The homeworker revisited: student Sanjeeth

Work from home if you can; this was Prime Minister Rutte's urgent appeal, made first to the people of North Brabant on the evening of Monday March 9th. Would it last two weeks? Four? Longer? More than eight months of corona news, discussion, measures, changes and adjusted expectations later, we know how things turned out - as do the members of the TU/e community who participated in our series on homeworkers this past spring. How are they doing now? Every day this week we are catching up with one of them and looking back at what was said at the time.

photo Privécollectie Sanjeeth Premkumar
“My mother didn't want to go back to India alone” (April 2020)

His mother had just arrived in Eindhoven for a visit last March when the infection figures in the Netherlands as elsewhere started to climb steeply. For mom, the idea of travelling back to India and leaving her son Sanjeeth Premkumar behind was simply out of the question. No way. And so he traveled with her, back to his home country and his family for a stay that would turn out to last four months.  

Sanjeeth, master's student at Mechanical Engineering, has a sense of well-being when he recalls his stay in Madras (Chennai), those unexpected months spent under one roof with his parents and brother. But even if he had wanted to leave, for a long time the lack of flights meant he simply could not return. Later, when air traffic started to resume, slowly and under strict conditions, “it was just like shopping on Black Friday and difficult to get tickets.”

Not that he was in any hurry to travel back, explains Sanjeeth, who by his own account was having a fine time back in the bosom of his family and was keen to quietly complete his quartile in India. In that department too, everything was going smoothly thanks to remote and online working - although the time difference between India and the Netherlands sometimes made for situations he found a little mentally taxing. “Meetings to do project work were often scheduled in what for me were evening hours; occasionally I had a hard time staying focused.”

"I was really enjoying myself in Eindhoven; no way did I want to leave" (April 2020)

In mid-July he finally returned - somewhat against the wishes of his family. “Neither my parents nor my grandparents understood why I wanted to come back, but in the meantime my rent was still being charged and I had to make ends meet.”

In fact, he too found himself having to shift gear, he admits. Even while still travelling back, a journey involving two transfers, he encountered big differences. “In India I'd had to contend with a huge pile of paperwork, temperature checks and a barrage of questions at the airport, a face mask and over that a face shield. When I transferred at Paris, by contrast, nothing was asked of me and I was given a stamp as a matter of course.”

In the Netherlands at that time the restrictions allowed for places like restaurants to open, and face masks were the exception rather than the rule on the streets. “Before I left India, I did know that the situation here had relaxed considerably, but it still took some getting used to, suddenly being in the middle of it all. I walked from the station in Eindhoven to my home and it seemed so crowded and busy everywhere. I really had to adjust.” The two weeks of mandatory home quarantine went some way to helping him 'mentally arrive' in Eindhoven, Sanjeeth tells us. “While I was sitting it out, my neighbor did my grocery shopping for me.”

And now, a few months later, his family is still concerned. Reports in the media about the number of infections in Europe are not helping, says the student. “In India, especially in the city where I come from, the figures are now reasonably low.” He himself is not worried about falling ill, he says. By his own account, he is taking precautions and at ASML, where this month he started his final internship, everything is well organized and corona-proof.

“After I moved to the Netherlands, I had to be self-reliant, and I started cooking for myself” (April 2020)

He is keeping his social circle compact. “I have a small group of best friends, including a guy from Greece and one from Hungary. We are practically housemates; we see each other every day. After work we cook and eat together, or we go to the gym together.” Likewise the gym downstairs in the apartment building where he now lives is helping him stay fit. By contrast, rowing association Thêta, where he has been a member since the start of his student life in Eindhoven, is somewhere he hasn't visited for eight months now, partly due to all the restrictions and measures.

Read on below the photo.

The same applies to the TU/e campus, which, by his own account, has little to offer him. “At home, I can get on perfectly well.” Minor correction, by the way: he does indeed visit the university grounds regularly - but as a part-time delivery guy for Uber Eats. There is plenty being ordered, mostly at Atlas, he says, and McDonald’s and Taco Bell are particular favorites, he tells us with a laugh.

“There's still too much uncertainty” (April 2020)

He hopes that next calendar year society can slowly start picking up the thread of its old life. “The recent news reports about vaccines sound hopeful; I hope that everyone has access to them within a few months and that after that things can slowly start to reopen.” Because going to concerts, or club nights at the weekend, “Yes, that I do miss.” The movie theater is another place he likes to visit and even though - following a short closure - that is again possible, there's a but: “except for ‘Tenet’ there isn't actually anything new to see.”

Nevertheless, Sanjeeth isn't sitting at home, head in hands, waiting for the pandemic to pass. Instead, as he said, he has started going to the gym, “even though at the start of this year weightlifting held little appeal for me. And I'm careful about what I eat. And I've taken up writing again: fictional stories, but based on my own experience.” Nothing that would be worth publishing, he says laughing, “I write mainly for myself; I find it relaxing.”

Above all, knock on wood, he hopes his nearest and dearest stay healthy - and he does too - and for the rest, the way Sanjeeth sees it, the key word in this corona crisis is ‘acceptance’. “It is what it is.”

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