GAUHATI: Rows of locked shops confront bargain-hunters for most of the day in Fancy Bazar, a nearly 200-year-old market that offered cheap prices until the COVID-19 pandemic hit Gauhati, the biggest city in India’s remote northeast.
Lockdown restrictions imposed in April have now been partially eased, but shop owners are struggling to recapture the market’s bustling activity and complain that the 1 p.m. curfew is too early.
Shoppers seem to prefer evening hours to escape the summer heat. The market is deserted in the afternoon, with no business for the thousands of small and big shops.
“We are having a tough time with my shop only open for limited hours. On some days, I don’t have a single customer,” said Bhaskar Jyoti Kalita, who sells Assam silk.
Kalita, 43, said he has to support his parents, his wife and two children. “It’s very hard for our family without any sale,” he said.
Fancy Bazar was established by a trader from western Rajasthan state after he sailed to Assam state in 1828.
The labyrinth of alleys is crammed with shops selling exotic silk fabrics, handmade toys, cane and bamboo products and home décor. It’s also a wholesale market for rice, lentils, fruits, vegetables, flowers, garments and medicines.
Gauhati, the Assam state capital, is the main trading hub for India’s eight remote northeastern states with a population of 45 million.
Rupam Gosawmi, chairman of the Assam State Chamber of Commerce, said business has been badly hit by the pandemic restrictions, but the priority is to save lives. “With the rate of infections coming down, I expect a further easing of restrictions by mid-July,” he said.