The Uber driver evicted from home and left to die of coronavirus

Rajesh Jayaseelan with his two young sonsImage copyright
Mary Jayaseelan

The last time Mary Jayaseelan spoke to her husband Rajesh, he was about to be hooked up to a ventilator in a Covid ward.

Rajesh was being treated in Northwick Park Hospital in London, the city where he worked as an Uber driver for most of the year. Mary was 5,000 miles away in their family home in Bangalore, India, with their two young sons. Until that point he had repeatedly told her he would be fine, that he was feeling ill but she was not to worry, he’d get better – at 44 years old, he was young and otherwise healthy.

But on that call, he broke down and admitted: “Mary, I’m feeling a bit scared.”

Rajesh Jayaseelan died the following day.

Rajesh and Mary got married on 24 February 2014, and rented a home in Hulimavu, south Bangalore, that they shared with his 66-year-old mum. For most of the year, Rajesh rented a room in Harrow, north London and drove an Uber vehicle in the city. He’d work from late in the evening to the early hours of the morning – the busy hours – so he could save enough money to spend a few months with his family in India.

He enjoyed working as a driver, although he didn’t realise that his precarious gig economy job would leave him vulnerable in the global health crisis that would later emerge.

“He’d been living in London on-and-off for 22 years, and would come back to India for a few months at a time,” Mary says. “He loved London. He always used to talk to me about how beautiful London was, and so clean. I’ve never been to London, so he would describe it to me.”

They were very happy. Rajesh loved his wife, and playing with their two sons, aged six and four. When he wasn’t in India he would video-call them every day.

“He was also a really good singer,” Mary says, full of pride. “He sang a lot of Hindi songs.”

He was also a “humble, gentle person” his close friend Sunil Kumar adds. Sunil and Rajesh first met in 2011 – they were both from Bangalore, so mutual friends there put them in touch when Sunil moved to the UK. They would help each other navigate the UK’s various bureaucratic systems, loaned each other small amounts of money when needed, and Sunil and his wife would have Rajesh over for meals at their home in Hertfordshire – sending him back with several days’ worth of leftovers of delicious South Indian food.

Although Rajesh loved London, he didn’t plan to stay forever – he wanted to be reunited with his family in India. Renting their home in Hulimavu was relatively expensive, so during his last stay in Bangalore at the end of 2019, he and his wife took out a loan and bought land to build their own home. The loan was no problem, they thought – Rajesh would go back to London and put enough money aside to pay it off. The next time he travelled to Bangalore, he told his wife, it would be for good.

He came back to London on 15 January. Less than two weeks later, the first cases of coronavirus were reported in the UK.

Image copyright
Mary Jayaseelan

Image caption

Rajesh and Mary on their wedding day in February 2014

Although the virus had reached Britain, at this point Rajesh wasn’t too worried. Shops and restaurants were still open, people were still going into work and then going out. For everyone, including Uber drivers, it was business as usual, and not much changed for another month.

Then March came around, and the virus was passing from person to person within the UK.

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