In Focus

These Vendors Didn't MILK The COVID Crisis

The war seems upon us and the enemy is in no mood to relent. Even as most of us wear masks, stay indoors and safe, there are a few who brave the storm and risk all for us, at these times. The Draft Colaba in its ‘Unsung Warriors’ series goes beyond the usual Corona Warriors to pays a tribute to the few unsung others, each fighting personal battles and winning…all for us.
Here goes the third of the series Unsung Warriors: The Milk Sellers!

At a time when one wouldn't even imagine looting another, it were Colaba's milk sellers who, shamelessly, charged premium even beyond the printed MRP on milk pouches claiming "shortage" saying they had to pay “more for it” themselves. In what turned into a systematic 'loot' of sorts, all of the zone's sellers charged beyond MRP and shamelessly in tandem too.

"It was literally a free-for-all during the entire lockdown. With just about every shopkeeper making the most of the situation and overcharging as a rule, residents had little choice but to comply, " says a livid 34-year-old Colaba Post Office resident and mother of two, Snehi Patel. "When you need milk, you need milk. Especially if you have young ones or elderly parents at home and the need for milk, to boost one's immunity in these COVID times is felt the most," says the home-maker.

While, as a rule, milk sellers across Colaba offer their wares at rates higher than the MRP, claiming 'cooling charges' and the usual, the civic authorities continue to look the other way. After all, what's in a rupee or two more, is the usual retort on any good day. Till the lockdown happened and the rupee or two jumped up to a straight Rs 10 even Rs 15 more than the MRP.

"Each would claim that they have to pay more to transport the milk up till their shops and had to charge beyond the MRP. And that 'extra' would be charged on curd, chaas, lassi, paneer and other milk-products too.

There were exceptions though. A few fair-price vendors continued to sell their wares at fixed prices, sometimes even offering discounts on milk and milk products.

Why, there were Samaritans like Sajeev Chandran who started supplying milk to his regular neighbourhood customers apart from the regular groceries sold at Strand-based Kohinoor General Stores.

TO SENIORS' AID: Kohinoor General Stores' Sajeev Chandran sold milk during the lockdown to his regular customers
“During the lockdown, the senior citizens were hit the worst,” says Sajeev. “Then, my brother Santosh would handle the store while I would do home deliveries. It was impossible for senior citizens, especially with co-morbidity to come out and expose themselves to the virus,” he adds. The store has been running operations from its vantage location in the lane adjoining Radio Club for the last two decades.

On the risks of contracting the virus and infecting his own family he says, “I take care of myself well, while out. Like, keeping safe distance, wearing a mask while dealing with customers and washing my hands regularly. Now, despite all of this, if I contract the virus, what can I do? But I can’t stop thinking about the senior citizens in and around my store, can I?”

So, apart from the regular general groceries, to fulfill the demand locally, he has begun to sell 60 litres to 70 litres of milk every day and selling all at MRP only. With the profit margin being barely a few bucks on each packet, if one milk packet gets torn or wasted, it wipes out the profit made by the entire day’s sale, he explains with a smile. Not that it has dampened his desire to reach out and sell milk at cost price, in the least.

If that’s sensitive in the time of COVID-19, there’s more. Colaba Dairy Farm’s Mohammed Kashif speaks softly but a lot of sense. He knows customers by their names and their new-found fears too. “With the pandemic upon us, so many customers are now scared to handle money, touch fruits even keep sanitising themselves often,” he says of times which are trying but “will also pass”.

GETTING PERSONAL: Mohammed Kashif attended to customers diligently during the lockdown
Kashif has built lasting relations with his customers in the short period of two years since he started working at the place. “We focus on service and don’t provide that at any extra cost,” says Kashif who works from 9 am to 9 pm daily with a two-hour break at noon.

“During the lockdown, a lot of people had immense issues. They could not travel as public transport had been shut down and for essentials, if a neighbourhood shop like ours remained shut, they would be left high and dry,” he adds.

“We have thousands of regular customers, mostly from slums, who have lost their livelihoods during the lockdown. Only someone shameless can overcharge in these days,” says Colaba Dairy Farm owner Abdullah Karim.

CUSTOMER DRIVEN: Owner of Colaba Dairy Farm Abdullah Karim
So, apart from the two unusual candidates selling milk at MRP, there was DMart Ready which stayed open, every day without fail, and…sold milk and curd at discounted rates too.

Tejas Kadam, who started working at DMart Ready during the lockdown, was among the few who found a job in the middle of the pandemic. And, from Day One, Tejas would travel daily from his home at RC Church to the Third Pasta Lane outlet, dot on time, to cater to the swarms of customers waiting to buy milk and curd at discounted prices.

“Why, even the sale of milk from our outlet has grown from 40 litres to 100 litres daily through the lockdown,” says Tejas. Of the wares sold, Prabhat Milk is sold at Rs 41 less than the Rs 49 MRP printed on the pack while Prabhat Curd is sold at Rs 55, a good Rs 10 less than the printed MRP of Rs 65.

“The sales are great as the wares are sold within hours of being delivered to the store,” says Akash Chauhan who joined the outlet barely a fortnight back.

MILK 'READY': DMart Ready personnel Tejas Kadam (left) and Akash Chauhan
“The local milk sellers have been selling milk at unreasonable prices beyond MRP without any fear of the law,” says Nagma Shaikh who only recently joined the Colaba DMart Ready team. “During the lockdown, even in Cuffe Parade’s Transit Camp, milk costing Rs 46 would be sold for Rs 51 and bread worth Rs 14 at MRP sold for Rs 17 as a rule,” she adds.

Little wonder then, that the Colaba DMart Ready’s staff buy their milk, curd from their own outlet rather than from their neighbourhood milk seller.

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