The nights are darker and longer than usual. The roads are nothing but empty reflections of itself. A dim light from a near-by lamp-post reveals even darker alleys, moving away like an ever-flowing river. The shutters of the shops on either sides of the Biren Roy Road are drawn down. A dog or two are lying on the pavements, getting excited at any glimpse of human forms.
Even a month ago, people used to say, “Corona won’t touch me. It’s a disease of the elite.”
Things however have changed a lot since then. Corona has brought equality in its behaviour. Now, even the poor are being affected. And with two persons testing positive within a kilometre of our locality, people are afraid- afraid of the unknown fear of death. Even a slight coughing by a person some few metres away is arousing our suspicion.
It is said that morning drives away fear. As the dark night slowly oozes out, our locality gets back some colour. The bazaars and shops that are still allowed to remain open are bubbling and humming with people. The people who used to visit the market almost on seven days a week are now going on six. Some are conscious of the government directives; while for many social distancing is a complete joke. A sudden hurry to get dispersed is noticed just as the police patrol vehicle is about to arrive. Still it’s good
to see the Bengalis- famous for their skills in competitive shopping and bargaining, performing some restraint. Prices of almost all essential commodities have skyrocketed. A packet of flour that used to cost around 30/- is now selling at 50/-. A small packet of my favourite chips now costs 20/-. Police is supposed to monitor the prices, but till now only eggs are selling at normal prices. In spite of the high prices, people are buying anyway though.
Most shops are closed. Sources of income have been stopped. Businesses are suffering. A disastrous calamity has stuck thousands of families. And that has led to a surplus of fruit and vegetable vendors in our locality. The day before yesterday, I met Ibrahim- a clothes merchant who owns a small shop in our locality. He was pulling a rickshaw. He had piles of some dry, half-rotten vegetables behind him.
“I don’t know when I will be able to reopen my shop. Till then…” He said with forced, painful smile. It was painful to look at his distress helplessly. A person who used to make sales of around four thousand rupees a day during the good old times has now been forced to launch his own unsophisticated version of Big Basket to keep his kitchen running. And I have dared not to think of the two young men who used to work in his shop…
Many humanitarian drives have been organized by local clubs and people to donate essential commodities to people like Ibrahim. While these activities are commendable and should be encouraged, there are many whose only aim is to click a few pictures and upload them as Facebook or Whatsapp status.
But unlike most businesses, there is one class of businessmen who are happy even during the crisis- the medicine shop owners. Each and every day, the queue before the AK Medical Store crosses the main road, bends at the Banerjee Street and reaches our doorsteps- that too without much glimpse of social distancing within the line. Vitamin C and paracetamols are flying off the shelves like fire. People are buying masks- red, green, blue, violet and even floral designs. Some are even asking for masks matching with their sarees, blouses or shirts. Surely this pandemic has driven everyone crazy!
The days in our locality are passing by extremely slowly. People are ‘trying’ to overcome these testing times with the hope of a better, more prosperous future.