I was on my way to the grocery shop in Mirpur, just a few days after the government declared a “general holiday.” The shop was located in Mirpur 15. The road leading to the shop was full of people almost like any other pre-corona day. Hawkers, vangariwalas were selling vegetables, and other essential goods, as usual, occupying half of the road. Customers around them were bargaining and buying goods. Al Amin, our driver who hardly had any duty these days, was surprisingly telling me “ekhaneto lockdown hocche na (looks like lockdown is not being implemented here!). But in Mohammedpur, everywhere police are asking about their purpose of staying out.”
The road led to an area where there is much occupancy of urban lower-income people, mainly garments workers. People on to road mostly were wearing masks of different shades, colors, sizes, and designs. I noticed many of them wearing a mask which was different from those available in the medicine corners and shops. The size of that mask was very small, just about covering the leap and some parts of the nostril but tightly fitted. Just wondered whether masks had a class difference too! I assume that these were perhaps a little cheaper version of the masks available in shops and perhaps street hawkers were selling these. Later in the day, I read a news report that sweatshop factories in some parts of the world are busy producing different shades of fashionable masks, as there were demands for something fashionable. Certainly, those masks are in production for the consumer of rich countries!
On that very day, I went to Lazz Pharma, a 24/7 medicine shop to collect medicine. The security guy now has a new role to play, giving liquid sanitizer to all customers, and another joined hands to spray germicide in every customers’ feet! They were requesting all customers to stand in a queue with some distance. All the staff of the pharmacy was wearing a mask, head cap, and hand gloves. Al Amin asked me to buy some hand sanitizer for him, but I could not! There was a long queue outside the shop, it was the queue for buying hand sanitizers and masks. Hand sanitizer is suddenly a household item! The pharmacy arranged a counter outside for sanitizer and mask as there was unusual rush for these items.
My visit to a nearby kitchen market was different than any other day. All the menthis (child workers who usually carry goods for small cash [ranging between BDT 20-40]) were absent today, no one haggling for work. Frankly, usually menthis in this market often bothered me in the past, but that day was different. I looked for them just to know how they were in this situation. People’s faces were grim and the market was less crowded. So far I can remember, I didn’t see any woman customer on that day. I looked for my favorite bananawala who was sitting at his usual place, doing what he does every day, selling banana. I stop by to see him, buy some banana, and exchange usual pleasantries. He confirms that he has continued his work every day like all other times but he has fewer stocks! Another bananawala, an old guy with a long white beard, was sitting, as usual, next to him! I didn’t expect him there on that day. I had a short chat with him as well! From the beginning of the pandemic, there was a general idea that young people were less vulnerable and older people were more vulnerable. I was thinking perhaps the old bananawala might not have the option of being at home. On that day I didn’t stop by to see our regular fish seller, rather tried to escape from him so that he can’t push me to buy fishes! Grim faces everywhere and the emptiness of the market was haunting me! I left the place as quickly as I could with minimum conversation with the thought that while ‘we’ are maintaining social distancing, ‘they’ are not.
March 30, 2020
Nazneen Shifa is a researcher. Currently a Ph.D. candidate at JNU, India.