Written by Akshara Srivastava
It’s not just the classrooms and college foyers that wear an empty look, the closure of educational institutions due to the pandemic has had a visible effect on the bylanes of Majnu ka Tila, which once swarmed with students from nearby Delhi University’s North Campus.
Even as cafes and shops slowly start opening for business, there are hardly any visitors.
For most DU students, Majnu ka Tila, or MKT as it is fondly called, is the perfect place for a quick catch-up with friends, dates, or even for spending a quiet afternoon by yourself. Cheap knockoffs of branded shoes and T-shirts were also a hit among students. This provided robust economic opportunities to the locals, which is reflected in the number of cafes in the colony.
However, with colleges shut and most students vacating their hostels and PG accommodations to move back home, the market is now empty.
On July 1, Ama café, a well-known eatery in the area, re-opened for business and a few other cafes have gradually followed suit. While Ama café has managed to attract some customers, the others have not fared well.
At Rigo restaurant, which used to be packed before the pandemic, the tables now lie vacant. Londen, the supervisor, said orders are down by 80 per cent. “We do get customers, but our main customer base is DU. Until the university reopens, we won’t have the same crowd. We haven’t opened our second floor because we don’t get enough people to occupy the first floor, even with limited seating,” he said.
With salary cuts and reduced earnings, even managing rent is becoming an issue for many.
However, many café owners claim they are providing ration kits to their service staff and softening the blow by choosing to reduce their pay instead of laying them off. Rigo restaurant, which currently only has one-fourth its staff, is waiting for things to improve before calling back the rest of the service staff.
The main courtyard of the colony, which used to be brimming with crowds at all times, now wears a deserted look with only a few stray dogs lazing around and a lone Tibetan delicacy stall with no customers. Dolker, the stall owner, said, “Every day, almost a hundred students came for laphing (a snack), but now almost no one comes. The colleges are shut and students have gone back home. It is weird to see the place so empty, when only a few months ago it used to be so full. I couldn’t catch a break earlier and had to continuously prepare orders, but now it is the complete opposite.”
Two other laphing stalls, which used to operate earlier, haven’t opened since the lockdown.
“Everything is deserted, it is almost scary,” said Tabshir Shams, who was in the area to get some food for his family. A student of Zakir Hussain college, Tabshir used to live in the campus before he vacated his flat due to the lockdown. Now back to collect some books for his exams, he made a pit stop at the market. “I used to visit the place often with my friends but now everyone has gone back home. I came to MKT after five months and the empty spaces are very unsettling,” he said.
Even at Ama café, while some customers are back, revenue has taken a hit. The café recently tied up with Zomato to start home delivery services — a first for the cafe – as a staffer said business is down by almost 40 per cent. While the place still has a waiting list, the limited seating capacity has reduced business.
Not just eateries, shops selling trinkets, clothing and other knick knacks now lie shut.
“MKT has always been my go-to place. Even at the end of the month, when money was tight, a nice meal did not cost much. I have spent countless afternoons walking through the colony, sampling Tibetan delicacies and buying the small Tibetan flags, the bead necklaces or spicy noodles and sausages which are otherwise hard to find. With the college shut, MKT is one of the places that I miss the most. That and my college lawns,” said Bhavya Mehta, a student of Delhi School of Economics
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