Record of Change

For the first time in a long time, it feels like all people on Earth have something in common. An exploration of what unites us in a time of social distancing, we visit and re-visit people in Hongkong and India, Greece and Gaza, among other places.

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episode 6: Bengaluru: Dog Days, Cat Days [transcript]


Alan spends the lockdown with his pets instead of his boyfriend, who lives in a different city. After six months, the relationship is put to a test. However, other than some of his queer friends, at least he can enjoy his privacy.

This episode was recorded on September 12, 2020.

Guest Alan Rocha, Bengaluru, India

Alan lives in Bengaluru, India and works in Sales. Forced indoors by the pandemic, his work life has altered to suit the restrictions imposed by lockdown. He is mostly indoors with his dog and his cat and as a queer man isolated from his partner in the pandemic, he says his personal life has been affected.

Other episodes with Alan:

  • Bengaluru: Co-existing with the Virus
  • Bengaluru: Opening Up
Additional Shownotes

More about Record of Change and this episode, including a transcript, in the post for this episode on our website: recordofchange.com

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or wherever you find podcasts.

Credits
  • An Huy Tran (Associate Producer)
  • Thomas Reintjes (Post Production)
  • Prathap Nair (Host, Producer)

Matthias Jochmann, Kecheng Fang and Stephanie Raible also helped make this episode.


