BENGALURU: Traffic signals are busy again, malls and restaurants are revving up to serve customers, bargain hunters are back at shops... as the city picks up the threads, we check out if the verve is back with the willpower
On your mark, get set, go... The signal flag went down last Monday, but nobody really made a dash for anything. Instead, we witnessed careful participants trudging slowly, measuring each step, wondering, with baby-like bewilderment, how long it will take to get a steady pace. If at all. Unlock 1.0 opened a lot of doors, but there was no rush to catch the sunlight. The possessions of pride of any city – malls, restaurants, hotels – that had suddenly become mere showpieces, carefully preserved among the rest of the chinaware to be used some day, have been cleaned and polished.
But the wait for guests has been a long one. A jaunt across the city throws up similar sights of anticipation – security personnel suppressing excited smiles as they aim the thermometer at your forehead, sales executives following the drill of staying 6-feet away from the customer, the lift operator directing you to the boxes drawn on the floor. Suddenly, things seem like the first day at school after the summer break.
The shopping malls are clothed in quietude, with even the mannequins looking eager to usher in the rare visitors that stroll by. Shutters are only half up at some stores. “We are sprucing up the stocks,” says a staffer at a dimly-lit store at RMZ Mall, Yelahanka. The mall didn’t even charge for parking, as if expressing gratitude that someone at least dared to venture in on the second day of the reopening.
At 1 MG-Lido Mall, one of the apparel stores, still shut, has the Ugadi sale signage intact in the window display. Really, when did the festival come and go? There is nary a shopper in sight. Pure Home+Living, for instance, has seen 40 per cent of its earlier footfall. Yauatcha restaurant opened on Friday, and the staffers seemed glad to have got to welcome a couple of guests.
But even as they wait for the weekend to welcome the droves, perhaps a look at the erstwhile busy junctions will give a reality check. All those memes about Silk Board and Hebbal have got buried deep beneath COVID updates, the rise in traffic a pale fraction of what Bengaluru roads once endured. The pre-corona time of long waits at Vidyarthi Bhavan, where you were briskly handed a coupon with a three-digit number scribbled on it if you reached after 8am, seems to be in danger of becoming an urban legend.
The 76-year-old restaurant still serves the same drenched-in-ghee dosa, but you will no longer relish it alongside a stranger. Or for that matter, beside anyone, partitioned as each diner is from the other. The waiter may not need to cradle the famous train-like stack of plates on his arm, going by the scanty crowd. “It’s down to less than half,” Bhaskar Pujari, a worker at the restaurant, says, adding that they have reduced the number of tables from 28 to 18.
Most establishments think the situation will remain similarly dull for 2-3 months, or even the rest of the year. Silence pervades religious places too, including the once-sought-after-for-blessings Bull Temple. Nervousness, however, seems to have settled down to a greater degree at markets, which have been open for some time. Basavanagudi has almost got back its bustle, with people content to savour idli-vada-coffee while standing outside Brahmin’s Coffee Bar.
Shops have also resumed business on Commercial Street. Although the arterial roads look far sparse than they used to, and not just due to the dug-up roads, if you venture a bit on the left or right, the narrow bowels present a different sight – of groups of women examining spangled outfits, couples navigating their way on two-wheelers, and streets lined with shopkeepers beckoning the passersby.
And yet everything looks and feels different. Masks: Check (if you count those resting on the chin too). Hand-sanitising at stores: Check, check. Sales personnel’s attention to you: Check, check, check, check... Social distancing: Cross.
Final result: A nation at the crossroads.