The Covid-19 crisis came like a bolt from the blue with mankind having no clue to ward it off. With it came the inevitable lockdown and its attendant risks. The biggest setback was the Economy which took a bad hit – loss of jobs, pay cuts, businesses shutting down et al. The after-effects were devastating. There was a reverse migration of sorts with people fleeing cities and the pandemic testing the resilience of the people like never before.
Navin Jambhale had been selling flowers all his life through a small stall tucked away in Dadar’s famous flower market. He was forced to shut shop bought more than six decades ago by his father when he migrated to Mumbai from Satara. There was little or no business even after restrictions were eased phase-wise as temples and other places of worship continued to remain shut.
A couple of months into the lockdown, when his savings started to dwindle and expenses continued to soar with an ailing mother at home, Navin decided to pull himself together. “It was a very difficult phase. I had to fend for my family of five and had to step out of the house,” says Navin. He decided to return to what his Baba did and started selling onion and potatoes. “God stood by me. Since vegetable vendors were allowed to operate, I could shift gears and made sure there was something to subsist.” Navin found many new customers here. What helped his cause was only a few vegetable shops were operating and onions and potatoes were in high demand because there were not adequate supplies of other vegetable varieties. It was a new learning curve under the circumstances but nevertheless a good one.
With restaurants and eateries also shut during the initial phase of the lockdown, Hyderabad-based Biryani outlet owner Asif Qureshi had to fall in line too. In the initial phase of the lockdown people did not venture to eat outside food and he found his delicacy had no takers. The easing of the restrictions later where home delivery of food was granted didn’t solve the problem either as his staff chose to leave for their native places since skeletal train services had been resumed.
It was only after three months that he began to find his moorings when restrictions were eased further. He started items of daily needs from his food outlet. “Some of my relatives discouraged me believing that it was a climb down from my earlier business. My mother, however, motivated me and even sat with me at my new business to set it up,” recollects Asif.
Ashirwad Bundake, working as a bank courier found himself out of job after the lockdown. “We stayed put for some time and when things began to open up my parents discouraged me from resuming since they found commuting risky,” recalls Ashirwad. That left him with no option but to do something on his own. Sometime in July, Ashirwad and his brother-in-law Santosh Sagvekar decided they would sell eggs in the local market. A resident of Borivali, Santosh and his pregnant wife had to leave their Dombivali home following an alarming rise in COVID cases and stay at a relatively safer family home in South Mumbai. “The Prime Minister’s speech on being self-reliant was an eye-opener. I said to myself, why not? It worked and today we earn enough to sustain,” says Santosh.
Among those who could withstand the testing times was the Bhobu family. It owned a fast food joint. Opened 25 years ago by its patriarch Prakash Bhobu who also sold stoves until his son Rakesh diversified into Chinese food that continues till date. “After the lockdown workers left for their home in Nepal. The cook stayed back but he could do nothing on his own.” So now, they sell items of daily and kitchen use and business isn’t too bad,” says Rakesh. With wife Pratibha Bhobu and 63-year-old mother-in-law Sushma also help out in the shop where the latter would sell dried Bombil (Bombay Duck) to their clientele. New business meant newer tactics of enterprise, says Pratibha who is upbeat about her “side business”. In the unlock period, Pratibha and her husband resumed work. “I have to go once a week and my husband twice a week. The rest of the time, we dedicate to the shop.”
A feisty woman and a firm believer, Madhu Koli knew she had to do something to ensure a regular income for her family of five. She simply couldn’t play the role of a ‘non-earning’ home-maker any longer. “What better than selling flowers? Yes, the temples were shut but that still didn’t stop people from praying in their homes,” she says. So what began as a purely limited business worked very well as there were no others who ventured to sell flowers,” Madhu recalls. Her husband goes to the wholesale market at 4.30 am every day and gets flowers for his wife to sell at their new stall. And, Madhu Koli is thrilled with her entrepreneurial spirit.
“The profit margins are not much but I continue to sell flowers. Log bahut maante hai bhagwan ko (people firmly believe in God).”What brings solace is the lockdown opened up new avenues of business at a time when all seemed lost,” she feels.