An Itchy Discount

Post flood, sales in Srinagar and elsewhere saw huge turnout of shoppers looking for cheap bargains. But using flood-affected items ended up people queuing outside skin specialists. Saima Rashid and Munazah Shah report 

Flood affected  garments on road-side sale in  Srinagar.Pic: Saima Rashid
Flood affected garments on road-side sale in Srinagar. Pic: Saima Rashid

On one fine day after floods, Sehrish Mir (26) of Srinagar walked around city centre Lal Chowk and instantly queued up before a shop selling flood-affected footwear with 85 per cent discount. She didn’t deem it fit to give a miss to otherwise very expensive footwear. But, after that discounted shopping, Sehrish grew distressed.

One week later, using that footwear, she developed itching in her feet. She dismissed it as a passing itch. But to her woes, itching in her feet persisted. Soon she would be frequently seen stooping low to touch her feet in public, office and home. To ease out her skin condition, she applied some ointments. But instead of getting better, her condition worsened. The constant itching then started surfacing a cloud of red pimples on her feet. This was when she sounded alarm and swiftly consulted dermatologist, skin specialist.

After tracking her skin condition, the skin specialist simply shook up Sehrish with a revelation of sorts. “With no history of skin complexities, it is almost certain that your skin allergy was triggered by using flood-affected footwear,” these words of dermatologist alarmed Sehrish. “But don’t worry,” the dermatologist assures, “your skin condition is treatable. Take these medicines and after one week, visit again.”

Keeping the pace of discounted shopping in view that picked up post-floods, there might be many Sehrishs battling with skin conditions in Kashmir right now, cautions skin specialists. In fact, a torrent of such patients did show up at the clinics with skin ailments. One among them was the clinic of Dr Mushtaq Baba at Srinagar’s Rainawari.

“See, the problem with flood-affected stuff is that even after using it after proper washing and treatment, the chances of infection don’t fade away completely,” Dr Baba cautions. “It happens because some known or unknown microbes don’t leave the surface of clothes or shoes easily, and thereby causing allergies.”

The ground for the discounted shopping was created by the 2014 September floods that left everything devastated. From big buildings to big malls, floods had turned most of the shop-stuff into slush. Many traders who suffered a huge loss compensated their losses by selling their flood-salvaged stuff on peanuts. Once the word about it spread, people swiftly fell in lines before such shops and apparently made hay while sun was shining.

One such shop was Poshak Mehal in Srinagar’s Lal Chowk that offered 85 per cent discount on flooded clothes. Jeans worth Rs 1800 were sold at Rs 500. And, jackets worth Rs 2500 were sold for just Rs 600. “We suffered great losses,” said Aamir Wani, who runs the shop. “But somehow discounted sales salvaged our loss. We managed a sale of Rs 2 lakh since mid-October. And, the sale is still going good.”

Wani played down the possibility of skin infections by using flood-affected stuff. “Look,” he said flashing a stern look, “We make it sure to treat our stuff well before making it available for sales.” He informed that many flood-affected shops out-source their stuff for washing to professional washers who “clean it by using antiseptics”. “So where does it create a scope for infection,” Wani asked.

Pertinently, shopkeepers and Mall owners had handed over the cleaning job to the dry cleaners with the hope that they will get their products cleaned in a proper way by making use of antiseptics like choloroxylenol and other reactive detergents. But it is common understanding that dry cleaners focussed more on the number of orders and less on cleaning the clothes with chemicals.

A prominent footwear retail shop in Lal Chowk, Right Way, offered 50 per cent discount on shoes. Moreover, they had left untidy and mud-smeared footwear on makeshift beds outside the shop for a sale. With low price tag attached to such footwear, many customers got tempted to take them home.

“We hardly sell flood-affected stuff,” one salesman at the shop informed, defying the glaring scene outside the shop. “Shoes placed inside shop were hardly affected during floods. They were properly sealed.”

Fifteen-days after floods, Imran, an old city resident left home to shop thermals. He got tempted to the shop offering large discounts on flood-affected thermals. He eagerly bought some and brought them home. But his shopping euphoria frizzled out after the same thermal spread a wave of itching on his face and hands. Itching was followed by red rashes that gave him sleepless nights.

Medical check-ups that followed revealed that Imran was suffering from skin allergy. Apart from prescribing pills, skin specialist prevented him from using flood-affected stuff, again.

“The clothes with double linen or more linens are unsafe to use,” Dr Imran Majid, a well-known dermatologist of valley cautions. In his private clinic at Srinagar’s Karan Nagar, Imran remains busy treating people with skin diseases. But these days, he says, a new rush is mounting at his clinic. And, there is no prize for guessing what it is!

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