Lockdown Blues on Elephenta Island
Most of the island residents used to run small snack shops, restaurants and fruit juice centres, while some worked as tourist guides. But due to the lockdown, all of them are sitting at home and waiting for normal day-to-day life to resume.
Every morning before he wakes up, a group of monkeys starts making noise on the branches of trees outside his home near the world famous Elephenta Caves. Rajendra Padate then gets up and asks somebody to cook 'dal rice, or he gets some bread and distributes among the animals.
Earlier, the monkeys used to survive on food left by tourists visiting the Elephenta Caves, a UNESCO world heritage site located on the Elephanta Island, also known as Gharapuri village, 10 km east of the Mumbai shore in the Arabian Sea.
But, now these animals are finding it difficult to find food for survival as people have stopped visiting the island since the coronavirus-enforced lockdown. Nearly 850 people reside in 275 houses located on the island.
On normal days, hundreds of tourists used to visit the cave temples on the island, but since the lockdown came into force, not a single visitor has arrived, Padate, the former Gharapuri village head, told PTI.
The monkeys inhabiting the island had got into the habit of eating snacks and consuming soft drinks left over by the tourists.
But, now the primates hardly have anything to eat, and they gather in groups on top of the trees, closed shops and restaurants enroute to the caves in search of food.
"After seeing the monkeys in such a state, I decided to feed them and with the help of few other people around, started cooking 'dal rice' for them at a canteen. I also feed them bread or toast at times. We will do this according to our capacity till we have enough food with us, he said.
Due to the lockdown, tourism activities have come to a halt at the island and this may probably go on for the next few months, he said.
Most of the island residents used to run small snack shops, restaurants and fruit juice centres, while some worked as tourist guides. But due to the lockdown, all of them are sitting at home and waiting for normal day-to-day life to resume, the 55-year-old former village head said.
"Our business is dependent on tourists, but as Mumbai has become a coronavirus hotspot, nobody will take a chance to visit the caves in this season," he said.
There is a hope that the boat service will resume from May 3, but nothing is definite if the number of coronavirus cases increases in Mumbai, Padate said, adding that people on the island are following social distancing guidelines.
On normal days, at least 90 passenger boats used to run between the Gateway of India and the Elephenta Caves everyday.
"Now, a few residents go to Uran in Navi Mumbai in a boat once or twice a week to bring the essential food items.
Only one month of the tourist season is now left as in June, our business stops due to rainy season. This means our people will be jobless for at least next six-seven months, he said.
"Many of them do not have sufficient savings, so I want to request the government that instead of giving monetary aid, it should provide food grains and other essential items to local people, he said.
Recently, residents of the island got rice and other food items from the state government. This will be helpful till the tourist season resumes, he added.