Diwali dilemma

NEW DELHI, INDIA NOVEMBER 10: Sarojini Nagar market packed with shoppers ahead of Diwali festival, on November 10, 2020 in New Delhi, India. (Photo by Sanjeev Verma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Shoppers this festive season have to face the double whammy of the increasing Covid-19 cases and the toxic air, yet they throng to the markets

Entering South Delhi’s Munirka market, one can see colourful stalls and shops selling flowers, lights, earthen lamps, stickers, and clothes. Despite the pandemic, shoppers can be seen flocking to the markets in prominent areas of Delhi — whether it is Sarojni Nagar, Nehru Place or Kamla Market, albeit a little less than is usually the case.

Markets across the Capital witness an increase in customer footfall around this time of the year. This surge in the number of shoppers is seen due to the festive season and the onset of winters. To mark the festive season and facilitate the shoppers, localities in Delhi organise annual flea markets like the winter market in Sant Nirankari Colony of North Delhi, where small vendors from different states set up stalls of woollen clothes, utensils and other household ware.

However, this year because of the pandemic, hardly any yearly markets have been organised, resulting in immense losses for the vendors who set up their stalls here. Shopkeepers from Jama Masjid and Sadar Bazar, who stockpile firecrackers are now facing even bigger losses after a complete ban on firecrackers was announced by the Delhi government and National Green Tribunal.

Though people are flocking to markets, the splendour of Diwali which is their highlight is missing. Apart from the pandemic, the increasing toxicity of Delhi’s air is also to blame for the dilemma being faced by shoppers. Who have to face the double whammy of increasing Covid-19 cases and the toxic air.

Ayush, who came to Nehru Place to get his laptop repaired thinks that markets are functioning as usual in Delhi. He said he was faced with a barrage of incessant touts trying to convince him to visit

particular stores, which made him nostalgic about pre-Covid days. “I am going to my hometown for Diwali. So, I thought I’d visit Nehru Place, but here, I did not get the feeling that the pandemic is still ongoing. It is the same old Nehru Place,” he said.

IN ACTION: A scene of the market in Nehru Place PHOTO: Mayank Jain

However, shopkeepers in Nehru Place contrary to Ayush’s opinion say that during the festive season, especially Diwali, there is a sharp increase in sales, but this time around it has halved. Pradeep, who works at a laptop repairing shop said, “People are coming to get their laptops repaired because they are working from home. So that business is stabilising, but shops selling electronic items are hit badly. We also put a stall for Chinese lights but couldn’t this year due to this pandemic.”

It’s surprising that even with air quality ¹deteriorating day by day and increasing Covid cases, people are still coming to markets. 30-year-old Madhu, a housewife visiting Munirka market, says, “Diwali comes once in a year, for that we must buy at least basic things like diyas. How long can we stay in our home?”

Social distancing is being practised in metro cities, the same cannot be said for small towns, where guidelines are often flouted. But in the festive time shoppers in Delhi too seem to care little for the social distancing norms. Even though masks are ubiquitous, social distancing and proper sanitisation is largely missing.

COVID EFFECT: In Nehru Place shopkeepers report low turnout of customers for electronic goods PHOTO: Mayank Jain

Recently, a report drafted by the National Centre for Disease Control warned that Delhi, taking the winter season-related respiratory problems in account needs to be prepared for 15,000 fresh cases every day.

Since the last few years, Delhi residents have had to make the difficult decision of whether to go or not to go out during the winter season. So far it was just pollution that they had to face, now with Covid the dilemma has become even more complicated.

This is affecting why and how people are coming out and gathering. We spoke with a number of people in the markets who had almost no fear of catching the disease but are fearful of rules and punishment. There were also people who came out due to compulsion, some of them were shopkeepers themselves — these people have avoided confronting the dilemma so far and when presented with the question, they say “We have no choice.”

It was however expected that with the coming of the festive season, markets will start functioning and shoppers will throng to them. Humans, being social animals, wouldn’t be able to stay alone at home for long and have reasons to give for it. But the question is, how we are accepting this new normal of Covid life? And what is the best choice in such a trying time?

Like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, people are facing complicated dilemmas where choices are few and cost of each choice is huge, so they feel trapped. People weigh their decision of going out or staying at home, as per their conscience. Which is very much visible in the Diwali Markets.

(Cover: OUT AND ABOUT: With Diwali, right around the corner people are thronging to markets for their share of festive shopping PHOTO: Getty Images)


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