Work from home like ‘being in Bigg Boss’

He works out of the bedroom. She does conference calls from the living room. Their son does his online college work from his room. Their domestic worker, who lives with them, is also swamped with work, and also dealing with her sudden lack of space.
We’re all about loving our families, we say — but that was easy when you only saw them at the end of the day. “When confined in small city apartments, with each person doing a full day’s work from home, it’s a bit like being in the Bigg Boss house,” says Anirban Bhattacharya, a PR professional.

As middle-class Indians are social distancing from the world because of Covid-19, they’re huddling closer to family than ever before. When both couples work, they usually give over domestic duties to a cleaning lady or cook — and now, they’re dealing with it all at once.

It’s just too close for comfort for working couples
The lockdown has made us realise how our small household of two working adults, one school-going six-year-old, and one attention seeking dog, are so dependent on multiple people, says Anjalli Ravikumar, social mission director at Unilever. This includes a nanny (“who, sadly for her, is locked down with us”) and maid and driver and various ‘wallahs’ — for doodh, bread, eggs, dhobi, nariyal, gaadi ki safai and so on, she says.

Nandita Mehta (name changed), a chirpy and sociable communications professional, says she’s “already super-fried” living in lockdown. “I really miss the interaction at work, now stuck 24x7 in a small space”. She can’t work from her bedroom, her husband occupies the living room, doing his own thing very loudly, she says. Doesn’t proximity make the heart grow fonder? “No one’s getting any action in these three weeks, there won’t be any baby boom in nine months, take it from me,” she says. She’s grateful that she can still take a walk in the park outside, and find a brief sense of autonomy.

If division of labour was a prickly point before isolation, brace for serious chore wars between working couples now. Having to care for restless children while putting on a professional front for that virtual meeting can be hard. “My 12-year-old son can sit for hours with a screen, but my six-yearold daughter is a bouncing ball of energy, she just climbs up the gate and runs out” says Lalita Singh, a home-maker. “I’ve told her that if she leaves the house, she stays out. That’s done the job for now,” she says.
“I've replaced my yoga time with jhadoo pocha which, to let you in on a dirty secret, only gets done every alternate day,” says Ravikumar. She is learning to cook from online recipes. “The husband is finally putting his IIT-IIM education to use and is responsible for managing my daughter’s online lessons. The school, a wonderful IB school, requires parents to reference at least four different kinds of apps and website to figure out the lessons for the week, and upload completed work as proof. It’s mental,” she says. Her dog, she says, is the most “mentally stabilising chap to have around right now because he’s so oblivious to everything — “I don’t care about Covid, where’s my chicken?”
Some people are actively leaning into the lockdown disruption, like Shubhendu Kumar, who works at a headhunting firm. When their help stopped coming, Kumar, his wife and daughter immediately divided up the jhadoo-pocha, dishwashing and cooking between them. “I see it as a fun experience. My wife put up a picture of me mopping the floor on the wider family group, saying daag achhe hain, and it was a big joke, everyone started sharing their own pictures,” he says.
The coronavirus scare will make us realise humanity was moving too fast, he says. He’s happy not to be commuting, his daughter is thrilled that her board exam was postponed and that she’s got her phone back for PUB. “This experience is revealing so much about our personalities. Who can sit still, who can’t. Who can pick up a broom, who can't. Who can worry without passing it on to others, who can't. New routines are stressful. The news is stressful. Unfamiliar responsibilities are stressful. The inability to go outside must be stressful for kids,” says Ravikumar — “but despite all restrictions, we are luckier than 90% of India.”

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