I recently received a call from my neighbourhood dry cleaner who has an efficient system of collecting and dropping off clothes from homes. He has kept up with the times to suit his more woke clients by reducing the scandalous quantities of transparent plastic, the freshly washed clothes would come wrapped in. I felt bad saying I had no more clothes to give him, since I haven’t gone anywhere. A dry clean is reserved for the precious items in one’s wardrobe. A diminished social life for the foreseeable future means this is yet another business bound to become a Covid casualty, at least temporarily.
Prudent or dangerous only time will tell, but considering the catastrophic impact of the lockdown on peoples’ finances, there is something to cheer that the Delhi government is preparing to loosen restrictions this week. It has been two months of staying home and if only for the sake that Corona doesn’t turn us into trembling wrecks, it is time to figure out how to move forward. The fine print is being worked out but Delhiites may expect marketplaces to partially open (yippie!). A visit to a shop or a mall provides some semblance of normalcy. Besides, people desperately need the stuff the government has so casually deemed unessential. Like printer ink and sneakers, kids clothes and rucksacks. Some of us need to replenish kitchenware. Of course, one doesn’t need to be an industry expert to opine that shopping is simply not going to be the same. The threat of virus transmission is at the top of everyone’s minds and no doubt most will stay away initially. Eventually, all will return.
You’d like to think that just the thought of a slow and painful death after gasping for air, intubated — drilled into us after three months of non stop Corona talk and coverage — would be a life altering experience and scare us into permanently hunkering down. In truth, nobody can stay grateful (for not being sick) forever. I hope it’s not reckless to say that I can’t change my lifestyle to suit this virus for an undefined amount of time. It’s not going anywhere, so I may as well go back to the business of living in the world. Obviously, like everyone else I have new riders in my head, the steps I need to take to protect myself and those around me. For one, a heightened awareness of crowds. Two, a mental note to avoid touching knobs, and push doors with the elbow or foot. The upside is perhaps I’ll develop good hygiene habits forever (though I’m not betting on it).
This surreal Covid experience has been a sobering reminder of our fragile mortality. The fact that the world has been upended by a faceless enemy qualifies as an amazing lesson in perspective. The pandemic is like God’s answer to the paradox — finding your life by almost losing it — and it works, albeit briefly. Even the most lackadaisical among us are not going to forget these crazy days in a hurry. Which is why, it’s going to be most interesting to observe consumer behavior in the coming months. Some of the ideas being floated around will totally take the joy out of shopping. For example, if there are restrictions on the numbers of shoppers and temperature checks before entering the mall, the experience becomes deflatingly transactional. Because, for young people the mall has always been an intensely social event; you meet up with a friend, browse some stores, have a coffee, walk a little, maybe catch a movie or go to watch the band playing in the amphitheater outside.
Then there are the other issues, like the hundreds of times I’ve stood in a line waiting for a trial room at Zara. In the post Covid world, it is absolutely frightening, the thought of trying on an outfit that’s been tried on by god knows how many before me. In fact, our brains have rewired themselves so completely post Covid, I wonder how I was ever ok with it, this intimate sharing of garments with random strangers. Yes, shopping, especially fashion, faces a bizarre range of challenges ahead. We may take solace in the fact that throughout history, human ingenuity has never failed the world. Everyone is yearning for a return to how things were but there is a distinct possibility, that this generation will never, entirely, go back to pre-Covid ways.