What it’s been like to be back at work
Priscilla Corner, beauty pro
When did you first visit your salon after the lockdown eased?
I visited the salon on June 1, a week prior to the official opening date. Ironically, my mother (June Tomkyns) had the initial opening of her Ballygunge salon on June 1 decades ago! It was a moment of deja vu.
What was your first reaction on entering the salon after such a long time?
I entered it with all the excitement and longing I felt on the very first day of my journey there as a stylist, way back, only this time the mental soundtrack playing on loop was “Your safety our mission”.
How did you go about setting it up for the reopening? Must have been a mammoth challenge...
We were told we could open from May 21, but Cyclone Amphan didn’t allow for that, so we used that pre-opening week to daily disinfect the salon. I have become a good wader, wading as I do every day through PPE kits, gloves, masks, shields, disposable bed sheets, cutting capes and colour kits, this in addition to monodose pedicure and manicure sachets and facial kits. Then there are fog machines, digital thermometers, and floor and tool disinfectants — we have an entire room for only our disposables. The B&WSSC (Beauty & Wellness Sector Skill Council) sprung into action and issued standard operational guidelines and certificates, all of which our salon made sure we got certified for and updated with. Vendors of sanitisation products went into fifth gear and almost every conceivable safety precaution device became just a phone call away.
The hardest part of it all has been the loss of income for close to two-and-half months, while the fixed costs remained. This is an industry which provides livelihood to close to 90 lakh people. For the most part, owners may break even, if they are lucky. There is no question of profits for a while yet.
What is it like to cut hair wearing a PPE suit?
I do feel a bit surreal, sometimes it’s almost like an out-of-body experience but on the funny side, it could be because the brain is not getting as much oxygen as it should! Watching the staff gliding around silently in socks, masks and shields does make me feel like the head astronaut on an out-of- space adventure, but sci-fi movies have subliminally prepped us for this scissor-wielding robocop phase. Our staff have been wonderfully adaptive.
We may have become faceless and our smiles maybe hidden behind our three-layered masks, but I am sure the twinkle in our eyes as we welcome our clients back into the salon, shine through those face shields.
How many people are working with you at the moment? What is your full strength?
We have three floors so we have allotted five staff to each floor. This vast space allows us to offer clients exclusivity with some of them thrilled at being able to book an entire floor for them alone or their family members as a small group of three. We have halved the operational stations, which helps in keeping with social distancing norms. Each client, at the time of making an appointment is informed about the measures we are taking and asked to wear masks when entering. Their health history is enquired upon. All my staff members are socked as opposed to wearing shoes. We have morning meetings with staff to reinforce the importance of maintaining guidelines.
Which are the services which have been most in demand after you have opened?
Haircuts, colours, keratin, manicures, pedicures and waxing have won hands down. Clients, after three months of cloister, want colour back in their lives, in their hair and on their nails and we are giving it to them. Guess what the most in-demand colour is? Flamboyant reds! A perfect contrast to the cooling ubiquitous blue of the PPE arsenal.
Can you describe a typical day in the salon now?
The noisy hyper buzz one normally associates with a salon hasn’t yet set in and the ambience is more peppy robocop than rambunctious. Beneath the quietude of mask-induced low-decibel conversations and contactless shrinking violet interactions, I sense an undercurrent of eagerness to break free of the barriers and connect like we used to.
We at the salon are ready to help you burst forth from the subdued silhouettes of a lockdown into a “Hey, I’ve missed you, let’s meet and greet and let’s look our best while we do that, even it’s only my gorgeous hair and brightly coloured nails that are on display.”
Personally, how have you adapted to the new normal?
I certainly am loving creating a safe and sanitised environment for our clients and staff, one in which they can relax in the knowledge that we will take every measure possible to make them feel secure.... They leave our salon happy. And that’s a good thing! It reveals the potential the new normal has, as a good place to be. Let’s run smart, not scared!
Rimi Nayak, fashion designer
When did you first visit your atelier after the lockdown eased?
