India lockdown
India lockdown Image Credit: Reuters

They say the twain of East and West will never meet, or something like that, and the coronavirus pandemic and hoarding of toilet paper has highlighted the differences even more.

When Westerners were told they will have to “shelter in place” for a very long time, everybody panicked and some level-heads in the crowd went and bought loads and loads of toilet paper.

“Shelter in place” is a bureaucratic way of saying, we now have the plague that will kill us and we do not know what exactly to do, so just lock yourselves at home.

There were some wags who commented that if everyone needed so many rolls of toilet paper, they should have seen their doctor much earlier.

This group was also full of themselves. “Who is afraid of a bug? Our grandmother used to feed us dirt mixed with our breakfast, to boost our immunity


In the East, India to be precise, we were given barely any time to react to the news that we will have to go into a ‘lockdown’ (and no niceties such as couching lockdown in obscure terms and calling it ‘Ghar Wapsi’ or ‘Return to your Homes’) but still, Indian housewives drove to the grocery shops in droves.

“We will need chicken tikka masala, don’t know how long we will be locked in, get five packets. You do the vegetables and I will get the dosa mixture. Ooh, how will we survive without a maid, she makes tasty coconut chutney”, said my wife.

Me shouting, “Listen, what is coriander?”, over the head of a tiny woman next to me, fighting over a bitter gourd with her teenager, who is saying, “I hate bitter gourd”.

My wife taps on her phone with one hand and shouts back, “Cilantro, it looks like parsley.”

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Me: “OMG, look at the checkout lines. We better get out here fast, or we will have to ‘shelter in place’ in this hypermarket. Should I get five kilos of ladyfingers?” I shout.

The chap to my left is either a Japanese expat or a Korean, and I can see on his face that he is mulling over the term Ladyfingers.

“Do we need a coconut?” I shout at my wife. The coconut looks like a dismembered head of a pygmy with a punk haircut.

Sadly, there was a huge group of Indians who did not utilise the four-hour cut-off time. And these people were overly fond of beverages, the ones which you have be 22 years of age, to purchase over the counter.

This group was also full of themselves. “Who is afraid of a bug? Our grandmother used to feed us dirt mixed with our breakfast, to boost our immunity. There is nothing as pure as the soil from our village in Haryana,” one such person was heard commenting.

Another said nobody dare put him in a lockdown. “Do you know who my father is? He is an MLA (member of legislative assembly) from Malgudi.”

These people did not anticipate that the beverage shops across the country would be shut down, along with hairdressing salons and vet clinics.

When the lockdown went into force they were caught with only a few dozen cartons of beverages at home.

As time went by, the authorities promised the lockdown would be lifted soon, but did not lift it, and this happened twice.

You can imagine the state of these people who, by now, were suffering from trembling hands. When the lockdown was finally relaxed a bit, they went crazy and stood in line by the thousands.

As a person straddling between the East and the West, and who does not have any serious addictions, I could not imagine what the big fuss was all about and why people were standing in lines in hail and thunderstorm, in India, or for that matter the big fuss over toilet paper.

— Mahmood Saberi is a storyteller and blogger based in Bengaluru, India. Twitter: @mahmood_saberi