New Delhi


Every day, on the almost deserted road from Rajokri to Kishangarh, a motorcycle rider braves the police pickets and patiently shows them his essential services pass. Satisfi ed, they let Beerbal Singh pass. But that’s not the end of the 34-year-old’s encounters with the cops for the day. They often come to his store to chide people for not following social distancing norms, and occasionally to order the immediate downing of shutters.  “They are just doing their jobs. There is a lot of pressure on them,” the chemist says without rancour. “But I am also doing my job and people depend on me.” From his medicine store at Kishangarh in southwest Delhi, Singh ensures supply of medicines for locals. Sometimes, he even delivers the monthly quota of medicines of some customers at their doorsteps. “You may do without a lot of things in these tough times, but food and medicines you cannot cut out. This thought gets me up every single day. I should also be home, safe and close to my family, but I know I have to open my shop for the people,” he says. It’s not as if the father of two is blase about the risk of infection by  the novel coronavirus. “I live with my wife, two sons, 11 and 9, brother, sister and parents. My father is 65, mother 60-plus. My brother is a kidney patient,” he says. “I am scared I might endanger their health. I come home and immediately wash my mask in Dettol and hot water. I also take a bath and launder my clothes.” A big everyday concern is accepting unknowingly contaminated currency notes from customers. Payments with plastic cards carry the same threat, so he has to be vigilant. “I make sure the customers sanitise their hands. I do it before and after any interaction with a buyer,” Singh reveals. “I fi rst try to encourage them to make the payment through Google Pay, Paytm or any online medium. But if they don’t, what can I do? Who goes online to pay Rs 10? So what I can do in the circumstance is to sanitise my hands after handling cash or cards.” Singh opens the store 10am, shuts for lunch around 1.30pm, returns at 5pm and stays open till whatever time he is allowed. “It might be 7pm, it might be 8.30pm. It isn’t sure. There are restrictions every day. The other day a cop threatened me, ‘Seal lagwa ke manoge kya (seems you will obey only if we seal your shop)?’” he says. According to him, Kishangarh elders want a total lockdown in the area. Tenants have been told to stay indoors and allowed only an hour in the morning to shop for essentials. Singh concours. “Stay home and remain safe,” he reiterates. On Tuesday evening, he told TOI, “I overheard a neighbourhood resident saying my shop area might be sealed because there was a positive case there. Two ambulances apparently came and took someone away. I don’t know whether I will be able to open my shop tomorrow.”