“NEW DELHI — On Tuesday evening, India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, ordered a strict nationwide lockdown for the next 21 days to battle the spread of the coronavirus.
The busy marketplace in my upscale South Delhi neighborhood is desolate the next morning. Almost all shops are shuttered. The florist who delivered exotic flowers to wealthy homes has abandoned his stock, and the pungent smell of rotting flowers hangs heavy in the air. A pet store has locked up and left the animals inside. Their muffled screams are unbearable.
At the local chemist, two men are at each other’s throats. A large gray-haired man in a lawyer’s robe is shouting expletives through his mask as he towers over a short, scruffy domestic worker. The worker has bought all the acetaminophen in the shop for his employers, and the lawyer is having none of it. The scuffle between the two men seems like an act of transgression — not because it is violent but because it involves freewheeling physical contact.
“Touch is curse,” I was told by a man as he wheeled his stock of sweet potatoes down deserted streets, defying the lockdown in the hope of earning enough to buy food for his family. He offered free sweet potatoes to an old man in a tattered mask sweeping the road. The sweeper, wary of infection, turned his offer down.