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 2020-10-04  28m
 
 
00:02  Prathap Nair
Welcome to Record of Change, a podcast featuring conversations with people
00:05
around the world to understand how the ongoing coronavirus pandemic is shaping their lives.
00:11
I’m Prathap Nair, your host for this episode.
00:17
Today, we’re talking to Alan Rocha, a sales professional who lives in Bangalore, India.
00:23
Alan is a queer millennial who experienced the locked down in Bangalore with his dog and his newly adopted cat.
00:30
Alan says certain boundaries have blurred in queer people’s lives during the lockdown and in the absence of physical proximity to one another.
00:39
The lockdown has also been especially trying for closeted queer people who live with their parents.
00:45
Alan describes it as claustrophobic.
00:49
One little side note before we head to the episode: In this episode you may notice that the sound quality of the recording is inconsistent.
00:57
We have had issues with internet connectivity, resulting in patchy recording of the episode.
01:03
We apologize for it.
01:13  Alan
My name is Alan.
01:14
Uh, I'm based in Bangalore in India.
01:17
I’m basically into sales and marketing and I currently work for Saint Gobain India.
01:24
And I'm originally from Kerala in India, but yeah, I currently reside in Coromandel in Bangalore [Bengaluru].
01:31
I have a dog and a cat as companions.
01:35
I recently shifted during the lockdown as well, I mean, while the lockdown restrictions started easing out, I had shifted homes.
01:43
And one main reason why I shifted was that this area was more spacious in a dog friendly neighborhood.
01:51
So I felt the need for, uh, more space, which became very apparent when I and the dog used to spend more time at home.
02:02
So need for space was quite evident and yeah, so though, my pets were quite happy to see me at home, I
02:11
felt like there was a need of space since initially during the lockdown, I was restricted inside home.
02:18  Prathap Nair
Interesting.
02:20
How did you hear about the lockdown?
02:23  Alan
So actually we have been hearing of this news since, uh, January.
02:29
And it was highlighted initially for us because the first case of Corona happened to be from Kerala, where I come from.
02:40
By March, I think the cases started picking up in India in general.
02:46
Bangalore wasn't so affected but we could see cases here and there – in some IT parks [work places], someone who traveled from abroad.
02:53
So that time the main stigma was basically for people who traveled from abroad.
02:58
They would be considered, you know - you might be at a risk of getting me infected.
03:05
But yeah, nothing of that sorts around me and Bangalow cases were very less, very negligible and very unlikely.
03:13
So this was in the air...
03:18
So I have a couple of friends that I hang out with and one of them was already wary about the situation and was very precautious.
03:24
And, uh, he was taking all a lot of steps before it blew up to such a proportion, to be safe.
03:33
So we had a very normal weekend, I still remember you went to college when park, we went for breakfast, we took a dog to the dog park for a stroll in the dog park.
03:43
We went for a walk in Cubbon park.
03:45
We came back and then that evening was when our prime minister came on TV and announced
03:52
that there's going to be a lockdown, which is unheard of, at least in my lifetime.
03:58
And I don't think even my parents gone through that…complete lockdown when nobody's allowed to step out.
04:05
So that was a shocker.
04:07
So I still remember, I was a little bit calm and so was my other friend.
04:13
My first main thing, which bothered everybody was how will I get my essentials?
04:21
And there was a lot of uncertainty though.
04:23
The government kept telling us that everything will be normalized.
04:28
They will be essentials provided.
04:30
So I, I still remember telling my friends.
04:32
I think we should just, uh, calm down and not go and buy and standing at Q.
04:39
And because in that three hours before the lockdown was supposed to go on, I remember
04:44
a lot of places were crowded with people trying to ransack and get as much as supplies.
04:53
Because at that point of time it was supposed to last just two weeks.
05:01
It was a total surprise for everybody sitting at home.
05:04
The main thing I felt was, uh, we as boys who stay alone or cook can fend for ourselves.
05:12
We have this habit of ordering in food or getting certain stuff pre-packed from outside.
05:19
So all that changed.
05:21
So that was a big turning point is lockdown when everybody became self sufficient cooks sharing recipes, basically.
05:29
So yes, that was the onset of the whole lockdown in India and Bengaluru.
05:34  Prathap Nair
And the lockdown happened, you were not even allowed to go outside.
05:39
Can you explain
05:39  Alan
You're only allowed to go to buy essentials and no going out without masks.
05:46
Though the lockdown was very strictly enforced with all these guidelines, what we saw in the first phase of
05:56
lockdown, as days progressed was, initially, there was fear in people about the whole the pandemic, which happened.
06:04
So nobody even stepped out, you could see, uh, online deliveries shot up like crazy,
06:11
and there were no schedules for deliveries available anytime in the [near] future.
06:16
Earlier for instance, people order food and groceries from an app called big basket - they
06:24
used to get the deliveries done in say two days or [with] the next day delivery.
06:28
But all that changed because there was so much of a heightened demand for everything to be delivered at your doorstep.
06:35
Nobody wanted to step out.
06:37
And so, yeah, that changed.
06:39
So nobody used to step out for the first two weeks of lockdown.
06:43
Nobody used to step out and everybody was in the hopes that - this will get contained, so let's do our part too.
06:49
Be at home and not spread and not get infected.
06:53
So during that first lockdown… I have never seen Bangalore [Bengaluru] so empty.
07:04
I used to take my dog just for a quick walk and just to buy milk in the morning - that was the only time I step out in the day.