I first visited my atelier after almost two months, in the morning following the catastrophic Amphan Cyclone. My studio is located in Ballygunge and the area was completely flooded, so we had to check in on our stocks and raw materials. Luckily, there was no major damage to my studio and office space.
What was your first reaction on entering the atelier after such a long time?
Come to think of it, I spend more time in my studio than my home, and during the lockdown, I really missed being in my workspace. So it was definitely a jubilant feeling and I felt quite charged up to be back to my “second home” after being months away from it.
Did you have any apprehensions before opening up?
Yes, there were tons of apprehensions before we finally decided to reopen the studio, earlier this month after the lockdown was relaxed. Ensuring the safety of my team members and the clients was my top priority. I had detailed discussions with my friends and colleagues from the design fraternity discussing various possibilities and safety measures that we ought to adhere to, before opening our doors.
We initially got the entire studio sanitised and we cleaned up the space thoroughly as we were reopening after almost two-and-a-half months. This was a rather long process, spread across a week before we could finally resume work. Sanitising all the garments individually was truly a task but it was something that had to be done. I have a small core team of 10 members. Fifty per cent are in attendance at the moment and my team members who work in the graphic and social media department are working from home currently.
What have you started with?
I started with the pending orders that were placed with us just before and during the lockdown period.
What was the idea behind the matching masks?
We are not selling the masks. I personally believe it is an essential item currently and it is not really the time to cash in on this by putting a designer item price tag to it. I do, however, understand that everyone today needs to wear a mask, so I felt that maybe we can just make it look fashionable by matching it with the outfits. We are calling it the new co-ords in fashion.
Can you describe a typical day in your atelier now?
We are starting work from 8.30 in the morning and the day starts with going through the routine sanitising process. Since I’m working with a 50 per cent reduced manpower, and the work pressure is also considerably less, I am getting more time to indulge in creative exploration and the development process.
Personally, how have you adapted to the new normal?
I am usually quite rigid in terms of adapting to something completely new but this lockdown phase has certainly taught me to adapt to uncertainty rather well. I have learned to embrace the present moment more completely and not get too caught up in the uncertainties of the future. This new normal will teach us a lot of important lessons but only if we are open to receiving it. And finally, I’m choosing to look at these trying times through a positive lens and with a sense of gratitude for all the abundance in my life, because as we all know for certain, “this too shall pass.”
Prasenjit Biswas, make-up pro
What was your first reaction on entering the shoot site after such a long time?
I was elated to be there. I have been home since March 24 and have not stepped out other than emergencies. The thought of going back to work was in itself exciting. It was wonderful to see old faces, although in a new way (all masked!)
Did you have any apprehensions before going?
Of course. Though we started work, we were not going back to normal, it is the new normal. You can be responsible and take all the necessary precautions. You are, however, not sure whether it is ever enough. Sanitisation, arranging masks, face shield… was a job in itself. Cleaning of brushes too… a regular job for me. The trickiest bit, however, was cleaning products, as you cannot just spray on any sanitiser. You have to be extremely careful so that it doesn’t spoil or damage the products. Arranging the correct ingredients was also tricky as you need the best make-up sanitiser.
What are you doing to ensure that there is no touch? Do you have instructions for the models?
I make sure to use masks and gloves at all times. In case there is more than one model, I do my job one at a time, at one place to maintain social distancing. If I have to take a product twice, I sanitise my hand, not touching with the same brush. I am using maximum disposable brushes.
Personally, how have you adapted to the new normal?
Adapting to the new is what we are capable of by nature. It might be difficult but has to be done to protect ourselves and our loved ones. Personally I am energised and ready with my brush to conquer the new normal. I make it a point to travel by my own car. Before I used to carry one luggage but now I have to carry two more bags… one is for the sanitisation products and another for food and water because now I carry my own food and water.
Siddharth Kothari, director, Peter Cat and Mocambo
When was the first time you went back to Peter Cat and Mocambo?
