In Focus

Lockdown Left Most Jobless, Some Improvised, Survived

By Tanya Sinha

The COVID-19 crisis disrupted life in more ways than one. The lockdown limited the movement of people, vehicles and goods and that, for many, meant loss of business. Some left for their native villages to dodge the virus in Mumbai, a few stayed back at home but a handful chose to fight it out, improvise and survive even in the face of disaster.

Machchimar Nagar-resident Kailash Kadam has been selling flowers all his life at his father's shop at Ruby Terrace, bought more than fifty years ago. After the lockdown, all was shut. Later, when restrictions were eased, temples and other places of worship continued to remain shut. And, with no demand in sight for flowers, almost all of his clientele being temple-goers, he had no reason to open his shop. 

STRIKING BALANCE: Kailash Kadam at his 'improvised' shop
In mid-June, however, with savings dwindling and soaring pressures to fend for family - wife and three-year-old daughter, Kailash knew he had to do something. He decided to 'improvise' from what his father Shantaram Kadam and maternal uncle Tukaram Pawar had been selling since the onset. "I had to feed my family so I started selling vegetables. It's an essential service that would not face much opposition and I could easily sell vegetables and fruits. Also, with limited options open at the time, I quickly got many customers," says Kailash. Why, his shop has fetched vegetables and fruits at convenience for locals, especially, the building’s residents.

Ruby Terrace resident and homemaker Shilpa Kothari couldn't be happier when she first heard of the vegetable shop opening right at the building entrance. "For the last 18 years, I was buying flowers from this shop. When he started selling vegetables, it became very convenient to just walk down and buy fresh vegetables for the family. Sometimes, I even send my children who run down to get whatever I need," says Shilpa thrilled to avail her daily goods without the risk of contracting the virus by travelling to a crowded nearby market.

SAFE: Resident Shilpa Kothari doesn't need to risk travelling far for her veggies
In Colaba Market, many restaurants and food outlets shut down during the lockdown. Kamlesh Deshmukh too had to shut his Chinese food outlet located near Rex Bakery. "When food outlets were allowed to open and make home deliveries, I just could not open up as all my workers had left the city," says Kamlesh. A month and half into the lockdown, he decided to shift gears and "started selling onions, potatoes, etc. with the help of family members." 

He says, "I decided to sell these as the government was allowing very few businesses to operate at the time." Kamlesh' aunt 55-year-old Meena Bhosale helps her nephew at the shop. "We earn enough now to support our family of seven," says a content Meena as without workers, the family pitches in to work.

TAKING CHARGE: Kamlesh Deshmukh and Meena Bhosale at their shop
The lockdown affected not just small business owners and entrepreneurs but also office-goers and people who 'on a job' before the lockdown. Colaba-resident Ashirwad Bundake, working as a bank courier for document pick-up and drop, became jobless when the lockdown was implemented. "We stayed put for some time and when things opened up, my parents discouraged me to join work due to the risks involved with my travel-based work," says Ashirwad. 

So, when even after three months things didn't "resort to normalcy", Ashirwad along with brother-in-law Santosh Sagvekar decided to start ‘selling eggs’ in the local market in the first week of July. BMC clean-up marshall in D Ward, Borivali-resident Santosh left his home in Dombivali with his pregnant wife, “owing to the rise in COVID cases” to stay at her “relatively safer” family home in Colaba. 

"Our Prime Minister asked the citizens to be self-reliant, atmanirbhar, so I thought why not! With the lockdown, there was no work and no money and I had to fend for my pregnant wife too. Now we earn enough to sustain our families," says Santosh. 

ATMANIRBHAR: Santosh Sagvekar (left) and Ashirwad Bundake selling eggs
The COVID crisis has wreaked havoc for homes and brought out the best in a few too. In some families, even the elderly stepped up to lend their support in these trying times. For 48-year-old Umrawati Gupta, the lockdown made terrible news. The only earning family member, her husband, a taxi driver, was suddenly left with no work and no income in sight even after the lockdown. 

So, to support her family, she started selling vegetables bang outside her ‘kholi outside BMC Chawl’ in Colaba. "I started this in June as it was getting difficult to sustain the family," she says. "My husband gets the vegetables from the Byculla Wholesale Market early in the morning. Sometimes, my neighbours and relatives, who live next door, also help me with the work."

TOGETHER: Umrawati Gupta (second from left) with her 'supporters'
Why, while the rest of Colaba mulled over the lockdown, the Bhobu family has been on its feet. The family-owned shop Ekvira Fast Food would sell fast food and Chinese items before the lockdown. Head of the family Prakash Bhobu had opened the shop 25 years ago and was selling stoves till 2002 when his son Rakesh started the Chinese food business. 

A record clerk with LIC, Rakesh says, "After the lockdown, all the workers left for home in Nepal. The cook stayed back but what could he do by himself?" So now, they sell items of daily and kitchen use for the locals. And, they’re doing well too.

Wife Pratibha Bhobu and 63-year-old mother-in-law Sushma also sit at the shop where the latter sells dried Bombil aka Bombay Duck. "We had to improvise. Both my mother-in-law and I have been sitting at the shop since the first phase of Unlock was announced. We sit from 9 am - 1 pm and then in the evening from 5 pm - 9 pm." says Pratibha upbeat with her new ‘business’. In the Unlock period, Pratibha and her husband have now resumed work too. "I have to go once a week and my husband twice a week. The rest of the time, we dedicate to the shop."

FAMILY ACT: (From left) Pratibha, Prakash, Rakesh and Sushma Bhobu at their 'shop'
During the lockdown, when all was shut, people's devotion towards Kul Dev only grew stronger. Homemaker Madhu Koli knew she had to do something to ensure a regular source of income for her family of five. "What better than to sell flowers as even during the lockdown, even if temples are shut, people don't stop praying in their homes," she says. Earlier, Madhu would sell fish in Colaba Market but the lockdown stopped everything. Her husband visits the Dadar flower market at 4.30 am everyday and gets flowers on a bike for his wife to sell at the new stall. 

"I will continue to sell flowers even after the lockdown despite very little profit margin. Log bahut maante hai bhagwan ko... they come to buy flowers for their home mandirs."

FLORAL SUCCESS: Madhu Koli with her bouquet of floral products
Madhu started selling flowers immediately after the lockdown, and only for locals. "That time, due to lack of other option, all my flowers would be sold within one hour of opening the shop," she says with a smile. The profit didn’t matter to Madhu just like it didn’t matter to the rest of the improvising entrepreneurs. It did, however, throw open, brand new avenues of business in the future at a time when all seemed lost.

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