07:13
And you can see everybody used to be so apprehensive…
07:22
And these are local kirana shops [mom and pop stores], they used to tie these ropes in front of their shops so that nobody comes in
07:29
close proximity to the shop owner and… Bangalore in general, uh, was a city where I found online payments are a very acceptable norm.
07:40
Uh, say Google Pay or Phone Pay - all these digital platforms.
07:44
And I think that also kind of boomed, because nobody wanted to exchange money either.
07:53
So, yeah, the first two weeks of lockdown were strict.
07:57
And I don't think anybody did stray from the guidelines given they were more worried about it because it's something new for all of us.
08:07
So how do we get our essentials, that was the main worry.
08:11
So we should not run out of food and we don't want to have to go run out and get ourselves exposed.
08:14
So, yes, that was our first two weeks of lockdown.
08:17
Actually, nobody even ventured out for where it had to come to…where you need to check social distancing, because everybody was scared.
08:27
Uh, it was at the second leg of the lockdown when it got extended in May, sorry in April.
08:33
That's when people started venturing out because, by then everybody reached their boiling point of sitting in one place and under one roof.
08:42
So, yeah.
08:47  Prathap Nair
Can you describe your lockdown experience?
08:50  Alan
Honestly speaking, uh, on a personal note, I'm a very, uh, I would say, like a lone Wolf.
08:58
I don't mind staying by myself.
09:00
I'm very content with what I do.
09:00
Yes.
09:01
Uh, the only thing was, um, I couldn’t meet my friends though the only time I meet my friends is during the weekend even during normal times.
09:09
So that was something which was being missed out..
09:11
not going out and just, you know, just I've been stuck at one place.
09:16
Yes.
09:17
That was a little frustrating but I was not really depressed or stressed out by the fact that I have to be locked in throughout.
09:29
I work in sales so there's a lot of traveling in and around the city, which needs to be done.
09:34
And I used to dread sometimes doing that and I will be like, I would love to work from home.
09:40  Prathap Nair
Yeah, but still, I mean, during regular times you have the freedom to
09:45
go out whenever you want to go with friends and so on, but this was extraordinary.
09:55
So tell me about your dog and your cat.
09:59  Alan
Oh, my dog is now with me for two years.
10:04
And just before the lockdown, so what happened was my dog used to be at home.
10:08
I live alone.
10:08
So my dog and me are just companions or roommates, if you can call it.
10:12
Uh, so when I used to go out for work, he used to be predominantly alone at home.
10:17
So I thought, okay, I thought getting him a companion would help him spend this time during the day
10:24
when I'm not at home, because he faces separation anxiety, where he gets a little anxious when I leave.
10:32
I was damn sure I was not going to get another dog for a companion.
10:36
So I happened to go with a friend of mine and he was getting a few birds.
10:42
And that home from where the friend was checking out birds, there was a cat with two kittens and the owner of the home was like, yeah, put it up for adoption.
10:54
So I don't know, in the spur of the moment, I thought, okay, let me just adopt the cat and see how it goes.
11:01
So I just got the cat and she was two months old and I brought her home and I think four or five days after that, the whole lockdown situation started.
11:12
I call her penny because she stole Toby’s spot in reference to big bang theory.
11:15  Prathap Nair
In a city like Bangalore or in any city in India, if you're a single man, it's difficult to find a flat.
11:23
And if you're a single man with the dog, it's even more difficult.
11:26
And if you're a single man with a dog and a cat, it's probably the most difficult thing to find a flat, but you were lucky.
11:36  Alan
So, yeah, I was lucky because the landlord of this home is my dear friend.
11:43
So that really helped, otherwise, finding a home where dogs are allowed…
12:03  Prathap Nair
So it seems like your locked down is probably an ideal scenario.
12:13
You're locked down with your dog and your cat.
12:16
But there are other people like this friend of ours, who is locked with his mother.
12:20
Are there other people, uh, in lockdown scenarios like that?
12:24
Queer people who cannot be out to their parents who are in a vulnerable situation, do you know of any of them?
12:26  Alan
I know a few, uh, friends of mine who actually live with their parents…they are not out to their parents.
12:49
So they cannot step out saying that I'm going to meet some friends of mine because at that point of time, uh, that was not the norm to be doing.
12:57
So it was very difficult for them because first, uh, they're not getting to meet any of their friends and also from friends from the community or even dates.
13:09
So, uh, my situation also, if you see, I'm actually in a long distance relationship with my boyfriend who lives in Chennai and I in Bangalore.
13:23
Every month we meet and either I go to Chennai or he comes to Bangalore.
13:28
So this lockdown situation also caused a disruption to that because we were just basically six months into the relationship
13:37
or dating each other and getting to know each other, uh, before this whole thing disrupted the whole situation.
13:43
So this September actually makes it a year and we tell each other that six months cannot be counted because this has gone up in the air.
13:53
So I'm sure like me, there are a lot of others who are facing the similar situation.
13:59
Because now since you are at home, you don't really have the freedom to talk freely as well.
14:04
Because when you have your folks around you, they keep their ear, eavesdrop on what you're talking or
14:11
they are always around, so you don't get to talk freely when you're not open and out to your parents.
14:17
Because, not always we talk all rosy and polite, so we do discuss a lot of scandalous things as well.
14:25  Prathap Nair
