To shop or to be safe? This is India's latest conundrum as markets dependent on the festival economy for their sustenance open up amid the coronavirus pandemic, but find themselves without the hoped-for number of customers.
Having reopened their businesses recently after Covid restrictions kept their shutters down for almost six months, shopkeepers across some of India's biggest cities said the need for social distancing because of COVID-19 has significantly reduced their customer base.
During Navrati, which started October 17, Mumbai's wholesale flower market in Dadar is usually extra crowded as people from across the mega city come here for its wholesale rates. However, with Mumbai's local trains not functioning at full capacity, the crowds have disappeared.
The Dadar flower market that once concluded its business by 10 AM and closed down, is now open all day long in the hope of improving their sales. "There are very few customers now because trains are not running," a florist told NDTV.
Another said the rate of flowers had come down. "Rate should be around Rs 40-50 per kg, but this time it is Rs 10 to 20. We are even throwing away these flowers because there are no customers," the vendor said.
Down south in Bengaluru, things are not very different.
The centrally located City Market - where fresh flowers, fruits and vegetables are sold - has been a hub of pre-festival shopping for decades.
"Compared to last year, only 50 per cent people are coming to the market because of coronavirus; everybody is afraid. Only regular customers who buy flowers or roadside vendors are here. It is a small market, so we can't keep 6-feet distance," GM Diwakar, President of the Flower Merchants Association, told NDTV.
As for masks, the customers and shopkeepers offered mixed views even as Bengaluru continued to report more than 2,000 new Covid cases a day.
Further north in Kolkata, however, the fear of contracting the virus seems to have had no impact on the pre-Durga Puja shopping, which is as much a ritual as the grand community-level celebrations.
Hatibagan in north Kolkata, Gariahat in the south and new market in the middle of the city, people have been taking a chance and spilling onto the streets - without masks or keeping distance - even as a section of doctors have been crying themselves hoarse.
The number of new infections has risen steadily in October hitting a high of 3,983 on Sunday with 64 deaths in West Bengal.
It is the country's eighth worst-hit state after Delhi, where people seem to be taking more care in view of the pandemic.
In one of Delhi's biggest markets, Sarojini Nagar, most people could be seen wearing masks but the lack of social distancing was evident.
"There is definitely less crowd this year than earlier, but it is surely big enough to be problematic in Covid times. There is barely any social distancing," a customer told NDTV.
The crowd, however, is exactly what the shopkeepers miss.
"Last year, I managed to sell at least 80 per cent of the products I brought for festival sale. This time, I haven't been able to sell even 20%," a shopkeeper told NDTV.
As customers and shopkeepers get accustomed to the new normal, the Delhi Police plans to help them by deploying special teams and use loudspeakers to remind people about social distancing.