The mask strapped across the chin, leaving the mouth and nose uncovered, is the new normal in Kolkata, West Bengal. On the one hand, livelihoods of many remain impacted amid fears of a third wave of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and the state government extending partial lockdowns. On the other, there is visible failure to impose a pandemic-appropriate public discipline of wearing masks properly and maintaining social distancing during activities that are allowed. A day in the city displayed that chaos and confusion was the overarching theme in every commercial corner. Text: Preetha Banerjee
Jagannath Ghat: The flower market is one of the first places to open for business every day. As early as 6am, people wade through shops lining the narrow lane, beckons of the overenthusiastic vendors and the fragrance filling the air to buy the garlands and flowers to offer to the deity at home. Social distancing is hardly on anyone’s mind.
As the day progresses, shopkeepers and transporters begin to pack the wholesale market in Burra Bazaar in north-central Kolkata. The loading and unloading of wares to be sold through the day takes place with no apparent fear of contagion. Stories of coping with lean business for months fly out of traders as they haggle for the best deal.
The roadside stalls at Girish Park open only between 5am and 8am, the locals said. That is enough time for residents to gather in hundreds to shop for clothes and items of daily use. Pandemic norms are flouted by the vendors and customers alike. Rickshaw pullers swarm around trying to make the best of the increased footfall and hoping to make up for the idle months.
The Howrah railway station connects the city with some of the neighbouring districts, from where people commute to Kolkata daily. Masks come off as passengers huddle together to wait for the outbound trains.
Right outside, those who have arrived wait for transport to take them to their destinations within the city. The taxis are missing and buses are late with the urban rhythm knocked off balance. Covering the face with a mask feels like torture in the sweltering heat and humid air.
The afternoon traffic swells as residents leave for offices, malls and cafes. In the middle of this hustle bustle, a traffic police officer was also seen with the mask hanging much below his nose and mouth on Mahatma Gandhi Road.
College street, famous for its book shops, has suffered many blows over the last several months. The stalls were shuttered for weeks during the lockdown. Resumption even after the restrictions were eased was difficult with the colleges shut. On top of this, flooding after Cyclone Amphan washed away stacks after stacks of books. The sellers now wait in quiet desperation for business to bounce back, albeit without the masks or vaccines.
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