Privacy is not a notion in Indian families…
14:28  Alan
No, it's not.
14:30
So.
14:31
That is something I'm sure I would have felt really claustrophobic if I would have had this
14:40
lockdown at home…because I'm used to staying by myself and I have this sense of privacy.
14:45
But if I was at home though, I'm out to my parents, but I still cannot freely talk about these things.
14:54
Or even if I talk, normally I don't have that sense of privacy that I need for myself.
14:59
So I can talk or be myself or be free and do whatever I want to because you're living under their roof.
15:06
So they will keep an eye on you.
15:09
So I'm sure a lot of, lot of my friends are a lot of other people in the community are facing this issue because they are living with their parents.
15:16
So there were situations also where their parents came visiting them and they were supposed to return back.
15:26
And because of the pandemic, they are stuck in Bangalore, living with him, uh, for a long period of time because they can't go back.
15:35
So yeah, it has caused a lot of inconvenience and lots of privacy, especially for those who are closeted.
15:44
Because they have to be more on the vigil now that they can’t be free.
15:51  Prathap Nair
Yeah.
15:51
So how has lockdown and the pandemic curtailed other freedoms in your life, particularly in a queer person's life?
15:58
You’re in a long distance relationship, yet, you go out for drinks, you meet other people.
16:04
Do you go on dates?
16:06
All that has been completely shut down or are you still meeting people?
16:09  Alan
So when I started dating him, I was in a closed relationship.
16:14
I was not meeting anybody and my close friends are the only ones I used to meet.
16:18
So this six months actually, we both haven't had sex in six months and it has been really a dry spell if you can put it like that.
16:31
So I think recently we just decided that, okay, we don't know how the situation is going to be and sex is a need.
16:40
So we don't want to impose any restrictions on each other where, uh, we get frustrated basically, and it will strain our relationship in the long run.
16:54
So we just recently decided, okay, let's offer an option that we go and we meet other people and socialize
17:01
too, or even have a one night stand or sex with others so that we don't frustrate and stay in isolation.
17:11
So that's something that you recently decided.
17:13
And actually he's coming to meet me out for six months this month.
17:17
So we'll have a sit down and talk all the do's and don'ts because I have never, I have done this before and it did not end well.
17:25
So yeah, I think I’ll sit down with him with clear instructions on do's and don'ts that will help, but yes, it was difficult.
17:33  Prathap Nair
So you've not met any new people in the past six months…
17:36  Alan
No I haven't.
17:37
Um, first of all, I think the whole, hookup culture has come to a full stop.
17:42
In Bangalore it’s not STDs that were of concern but now it's the pandemic that they [might] get infected, you won't even know when it hits you.
17:42
So I think it all came to a full stop during the pandemic.
17:44
So I think everything stands still, because I remember, uh, after the lockdown started, initial two weeks, I used to get messages from people [with whom] I haven't
18:05
spoken to for months because I think everybody was very sexually frustrated because from just sitting at home and, uh, self-help can only take so much, right.
18:18
So I remember the amount of messages from people, which I'm sure it's just not me, but others also would have
18:25
gotten where people were just reaching out to others and the whole concept of voice calls change into video
18:36
calls, which became the norm because earlier video calls were considered to be a very, uh, invasion of privacy.
18:44
Like why is this guy calling me on video call?
18:44
It is only if you're comfortable and you know, it's a known person, people go on a video call, but that has changed now everything the norm
18:53
is now video call… if you're calling me, you're going to do a video call with the other, because I think that brought down the distance.
19:03  Prathap Nair
It [the pandemic] has blurred the boundaries.
19:07
Yeah, because now people know that you're home, you're not traveling.
19:10
You're just home, might as well answer the call.
19:14  Alan
It's not so much of an invasion of privacy because all of us are in the same boat…
19:15  Prathap Nair
Yeah, that's very interesting.
19:15
So you have, you must also have a lot of single friends who could not meet and date other people in this pandemic.
19:24
How are they, how are they taking it other than the video messages that you to speak of?
19:28  Alan
Yeah, it was difficult for, uh, cause I have a friend who's single and most of my friends are all taken.
19:33
So he, uh, he found it difficult because, he just thought, let me just put myself out there and start
19:39
dating and see how it goes, because he was also a fed up of the culture of just sleeping around.
19:46
He wanted to do something meaningful and see how it went.
19:49
I mean, not with the idea that he needs to pursue that rigorously, but he just wants to keep himself open.
19:55
So that came to a standstill and yeah, it was difficult for him.
19:59
And on top of that, he's a doctor.
20:01
And at that point of time, doctors are considered taboo in India, because you could be exposed too.
20:12  Prathap Nair
Tell me about that.
20:13
Why were doctors considered taboo?
20:20  Alan
Because everybody had a notion that okay, now people working in a hospital are in close proximity
20:25
to those with infection, I do not want to interact with anybody who can get it - the infection.
20:33
So even when, if, suppose I had tested positive and I did recover, but still I'll be considered as you know, uh, a black mark in this society.
20:43
And I would not want to, nobody would want to come and talk to me, just keep a distance from me.
20:47
They would help me for sure, but they will all want to keep distance from me.
20:51
Cause they were really, really scared about the disease back then, when the pandemic started.
