Perspective from Hyderabad, India
From an early age, I have dreamed of seeing the world. In January of this year, I took a job with Razorhorse, and started preparing to work in their virtual workforce model from different countries. Just as I was preparing to leave India, the entire country went into lockdown due to coronavirus.
I was born and raised in Hyderabad, in the South of India in an upper middle class family. I lived under one roof with my parents, my younger sister, my grandparents, and a great grandparent. I am the eldest sibling, and from an early age I had a lot of self-imposed pressure to support my family, and live up to my parents’ expectations.
I was a quiet child, until my father died from cancer in 2009. After he passed, I started to find my voice. I started sharing my dreams of traveling for the first time. I was studying engineering and computer science in college not far from home at the time. My family had always expected me to follow the herd. So, this wasn’t easy for them to hear. Their dreams for me were based on academic achievement and professional excellence.
Other than pilgrimages that helped me travel half of India with my grandparents when I was young, I hadn’t lived outside Hyderabad until I was accepted to Indian Institute of Management in Calcutta for my masters. The IIM system only accepts about 1% of applicants, and the top IIMs are believed to be on par with the global Ivy League business schools. My family was so proud! For me, it was exciting being 1,500 kilometers away from home, living on the East Coast of India, and meeting some of the brightest people from all over the country.
After graduation, I went to work in Mumbai on the West Coast of India. I was excited that I could see a beach every day! I took a job as a product manager for the Indiafirst Life Insurance company. Living in Mumbai felt warm and free. Like New York, Mumbai is a city that never sleeps, and it is the financial and entertainment hub of the country. I felt embraced by the city, and all the opportunities to explore.
Things Falling into Place
After eight years away from home, I had earned enough money to be free from major financial and family responsibilities. Things were starting to fall into place for me to pursue my dream of traveling. I went on a few treks, and some short trips outside India to Dubai, Thailand and Cambodia.
At that point, I wanted to go beyond travel. I was ready to live and work in places like the Netherlands, or one of the Scandinavian countries where they enjoy a better work-life balance, and are open to people from diverse cultures.
l was finally ready to explore the world, and the sky was the limit! So, I moved back to Hyderabad, and took a consulting job with Deloitte to give myself some time to prepare myself for the leap.
Razorhorse, the Gig Economy, Work from Anywhere!
Razorhorse has a virtual business model. So, I can work from anywhere in the world, as long as I could get a good Internet connection. I can also finally use the Macbook my sister gave me in 2017! I was so excited to start working from different places, thinking about all the people I would meet. The idea of living life on my own terms, and exploring while making a living was bringing life back into me.
At first, I didn’t tell my family I had quit a prestigious, secure job in consulting. I spent the first two months working in Hyderabad, learning Razorhorse’s business, and their industry. Finally, after a couple months, I told my family my plan. I moved home in March to save money, and to spend time with my family and friends before embarking on my dream.
Coronavirus Reality Hits
Just as I was ready to explore the world, the realities of Coronavirus began to set in. On March 23, our government announced the national lock down. Instead of traveling the world in my new virtual job, I find myself working from the house I grew up in.
If we drive somewhere without a valid reason, the police can seize our car. My mother’s boss asked one of her co-workers to visit the office to check on things, and he was beaten up by the police for being out without a valid reason. Schools and sports stadiums have been converted to isolation centers. The homeless and daily labourers have been moved into shelters. After weeks away from home, state governments are finally starting to help people get back home. Testing and contact tracing are becoming increasingly prevalent.
I have stepped out of the house twice in eight weeks to buy groceries. My friends have started to notice my grey hair as monthly maintenance isn’t an option for me with everything shut down. My mother and I share the load of household chores everyday, because our maids aren’t allowed to come to our home. Amazon deliveries have stopped coming. Only the essentials are available.
Treating My Injured Grandmother
A few weeks ago, my 80-year-old grandmother fell and injured herself. She bled for a day and refused to go to a hospital. We couldn’t find a doctor to come to our home, and we couldn’t get any medications delivered. I managed to get an online consultation from a friend’s father who is a doctor, and we were able to treat her ourselves. She recovered, but I felt helpless dealing with her injury during the lockdown. I began to realize I had always taken for granted the comforts of e-commerce and home care services.
Impact on Religion
TDD, the Hindu temple I visited twice a year growing up is closed. I could never have imagined the temple closing for any reason. It is one of the most-visited holy places in the world, and the richest temple in India. They are putting humanity before religion or money, which is the right thing to do, as shocking as it is for the temple to be closed.
For Muslims, this is the month of Ramadan, and Hyderabad celebrates it with much pride. Muslims would normally be visiting mosques three times a day for prayers, and they would be enjoying Haleem, a special meat this month. Muslim clerics are instructing people to pray from home, and economic losses for the Haleem industry in Hyderabad alone are expected to be more than $100M due to the lockdown.
The Indian Nation Coming Together
In India, the restrictions are onerous, but they are very clear, which is comforting. There will always be that feeling that it could have been done better, but when ruling a nation our size, even 80% success is just great. Addressing the pandemic early, and being strict with enforcement has saved lives. Like everyone around the globe, I am frustrated with the situation, but as a citizen I feel safe.
I see our whole nation coming together to fight this terrible pandemic, making personal sacrifices for the greater good. I feel proud and unified.
We worry about my younger sister who lives in the US, where the virus is spreading rapidly. In Dallas, where she lives, people aren’t taking the pandemic seriously. In my sister’s words, the US government doesn’t seem to take this seriously. Companies like Walmart are taking measures to manage hygiene, but in general people do not seem to have any sort of fear. They are going for walks, and eating in restaurants.
On our Zoom calls, my team at Razorhorse talks about how each state, and even each city in the US has different rules. People are even protesting the restrictions. This is hard for us to understand in India.
Filled with Gratitude
At first, I was frustrated that the lockdown was announced before I had a chance to begin my dream of working from different cities, but now I am filled with gratitude that I am living at home. My family has always been strong and optimistic, which has helped me.
I started a list of the things I feel grateful for, and I am more thoughtful about what’s important, and what’s not. I am making a list of all the places I want to visit, and I have started posting pictures from previous trips on social media. Cooking has always been therapeutic for me. Now I can prepare meals for my family. I step out onto the terrace every few hours to feel the fresh air, and I take time out for sunrise and sunsets. I watch a movie with my family when I feel anxious or burnt out. I talk with friends on group Zoom calls. I love to sing, but was always too shy to sing in front of people. Now I sing more often, and I have an audience whether I like it or not.
Seize the Day
I think about all the things I’ve done to postpone doing what I want to do. When the pandemic is over, and it’s safe to travel again, I will not hold myself back from anything. I understand that things won’t go back to being normal anytime soon. Even after the lockdowns are lifted, the way we live and interact will be different, but I want to push myself in every way possible. I am learning the importance of living one day at a time, because you never know what life might bring!