We started with the takeaways and delivery around May 15 and the dine-in, on June 8. For economical reasons, I was operating only one kitchen... only the Mocambo kitchen and I was serving both restaurants from one kitchen. Peter Cat was lying shut till June 8. I have been in and out of the restaurants... visiting... trying to see if everything is okay and ensuring that all precautions are being followed.
Normally, what is the average time you spend at both the restaurants?
There is no fixed time as such. It varies... I try to spend a full working day between the restaurants... eight to 10 hours....
How did that change?
When the lockdown was implemented on March 21... from that time till May 3... in between, in April, I had opened for a few days, but I was very uncomfortable for the safety of my staff and families. I have a couple of apartments also above Mocambo and I told them to stay there... it is a full-fledged kitchen... toilet... everything... but everyone was hesitant... and mid-April, it was so new... people around me were doing delivery and takeaways, but I was very iffy with the whole idea because the whole thing was new. After a couple of days, I said let’s stop.
So, apart from those two-three days, I have been pretty much at home. My parents are elderly. I was thinking what if my exposure leads them to some sort of a complication. As time went by, that little confidence built up. The response has been very positive. Of course, it is nothing compared to what we were, but, by God’s grace, it’s still been comfortable.
What was different?
It is a completely different ball game. There is no doubt about that... we have regular SOPs in place... sanitise your hands and shoes, temperature checks... all my staff are wearing gloves, masks and face shields... the government has mentioned 50 per cent capacity... despite all of that, I have also put in glass partition in both restaurants to give the customers that added feeling of comfort. I also have limited staff.
What are you missing the most?
Well, I have to say, the pleasure of serving so many people! A lot of my staff are migrant workers from Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand... old establishments... the entire Western belt... we have got a lot of boys from there... it’s still a bit of a struggle for us... especially my kitchen staff are migrant guys... without them it’s been very difficult... we are trying to get the entire ball rolling again, but touch wood, we have managed to do so....
Will anything change for you, forever, as far as dining goes?
I think this entire process of sanitisation... that will live with us. I like it. It gives a good feeling and improves the generic hygiene of the place.
Rohan Arora, footwear designer
You were among the first ones to open up in Calcutta...
I opened up with a 50 per cent sale on our footwear... on May 21. We were also getting a lot of enquiries during the lockdown. A lot of weddings which were supposed to happen in March and April, got postponed to June.... This is the first time since the inception of the brand (10 years back) that we went on a sale.
This was fresh stock?
Absolutely fresh stock... our summer line. We had a lot of stock and had no idea that there will be a long lockdown.... I’ll be honest... it also made a lot of business sense. All in all, it was a well-balanced decision. We were lucky enough to be the early players because after we opened up and went on sale, every other brand... whoever opened up, went on sale.
When was the first time you went to your store after the lockdown eased?
I was there in April to get it sanitised. Then I went on May 15 to get the entire space sanitised again. On May 18 we started our operations. We decided on the precautions and technology played a huge part. We got a lot of orders on WhatsApp. The trickiest part was removing the carpet. Now we have a vinyl flooring.
I am sensitive on the nose and I can smell the good and the bad. So, the first thing upon entering the store after so many days, was the smell of the shoes and the store... it was orgasmic! I am a very boring person. So, whatever interest I have in my life is my work.... I haven’t asked anyone to leave... we work as a family and I am very emotional about it.
Has production started?
Production has started, but not full-swing... at the moment we are working on orders. We are bleeding and trying to curb down our expenses as much as possible. At the factory, we have about 35-40 people on a normal day. Now we have around four.
What is a normal day at the store like now?
In the pre-Covid days, I wouldn’t get time to have lunch. Now I can eat all day... order from three different places and wait for all of them to come together and then enjoy it! It’s really slow.
And, it’s been a lot of family time for you...
Lots! I have shaved my beard, cut my own hair.... I am working on my website which I thought I would never do.... with the changing times you need one.... these times have taught me to be practical, adjust and how.