Heading to the market to stock up on essentials — groceries, milk, bread — has become anxiety-inducing, time-consuming, and also the only outing most of us get.
There’s all the sanitising, the numbered squares on the ground and socially distanced queues. “Still, going to the market feels like a whiff of fresh air in an otherwise exhausting routine of housework and work-from-home that just continues on an unbroken loop,” says Baisakhi Chakraborty, 30, a marketing officer in Mumbai.
Many have started looking forward to it with anticipation. “If nothing else, we just walk to the Mother Dairy across the street to pick up milk and bread every few days,” says Ghaziabad homemaker Piyali Dhar, 49, who is spending the lockdown with her cousin, whom she was visiting when the lockdown was enforced. “We are both using the buying of essentials as an excuse to go out. It gives us a chance to dress up a little, take a walk,” she says.
Manishita Ghosh, 45, an advertising executive from Kolkata, goes to the market once a week. “She prefers the supermarket to the neighbourhood bazaar because things are a little more disciplined there, safer,” says her husband Kaniska Chakraborty, 54, a brand consultant.
There is an undeniable element of tension at the market, they both agree. Frayed nerves, shoppers eager to get their turn before a store closes.
But largely it is a chance for responsible socialising, even if it is now with strangers. Some people help each other out with advice on purchases, given that in many cases familiar brands are now missing from the shelves. Others swap recipes, discuss who’s delivering ice cream and where one can find some mutton.
“At the van that comes to our colony, I’ve heard people discussing how prices have gone up, what’s available where… It’s a change, because these were people who never talked to each other before,” Kaniska says.
Another change is coming home with things you rarely ate, either because you’re afraid stocks will dwindle, or you’re comfort-buying. For many, it’s ice-cream, biscuits and chips. For Baisakhi, the emotional buys tend to be chocolate. Kaniska remembers buying three dozen eggs at the start of the lockdown. “And we don’t even eat eggs regularly,” he says.
The sanitising routine
Techie Arijit Nag, 37, is among those that just finds the whole thing stressful. He does his shopping early in the mornings, heading out at about 6.45, to avoid queues. “It starts with having to get up early. Then arming myself with mask, gloves, etc. I prefer to wear full pants and a full-sleeved shirt, no matter what the weather,” he says. “Then, as soon as I’m out of the house, there’s the stress of distancing, not touching my face, not touching my mask.”
Then, of course, begins the process of sanitizing everything one has brought home. “Such is the fear of infection that I don’t even touch the door to lock it. My wife does it once I enter. The clothes I wore to the market are immediately put for a wash and I go for a bath. The provisions are put in a tub to disinfect. The money that left the house is kept in a box for several days to ensure that it’s well clear of germs before it goes into my wallet,” says Nag.
It’s exhausting. Often, the post-market ritual takes longer than the time spent at the market.
Still, after a few days spent hunched in front of the laptop and staring at the TV screen, many look forward to the next outing, even if with trepidation.