20:56
So he found it tough too.
20:58
So he couldn't really go and say that I'm a doctor because earlier being a doctor, everybody
21:02
was like, okay, well I have someone at my disposal that I can go for quick medical advices…
21:08
Yeah they were discriminated against.
21:08
I'm sure you would have seen articles in India where people were pelting stones at doctors
21:11
trying to be helpful and do mapping of the primary contact of the pandemic patients.
21:11
People were kicked out of their rented homes -- that they're like, go find another place to live.
21:18
So, yeah, it was difficult for him.
21:20
So, I mean, [even] if he had a chance and there were people during the lockdown that took [the] risk of meeting other people, still, he was in a category
21:25
of people that people still think twice, because he's a doctor who has a high chance of, uh, infection because he's in the field, fighting the pandemic.
21:53  Prathap Nair
you said, uh, your job involved a lot of travel and now you're working from home… how has your job affected?
22:07  Alan
Yeah.
22:10
Yeah.
22:10
So, uh, me being in sales and any salesperson would agree to this predominantly our work is mostly face to face interactions, uh, where we meet people in person.
22:23
Whereas whether it be a pitch or any problem resolution, yes, we, we can do a segment
22:28
of work through our calls, but if something needs to be done, it has to be face to face.
22:36
So that really changed.
22:37
First of all, when the lockdown hit, in brought business to a standstill - there was nothing to do.
22:45
Nobody knew what to do.
22:47
So the company was in scrambles, uh, trying to figure out what to do next, because at the start of the lockdown,
22:55
when it started in March, end of March, we have every notion that it was only going to last for two weeks.
23:03
This was an opportunity of two weeks to just introspect and think of strategies of how to come out of it.
23:10
Never did they think that it would prolong for two months.
23:15
So every business got impacted.
23:17
So, these two months I think the whole, uh, company's way of working changed, everything has mostly turned into virtual meetings.
23:27
So, yeah, now we are still learning to get into the new normal of only virtual meetings, getting things done virtually, which was never a novel idea in sales.
23:47
Imagine now the builders, they were saying that since customers are not stepping out…they
23:57
are not coming and seeing the mockup flats of apartments, they want to do it virtually.
24:03
So they're [builders] taking a video of mockup flats so that they can get to see.
24:11
So they are not coming in visiting in person.
24:15
A colleague of mine who was in the building segment, he was saying actually, uh, purchasing homes were on a spike during the lockdown.
24:27
So not only a spike in purchasing but also in enquiries…because people were sitting at home, so they had
24:38
thought, okay, we had this in the back burner, we thought we'll just take it up front and do it right now.
24:45
So they were saying that they were getting a lot of enquiries regarding sales or, I mean, virtual tours of the apartments.
24:56
So that didn't really slow down.
24:57
The only thing which slowed down for the real estate here was that construction came to a standstill.
25:06
People are trying to accept the fact that there is a pandemic going on in the background, but I cannot stop living.
25:13
I need to survive.
25:14  Prathap Nair
So the pace of life basically slowed down in Bangalore.
25:19  Alan
Actually, it has slowed down and people started to appreciate the beauty because Bangalore was known as the garden city.
25:26
And unfortunately, yes, the garden is diminishing every year, but I think, uh, during the pandemic time they've got to appreciate whatever's left to enjoy…
25:36  Prathap Nair
Okay.
25:36
When do you think you'll be able to go back to office or be able to meet your clients?
25:50  Alan
See, I'm still going out.
25:52
So when the unlock happened in late May and June, we were already going out in the market.
26:01
Uh, the unlock started in June is when the government decided in grades, how they will open the economy.
26:08
So in May officially, there were certain restrictions, so only people with urgency for the need to travel used to travel and commute in the month of May.
26:21
In June when things opened up, uh, things changed basically.
26:25
So then people started going out actually for work, reporting for work in the office with limited capacity and with alternating shifts.
26:36
In Bangalore, malls were allowed to open up.
26:39
Just in the month of September that they opened after so many months of closure.
26:42
But the thing is, as soon as the mall opened up in Chennai, they did record sales.
26:50
It always puzzled me because I don't know where people wear clothes and go to these days, because even I don't know where to wear my [new] clothes too.
26:57
Cause I don't know where to wear [new] clothes to if you don't go out anymore.
27:06
But yeah.
27:07
A lot of people are actually leveraging a lot of discounts to just at least boost things up.
27:13  Prathap Nair
There's a reason it's called retail therapy because it’s therapeutic.
27:18  Alan
Yeah.
27:18
Definitely in that sense.
27:21  Prathap Nair
Good to know.
27:22
It was lovely talking to you, Alan.
27:25
Thank you so much for spending the time to talk to me and we will talk to you in the next season.
27:32
I'll reach out to you in a month or so.
27:42
That was Alan.
27:42
He will return in the second season with life updates and on the situation in Bangalore.
27:54
Next week, Fidaa Shurrab who lives in the Gaza strip and works for an NGO will talk to my colleague Matthias on the effects of COVID in Palestine.
28:03
Stay tuned.
28:05
Follow us on your favourite podcast provider and look for us on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube or our website, recordofchange.com.
28:15
This podcast is implemented with and by members of the Bosch Alumni Network, a community that brings together
28:22
former and current fellows, grantees and staff members of the Robert Bosch Stiftung and its partners.