No Tamil movie ending, yet: Lockdowns dim Bhuvi Velu’s prospects

No Tamil movie ending, yet: Lockdowns dim Bhuvi Velu’s prospects

Why We Wrote This

Economic forces of the pandemic directly hit Indian student Bhuvi Velu. Her intimate story – the loneliness of loss of her grandmother, turning 21 and facing an uncertain career – is part of the Monitor’s interactive 21 in ’21 global report on pandemic effects on a generation entering adulthood.

Bhuvaneshwari "Bhuvi" Velu visited the beach of her childhood neighborhood for her 21st birthday in November 2020. Without her beloved late grandmother there with her, the memories emphasized her loneliness.

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January 22, 2021

Chennai, India

There was a heavy smell of burnt fireworks mixed into the drizzle on that Friday morning in November. The streets leading to the temple were strewn with red paper casings.

I walked alongside my mother in my new orange embroidered tunic worn over white leggings. I was sure everyone in my neighborhood knew it was my birthday. I hadn’t been up this early or this well dressed all year. 

The next day was Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, and the kids in my neighborhood had begun bursting strings of firecrackers a week before. Nobody bothered with masks anymore. I could see every smile. 

All these years, I went to the temple only with my grandmother on my birthday. This was the first time my mother came with me. It felt nice but strange. She gave my name and star sign to the Hindu priest who wove the details into a prayer he offered to God. It was custom to do so, for me to be blessed with a good year ahead.

I closed my eyes and prayed to God for a good job. I am in my final year of an electronics and communication engineering degree, and recruitment exams have been going on for months now. My friends and I have talked about how 21 is like entering a new phase in life; we get to take our own decisions and it comes with a level of responsibility.

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After 20 minutes at the temple, my mother rushed off to buy sweets and instructed me to go home and seek my grandmother’s blessings. Her picture hangs on the white wall above the row of plastic chairs in our new home. She died two years ago outside the one-room flat we used to rent. Now, my mother and I share a small two-room ground floor flat she proudly bought a year ago.

Priyadarshini Ravichandran/Special to the Christian Science Monitor

Bhuvaneshwari “Bhuvi” Velu began the day of her 21st birthday – Nov. 13, 2020 – with a prayer at the Hindu altar in the two-room flat she shares with her mother in Chennai, India. In new clothes and with flowers in her hair, she then went to make a special offering at a temple, and later reminisced with a visit to her childhood neighborhood.

I cry every night in this house. I have not told anyone this. But I still miss my grandmother a lot. I wait for my mother to fall asleep next to me – we sleep on the floor in the living room – before I speak out loud to my grandmother. I have never felt as lonely in life as I have this year.

I think of my grandmother as my mother. I spent my childhood with her. And I think of my mother as my father. She was barely around, and when she was, she was strict. I have seen my mother push hard at the pedals of her cycle, for years, to deliver packets of milk before the break of dawn. The rest of the day she works as a maid in many houses. I was 15 when she told me she wanted to buy a house and take on the daunting debt that would accompany that decision. It is a decision that would come to bear on me too.

If my grandmother were alive, I wouldn’t have found this time of my life hard at all. She and I were best friends, and we used to make secret pacts to eat ice creams together on the beach and keep my mother out of the loop when I went to meet friends. 

On our walk to the temple, she would tell everyone it was her granddaughter’s birthday. She would spend the day reminding me it was my special day and ask me, “What would you like to eat? What special dish can I make?”

I used to tell my grandmother that when I got my first month’s salary, I would take the whole family out to a nice restaurant. She felt bad that none of her kids or grandkids had offered her their first salary check. I wanted so badly to give her mine. Now, it is just me and my mother.

Priyadarshini Ravichandran/Special to the Christian Science Monitor

Bhuvaneshwari “Bhuvi” Velu (foreground) is the first in her family to go to college and is in her final year of an engineering degree in electronics and communications. Bhuvi says her mother, Tamizhselvi (in chair), has pushed “hard at the pedals of her cycle, for years, to deliver packets of milk before the break of dawn. The rest of the day she works as a maid in many houses.”

This pandemic has given me a lot of time with my mother. We were forced to get to know each other. One day during the lockdown, she listed all my good qualities and told me I will do well in life. I was amazed that she knew me so well. My mother found it difficult to stay home during lockdown with the anxiety of forfeiting income and at times took her stress out on me emotionally. I often looked to my phone for company.

I’d ideally like a job linked to my studies, but now it is about helping my mother, so I will take any job that I can get. I have even considered telemarketing jobs. When I was young, I would do all my schoolwork by myself. If I had projects to complete, nobody at home could help me. I have sorted things out by myself. The loneliness I felt this year has been helpful. I have thought about where I needed to develop myself and how to convert my weaknesses into strengths.

In the last three months, I’ve taken recruitment tests for five large IT companies. I had to take one on the day my city faced the severe cyclonic storm Nivar, which cut off all power cables and disrupted phone networks.

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The night before, I looked up the company on the internet, and saw it was where India’s highest-paid employee works. I had spent the night preparing, but I couldn’t finish the online test because the internet connection kept dropping. I was very disappointed.

I began 2020 thinking it was going to be a great one. I was in the final year of my engineering degree, I would turn 21, I would get placed in a good company. I really had lots of hopes and dreams. I felt like my life could unfold like the plot in a Tamil film where the hero becomes a big deal over the course of a song.

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