At the sprawling Ina Market in the city's southern section, the fish stalls were filled with gleaming mounds of carp and perch. At the other end of the complex, a long line of people with empty plastic baskets waited patiently for their turn to enter the bazaar to buy cooking oil, lentils, rice and other dried goods.

But several miles away, at another major marketplace, metal storefronts were pulled shut over three-fourths of the shops, and few people were shopping at the ones that were open. A shopkeeper whose face was bruised and beaten insisted that the shops were closed because it was Sunday, despite a government order issued last night that they be opened.

As stores selling food and other essentials opened for the first time since the assassination of prime minister Indira Gandhi four days ago, life in the capital began to inch back to normal today. Skeleton public bus service was in effect in some parts of the city, and more taxis and bicycle and scooter rickshaws appeared on the previously empty streets. Here and there, a barber could be seen plying his trade by the curbside.

But the mood was cautious as residents in the capital area, more affluent than other parts of the country and traditionally well-insulated from the sectarian violence that flares up elsewhere, tried to resume a semblance of normal daily life.

In the past week, fear and panic spawned wild rumors, the most persistent being that the water supply had been poisoned.

"We must create signs of normalcy, so that people start coming out," said Mandan M.K. Wali, the new lieutenant governor of New Delhi, a post equivalent to that of a city mayor.

Last night, the government ordered stores in the curfew-free areas -- most of the city -- to open today, even though it is Sunday, "to reestablish the flow of provisions," Wali said at a news conference.

However, both Hindu and Sikh stores in some sections of the city remained closed, apparently out of fear of renewed violence. So far, the burning and looting has been directed predominantly against the approximately 1 million Sikhs in the metropolitan area and has so far claimed up to 600 lives in the capital, according to unofficial reports.

Most provisions were available at those stores that were open, but there was no bread anywhere in the city, and vegetables and milk were scarce in some areas. Even many of the hotels closed their restaurants and offered guests a fixed buffet instead of a la carte meals.

Almost immediately after Gandhi was gunned down by two Sikh bodyguards, the city's borders were closed, and deliveries have been unable to get through. In addition, the violence also has destroyed many of the trucks used to transport food, Wali said.

He said that vans carrying rudimentary provisions were being sent to the three remaining districts where curfews are still in effect.

The closing of the stores, at a time when most residents do their monthly shopping, also has worsened the situation. At one general goods store in the Greater Kailash Market in the city's southeastern corner, store owners had to pull down the iron grill halfway to control the flow of eager customers. Inside, the dried goods were piled on the counter as people waited for the store clerks to bag them.

One of the customers, Margaret Dcruz, said she normally shops every other day and stocks up on dried goods for the family of four at the beginning of the month. But today, she said, she bought an extra week's worth of dried foods "because they can keep, and I don't know when I can buy next."

Prices for most commodities appeared to be normal, but some fresh produce was selling for twice the normal price at the Ina Market, a government-run bazaar where prices are fixed. There, the high price of tomatoes prompted angry buyers to call the police.

Nine uniformed and armed police officers roughly pushed their way through the crowd, hauled the produce seller outside, and after a 10-minute shouting match between police and angry stall owners, the produce seller was allowed to return to his vegetables.

"We are requesting shopkeepers not to charge high prices," said R.C. Gaur, the police station officer for the area.

Luckier entrepreneurs with makeshift roadside stalls selling fresh cauliflower and spinach were drawing large crowds, as cars on the main road stopped, and their occupants did some quick shopping. The higher prices did not seem to matter.

In at least one marketplace, the Ajmal Khan Market in west Delhi, people acted as if nothing had happened. They window-shopped at the television and electric appliance stores, relaxed against parked cars and sipped coffee and munched on snacks in pastry shops. One youth cruised the streets with disco music blaring from his portable cassette player.

But the reminders of the violence of past days are hard to miss. Burned and gutted stores, cars destroyed by fire and glass shards strewn in the street are a stark contrast to the people window-shopping for refrigerators at an appliance store several yards away.

Not far away, the Sikh-owned drugstore was open for business, its broken window panes unmended. The owner said he decided to open because he had been assured by authorities that there will be no more violence. He said his store was spared some of the heavier damage because some of his neighbors, Hindus, caught the looters early and beat them into retreat.

As head of the trade association at the marketplace, he said, he was confident that the joint committees that had been set up to patrol for looters and rioters would help to restore peace.

Down the street, around the corner from a Sikh-owned car rental outlet ravaged by fire, another Sikh shopkeeper, Darshan Singh Chahal, was not so sure.

He said he was scared to open his blanket and quilt shop, especially because of the lack of police visibility during the heaviest violence.

If it were not for the presence of the Army recently, he said, he would not be open. Besides, he said, the government order to open today implied more protection. He said he thought it better to open today and try to do some business because "things might become bad again, and we would not be open the next day."