockdown experience
When she first heard about COVID-19, she thought that this is something that keeps happening in China, and like SARS it will remain mostly in China. Later, when a few cases started popping up in India, she thought that only international travelers were getting infected. Surely this will not spread here. When the Janata curfew was announced she was in Erode with her family, visiting her in-laws. Things happened very quickly after that. The national lockdown was announced. Then it kept getting extended. A weekend trip had now become an extended stay.
They had to deal with many issues in the village that they were in. The supply of vegetables and other groceries was sporadic. Broadband connectivity was patchy. Her husband had to get a new Jio connection so that he could work remotely. But the biggest problem was the way most people in the village viewed COVID-19. It only happens in big cities they said. Our summer heat will kill it they said. This attitude started to change only after health workers visited the village and helped people understand the need to mask up and maintain social distance.
Lalitha’s immediate concern was her husband. He had gone through an angioplasty procedure in 2016. She had to be extra cautious. She started washing all vegetables with turmeric and rock salt. When they heard rumors about the infection spreading through chicken and eggs, they stopped consuming non-vegetarian food. Many traditional potions were made at home to boost immunity. With school reopening fast approaching they had to buy a laptop so that their eldest son could log in and learn from home.
Post lockdown getting back to Bangalore was difficult. They had to run around quite a lot to get an e-pass. On the road, they were stopped and questioned by the cops, multiple times. When they finally got home, they had to self-quarantine for two weeks. This is the period when the contrast between city life and village life hit them. There was a lot more space in the village. Not just a larger house but also wide-open spaces for the kids to play around. They could still speak to the neighbors from their veranda. After a month and a half of space, they found themselves locked up inside a two-bedroom apartment. WFM which had seemed like such a good idea turned out to be not quite so good. Working hours stretched on endlessly. Her husband was stressed all the time. This constant work was getting to him. The children on the other hand were getting lazy. Waking up late, getting ready late. The discipline that they had was no longer there. One room was always taken up by her husband and the other room was taken up by the kids studying from home. This sudden lack of space and time for herself was suffocating. She did her best to keep the spirits up – experimenting with her cooking, a new rice dish every day; a different biriyani every weekend.
A new life
This period of stress also opened up opportunities for Lalitha. She started helping out an elderly couple with their insulin shots and medical requirement as their home attendant could not come for an extended period. While helping this couple she started interacting with a neighborhood pharmacy. She found out that they too needed help as their store assistant was unable to come to the store. Soon, for the first time in her life, Lalitha was working outside the home. She worked part-time. In the six months that she worked, till the store assistant returned, she learned all about running a store. She was confident that she could do it. The dream that she and her husband had to open a medical store suddenly seemed more plausible.
She made another trip to Madurai in April 2021. This time to vote. She traveled by train and was surprised to see that the four of them seemed to be the only ones wearing a mask. She got into arguments with many people. All of them felt that COVID had gone. There was nothing to worry about, they said. When she reached her parent’s home, she found that almost no one had been vaccinated. Not her parents. Not their neighbors. The urgency to get vaccinated was just not there. Soon stories about oxygen and hospital bed shortages began spreading. A few close family friends got infected. It was only then that people started taking COVID seriously.
Things that matter
The lockdown had taught her a lot. It had shown her what was important and what is not so important. Quality of life was important. Money not that important. Money could not buy oxygen cylinders. Money could not get hospital beds. She was not worried about money or financial security, anyway. Her husband was doing well at his job. Now she too was supplementing the family’s income. In fact, COVID helped them save a lot of money. None of their planned expenses happened. Quality of life mattered a lot. Living in high-rise apartments, in confined spaces irritated her. Lalitha and her husband have decided to solve this problem. They have decided to shift to Madurai as soon as the lockdown is lifted. Her husband can continue to work remotely. If this causes problems, he plans to shift to an IT company that has operations in Madurai. They have already started to scout for schools for their children. Lalitha’s dream of owning and running a medical store will soon become a reality.
COVID-19 has wreaked havoc. It has cut lives short. It has caused a lot of financial stress. It has forced people to think deeply and hard about the things that matter to them. Lalitha’s immediate family was thankfully not infected. In her case, the pandemic gave her and her husband clarity. Clarity on how they should build their lives. WFH and SFH will be an enduring reality for many people. Options that did not exist in the past like moving to a smaller city and into a bigger home are real possibilities today. Lalitha’s story tells us that even in the darkest of times positive changes are possible. Everyone has an opportunity to transform themselves. Lalitha’s is a positive story. A story of the birth of an entrepreneur.
*All names have been changed to protect privacy