Soumya Bhattacharya’s Diary: India after lockdown, the shock of redundancy, and watching Arsenal

Though Delhi is opening up again, it feels like a different city. The Indian capital seems to have mislaid its heart.

Delhi has opened up after the ­lockdown. Shops and malls are in business. The laburnums are in bloom, and the monsoon rains, while they lasted, have imparted a waxy iridescence to the trees. But the ­Indian capital is a different city. There is ­little ­traffic, schools are still shut and most ­people are continuing to work from home. The shops and malls have had barely any customers. ­India’s economy contracted 24 per cent in the last quarter. No one is in a mood to spend.

The city looks prettier, less congested, more expansive. The wide vistas of central Delhi (some of the best city roads in the country) look wider still. The air is less noxious. But the city – without its hustle, its rude and reckless drivers, the swarms of visitors near tourist attractions such as India Gate or Qutb Minar – is no longer the same. Delhi seems to have mislaid its heart. It isn’t there any longer.

Lockdown nightcaps

At least the booze is back. For the duration of the 68-day federal lockdown (one of the most protracted and severe in the world), the Indian government ordered that all shops selling anything other than what it considered “essential commodities” to close. Liquor does not fall into that category in India. Supermarkets here, unlike in ­Britain or Europe or America, do not sell wine, beer or spirits. You could not, therefore, buy any alcoholic beverage anywhere during ­lockdown. Calls to hospital emergencies from drinkers suffering from acute withdrawal symptoms went up, as did suicide attempts from those who felt they could bear the ­agony no more.

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After debating whether to ration the ­alcohol I already had at home, or to enjoy it while it lasted, I went all in. I first finished off all my wine; then started on the spirits, ­followed by the liqueurs: I drank Baileys Irish Cream, Cointreau, Kahlúa.

After that, I started making myself fresh lime sodas. I kept pretending that they were not fresh lime sodas. It was hard work. In this current phase of life – which the ­government calls “Unlock”– if there is one thing that has returned unaltered to how it used to be before the pandemic, it is the ­experience of drinking at home.

International fans

Televised sport has returned as well. A new football season, a new beginning. And we can’t have enough of new beginnings these days. Of all the European leagues, India is in thrall to the English Premier League.

The Spanish league has the greatest club footballer of all time; the Bundesliga has the reigning world club champions. But the ­popularity of the Premier League is ­unrivalled in India. Its success as a well-­marketed, global entertainment ­commodity is astonishing. Manchester United, ­Liverpool, Arsenal (and others) have supporters’ clubs in major Indian ­cities. And there are bars where these fans used to gather to watch games, often at odd hours because of the time …read more

Source:: New Statesman


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