Shopping in fear
Last week, as I with my family reached the entry of one of the premium South Delhi malls, the guards greeted with a warm Namaste and requested us to open the car bonnet and the trunk for routine check. And then I saw it – a machine-gun barrel pointing towards the car. The commando handling it had his pointer finger just an inch away from the trigger… my heart throbbed. The feeling was intense, all the more so because it caught us unawares. Perhaps that’s how it feels when the traffic cop signals a vehicle to stop – probably the only time when many of you interacted with policemen.
Inside the mall too, it wasn’t a normal scene. Each entry had police and paramilitary soldiers armed with sophisticated weapons. Each man in uniform looked extraordinarily alert with their eyes zooming in and out of visitors’ faces, probably to find suspicious characters. The scene was quite intimidating but it did not deter us from shopping around. However, within a few minutes, we heard the public address system announcing this: Delhi Police is doing a mock security drill, please maintain calm and do not create panic. While I was still trying to deal with my ambivalent feelings on this, the security guard at one of the anchor stores where we were shopping came requesting everyone to leave the shop as they had to down the shutters… That was when we decided to be out and away from the mall premises as soon as possible. I also witnessed many others walking briskly towards multiple exits. Their fun shopping outing had become a puzzling anxious affair where they feared for their lives – at least that’s what their body language said.
More than a week later, when I try assessing that situation like a third person, I get in this mistake-finding mode wherein I see many individuals including me at some fault. Firstly, I wonder if it is necessary for a machine gun to be ‘pointing’ at a vehicle entering the mall (if it is really important, can’t it be camouflaged?). Secondly, do we really need so many cops moving around in ‘uniforms’ with their loaded firearms? Can’t more of them keep vigil in plain clothes? Thirdly, understandably mock drills cannot be done without prior notice to shoppers (who sneak shopping time out of their busy lives), but apart from using panicky public address systems can’t they use another soft medium – maybe a note on parking tickets and entrances? Fourthly, shouldn’t the security guards and retail staff be trained/briefed on how to act intelligently and not rush people out of stores without understanding the actual meaning of the announcement? Lastly, did we do the right thing by rushing out of the mall at that very moment? Had everybody been doing the same, it would have been a scene of major chaos.
Well, I do not really have answers to these and many such questions that keep moving around my head every time I am out in any of the most frequented markets or malls, and just want you all to ponder upon them and think if there is anything we all can do to make such situations a little better.
I certainly do not wish to recall those cowardly acts by terror groups which have cast a permanent shadow on our shopping (and lives), but there can certainly be something that we can do in our own small ways…