Darjeeling: Getting used to the panic of a shutdown

The Times Of India

Jaideep Mazumdar & Deep Gazmer,

DARJEELING: In normal circumstances, a 305 litre double-door refrigerator should have been sufficient for Meera Pradhan’s small family of three comprising herself, her civil engineer husband and a five-year-old daughter. But Thursday saw Meera, an employee of the forest department and a resident of this town, rushing to an appliances showroom in Darjeeling’s JP Singh Road to purchase another 250 litre refrigerator. Because, for Meera and lakhs of other residents of the district, these are not normal times.

The indefinite shutdown of the hills announced by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) has triggered a rush in the hills—a rush to stock up on food and all other commodities. And it has triggered a virtual run on the banks. An estimated Rs 20 crore was withdrawn from the 20-odd ATMs and more bank branches in Darjeeling town on Thursday and Friday. Many of the ATMs ran out of cash and people had to queue for more than 30 minutes at the least to withdraw money. Though the GJM ensured that traders did not take advantage of the situation and jack prices of commodities, some grocery stores selling foodgrains and other foodstuff reported running low on stocks due to the tit-for-tat shutdown of markets in Siliguri called by Bengali parochial organizations.

Meera and her husband Sooraj, employed with the urban development department, spent Thursday and Friday—the two day window allowed by the GJM to allow residents of the hills to stock up on supplies—rushing from one shop and market to another to buy foodgrains, meat, fish, vegetables and other foodstuff, toiletries, petrol for their Hyundai i10 hatchback and all other essentials they could think of. “It’s been a rush without a moment to relax. In this rush, I had forgotten to get DVDs of movies that my husband and daughter wanted. So I had to go to the market again (Friday) evening for those,” Meera told TOI. “We were told (by the GJM) that this shutdown would go on till August 14. And since I had to stock perishable food and provisions for 15 days, I had to get a new refrigerator. The existing one is too small for all the extra stuff,” she added.

Old time resident of Darjeeling, teacher and prominent social worker Noreen Dunne told TOI that such shutdowns always trigger a mad rush to stock up essentials and finish last-minute work. “Everyone is caught up in this mad rush. It’s so difficult to cope with this,” she said. People here have been experiencing long shutdowns since the mid-1980s when the GNLF-led Gorkhaland agitation started. “But even so, everytime a fresh shutdown is announced, we panic. We’re used to it, but it still triggers a rush. And it is not only the food and other provisions that one has to store. We also have to think what we need during the days everything will be closed, so getting DVDs of movies and games, maybe a chessboard and other forms of entertainment is also essential,” said KC Dorjee, a former officer of the state information department who now runs a store at Kurseong. The worst sufferers are the poor who don’t have enough money to stock foodstuff for such prolonged shutdowns. Most return to their villages, where vegetables and foodstuff are easier to procure.

Coping with long shutdowns should have become routine for the bandh-scarred residents of the hills, but then, there’s just no way one can really come to terms with sitting at home for days at a stretch.

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