When the movie “Pink” was released in mid-September, some viewers may have sniggered every time Amitabh Bachchan was shown wearing a mask as he stepped out of his New Delhi home. Regardless of whether the elevation training mask worn by Bachchan’s character was one of his eccentricities or a subtle reminder by the film’s makers about Delhi’s polluted air, barely two months later, people are wearing masks of all types almost everywhere in the capital – malls, markets, on the road, in schools and even in parks. It’s even become trendy on social media as the fear of falling ill has been driving online sales of masks and room air purifiers. For some, the masks have also become a sort of style statement.
People are posting pictures of themselves wearing the masks on social media with accompanying messages expressing exasperation with the quality of air in the National Capital Region. Santosh Desai, MD of Futurebrands, said a friend of his has even posted a picture of himself playing golf wearing a mask. “You can’t fight air. So eventually people have to find coping mechanisms,” he said. “Yes, partly they have become a statement of a kind, but partly for the fact that there is no other solution.” Masks with breathing valves come in various colours, designs and patterns and cost between Rs 1,800 and Rs 2,500. On Thursday, there was a commotion outside a shop in Khan Market.
By noon, the store had sold its stock of 150 masks and placed hundreds of buyers on a waitlist, expecting a consignment of 600 such Korean-made masks. One lady requested a sales executive to spare one for her son who she said is a “compulsory user.” “We prefer walking around inmasks than preventing pollution,” said Neha Srivastava, who was waiting to lay her hands on a mask for her son. The sales executive at Nirvana Being store said more than 300 people had written their names on the waiting list while 100-odd buyers waited around in Khan Market itself.
Demand for masks is growing in the NCR – whether it is at neighbourhood chemists or ecommerce bigwigs. Amazon.in said sales of pollution masks swelled six times in few days with customer demand 13 times higher than last year. Most buyers are in north India, led by Delhi. The highest number of orders for pollution masks were placed by customers on November 1, a company spokesperson said. Dettol Air Protect mask is the bestseller on Amazon, followed by Atlanta Healthcare Cambridge N99 mask. Air purifier makers such as Eureka Forbes, Kent, Panasonic and Philips said demand has shot up by up to 15 times in the past five days compared with all of October, although on a low base.
Companies said they have rampedup production, while Panasonic, which is facing an inventory shortage, has increased imports. “There is genuine fear in people and awareness has increased manifold, which has exploded, catching most of the brands off-guard,” said Panasonic India president Manish Sharma. Consumers are not just buying entry-level air purifiers but also high-end models priced up to Rs 30,000.
“Most of the households are buying two units for multiple rooms. Demand from offices too has shot up, but not so much from schools yet,” said Eureka Forbes CEO Marzin R Shroff. Philips India sold as many air purifiers in the past one week in the NCR as it did between April and October this year, said Jayati Singh, business head – air and health & wellness. Kent chairman Mahesh Gupta said the company sold 500 air purifiers in New Delhi in the past three days compared with some 2,000 pieces it sells every month nationally. “We have geared up production to manufacture even 10,000 units per month,” he said.