Trucks stalled at state borders. No workers to load or unload boxes and bags. Storehouses stocked to the brim, with supplies, we were told, to last years. But the long lines outside the supermarket spelt panic, and once inside, the three-meter injunction was thrown to the winds as arms reached across shoulders to pick up the last kilo of wheat flour or one of the last packets of semolina. Outside, a tired family sits waiting for someone to see their hunger and spare a packet of biscuits, maybe, or some fruit. A few yards down, the neighborhood vegetable seller sits forlorn, his bamboo baskets empty of produce. The bigger vendors with their pick-ups had reached the wholesale truck before him, and by the time he pedaled his way to the junction, there was nothing left for him to procure, nothing to sell.
On the evening of March 24, 2020 India’s Prime Minister announced a drastic measure to limit the spread of the SARS-CoV2 virus. A nationwide lockdown was to be imposed, beginning at midnight. In a little less than four hours, people would have to shelter in place, businesses of all description would have to close, and all public transport services would be suspended. Security was deployed everywhere, to ensure adherence to the order. Later, limited shopping hours were announced, for essentials—medicines and groceries—within a specified radius of one’s residence. With state borders closed, food supply chains were disrupted. With all informal labour forced off work, the movement of produce from farm to wholesaler to retail was severely affected. Even as the middle class rushed to supermarkets to stock up on what was available, many were left struggling on the margins, waiting for handouts and waiting...for the waiting to end.
Postscript: A year later, the wait continues...this time, for air to breathe, for wood to burn bodies, and now, we're hoarding hope.
Usha Raman is a Professor in the Department of Communication, University of Hyderabad, India. Her teaching and research interests focus on digital culture, feminist media studies, civic engagement and media pedagogy.