As the clock hands meet, four men continue to scurry around inside the dimly lit National Chemist store in the Mumbai Central area. They rummage through the shelves, marked by initials of pharmaceutical companies, picking out the right medicines for customers lined up outside. Established in 1954, this 24/7 chemist, run by the National Consumer Cooperative Society, serves hundreds everyday. A one-stop shop for residents of localities around neighbouring Nair Hospital, Wockhardt Hospital and also from the comparatively faroff Saifee and JJ Hospital, the store stocks everything, from drugs for common ailments to those for snake bites, from tuberculosis drugs to cancer care, all under one roof, and at a discounted price.
“The prices here are highly subsidised, hence, I prefer this chemist over the others. Moreover, the 24/7 service offered by them ensures every emergency is taken care of,” said Jyoti Kanojiya, a regular customer.
Over the decades, the nightly staff has provided medicines and anti-venom drugs to people, helping out in hundreds of emergency situations. Additionally, they even cater to the in-patient needs of the hospital and that of the staff living in quarters adjacent to the store.
Approximately 200 people frequent the store after dusk, with prescriptions or just describing symptoms. Often, there are customers looking for medicines they couldn’t find at other 24/7 chemists. The primary job of the staff members at night, apart from giving out medicines, is to first attach a unique bar code on each medicine and to then stock them into neat piles based on the company that manufactures them. Once that is done, the employees take half-an-hour breaks, in turns.
By 8:30 in the morning the next batch arrives, and that is when the night batch heads off to bed, to get some much-needed sleep.The shop, which has been seldom closed, had to shut the billing procedure for 30 minutes in the wee hours of July 1. “Due to the GST rollout on July 1, the shutters of our shop went down from 1:30 am till 2 am. This was done to update our systems and to ensure speedy transactions during the busy mornings. We were giving out handwritten bills to those in dire need of medicines, through the back door,” said Chandresh Gupta, the senior pharmacist. The shop that has changed little through the years continues to be manned by people who have forsaken sleep to provide medicines to people in need.