The Pioneer’s Kushan Mitra drove around a desolate and deserted Delhi.
As someone who has called this city home for over the past three decades, this was unusual. Even on the days when much of the city shuts down, Republic Day or Independence Day, the city is still loud, abuzz and full of life.
On a normal Thursday afternoon in late-March with such fine weather, Connaught Place would be full of people, young couples stealing some moments, shoppers hunting for deals at Palika Bazaar, office workers out for a drink with colleagues at the countless bars and restaurants. Instead, the giant flagpole is bare, the streets deserted other than the policemen running the checkpoints and Palika Bazaar’s entrances are locked. This is not Delhi as anyone has ever known it in living memory, even those with memories of the 1965 and 1971 wars will say that while blackouts and curfews were common, this is unnatural.
The destitute and the homeless face a challenge like never before, with few people on the streets to give alms and restaurants and shops shut, they can’t even acquire the limited rations that they used to earlier. While various State Governments and the Centre have promised that people will not go hungry, when you ask the runaways in Connaught Place if they have heard anything they tell you they haven’t. Some private individuals like Arjun and Ambika Pandey are distributing food packets and other doing so with fruit, but in these times, small private contributions can never catch up to state machinery.
Outside the Inter-State Bus Terminal (ISBT) at Kashmiri gate, a place that is usually bustling with human traffic 24 hours a day, it is surreal to see the empty roads. There are some buses running, but only for essential workers as notified by the government. Migrants from Uttar and Pradesh and Bihar who are still trying to find a way home now that their daily-wage jobs have evaporated thanks to this gift from China, stand helpless around the bus station, although it must be noted that the air in this area, usually thick with diesel fumes is strangely clean. Among those left behind by India’s economic growth of the past few decades, there is confusion and helplessness, but they are beginning to understand the gravity of the situation, but they know that they are, as the saying goes, caught between a rock and a hard place.
At popular destinations for local outings such as India Gate and Red Fort, the emptiness looks like the set of an apocalyptic movie rather than sites in an Indian city. There are some private vehicles around, but those are few and far between, mostly carrying officials and mediapersons.
But we face an enemy whom we cannot see, whom we do not know how to defeat, indeed nobody in the world knows how to defeat.
Earlier in the day, the Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal announced that there were 36 patients for SAR-CoV 2, the so-called ‘Wuhan Virus’ in the capital, but he also highlighted the risks that healthcare workers face with one virus-infected patient who returned from Saudi Arabia infecting a Mohalla Clinic doctor who subsequently passed it onto his family. The dangers are ever present. Those in the know are pinning some hope on various theories, particularly the ‘temperature’ theory, but we do not know what will happen next. This is just the third day of the 21-day lockdown, the fifth day of staying at home since Sunday for many of us. This will not be an easy time for anyone. And Delhi might never feel the same again.
Friday, 27 March 2020 | Kushan Mitra