It’s about six in the evening and the Sarojini Nagar market is throbbing with life. The streets are lined with mehandiwallahs busy applying henna on the hands of women, others are selling fancy diyas for Diwali and the chaat shops are doing brisk business. Hard to believe that now there isn’t even enough space to stand at this place that was plunged into darkness by a bomb blast two years ago at this very moment.
Shyam Juice Corner, where the bomb that shook the market exploded on October 29, 2005, is surrounded by a horde of customers who are being quickly dished out papri chaat, golgappas and aloo chaat by the shop’s employees. The shop is small but it has remade some extensions and food is now cooked on a kerosene stove.
“I have been a Sarojini Nagar regular for years and always eat chaat here. I appreciate the way the owners have resurrected the shop,” said Garima Sharma, a housewife. “The burnt shop had become sort of a tourist attraction after the blast but now it’s back in business,” she said.
The shop’s owner, Lal Chand Saluja, was killed in the blast and the shop is now managed by his wife Kiran. The soft spoken Kiran said that she doesn’t fear another blast. “The market has become much safer now as you can see more police personnel,” she said.
There is, however, no major presence inside the market and access too is very easy. The police have put up door-frame metal detectors at main entry points of the market but they were not seen insisting on shoppers entering through them. The market association has put up five machans around the market where armed police personnel can be seen keeping a watch on the crowd below. The traders had also paid for CCTV cameras put up by the police but these are not in use anymore.
Traders say there is not much police can do. “We feel the police is doing what it can with the resources that they have. They have managed to remove the big patriwallahs,” said Pramod Sharma, a shop owner.
There is, however, no dearth of squatters in the market selling knickknacks. Subhash Pahuja, whose shop is near Shyam Juice Corner, said the huge crowd makes the job of police difficult. “There are hundreds of shoppers for one policeman, how much can we expect them to do?” he said.
The crowd is there all right but the blast has changed the market forever. “The crowd is nothing compared to the rush we have seen before the blast. I have spent 30 years here but have never felt so unsafe of coming to our neighbourhood market,” said Bharoti Bhattacharya, a Sarojini Nagar resident. “Now I’m always cautious while moving in the market. My husband and son have asked me to limit my market visits up to Diwali,” she said.
Ashok Randhawa, President of the Sarojini Nagar Mini Market Traders Association said that the first two-three months after the blast were tough as customers kept away. “Things have become normal now but shoppers are more cautious,” he said.