Pushcart food vendors are not just a part of Hyderabad’s informal economy, they are also a lifeline for the city’s working class.
Whether it is a plate of fresh meal served by the roadside early in the morning, the South Indian messes catering to the many officegoers, or the night ‘bandis’, as they are called, serving a quick late-night bite — their fares are an integral part of the sprawling city.
The ongoing lockdown, like in the case of all small or big businesses, has thrown these vendors out of work and any revival of sorts is currently out of sight.
Twenty-nine-year-old Jaya Krishna, along with his family, is glued to the television most of these days — all in the hope of ‘the good news’. Their small, family-run, one-room breakfast joint, Muthu Krishna Royal Tiffins, at Brahmanwadi near Begumpet railway station, has been shut for 58 days. “How long until this lockdown is lifted? Our livelihood is doomed,” says Jaya Krishna, who is an MBA.
The family is worried about the rent of the shop (Rs. 22,000) and their house (Rs. 11,000) that remain to be paid for the months of March, April and May. Jaya Krishna, who is also a familiar face in several Telugu serials, says shooting for serials is unlikely to resume before October, or that is what he is told.
His mother, 52-year-old Ramanamma, wonders why they cannot start their business or start parcel services when liquor stores, kirana stores, vegetables, and fruit markets are already open.
As of May 18, several shops including hardware, electricals, construction and agriculture operations related shops are open in Hyderabad, apart from those selling essential goods. Even those shops dealing with automobile and auto-parts, automobile repair garages, air-conditioners, and air-coolers are open.
With the announcement of further relaxation from the Centre, several shops like bakeries, photocopiers, two-wheeler workshops, puncture repair, and stationery shops are all open in the city. “It is unfair to not consider us essential service because a large section of bachelors depended on us. Even now we get calls from the locality asking for breakfast to be given as a parcel. We do not have permission to do that,” says Ramanamma.
Their breakfast joint used to see a daily footfall of 300 people, between 6 am and 12 noon. Though they used to do a business of Rs. 5000 daily, their income after expenditures would be around Rs. 800 a day, adds Jaya Krishna hoping that the government would soon let them do takeaway business, at least.
‘Don’t think people will be confident to come to us’
On Raj Bhavan road, Mohammed Irfan Khan is certain he would not be able to set up his pushcart by the road till the end of the year. He and his younger brother Ali used to sell tiffin, including his fairly famous omelette-dosa on a pushcart between 7.30 pm and 12 midnight.
“Even if the government allows us to operate, I don’t think the public would confidently come out and have food from us. After the lockdown is lifted, nothing is going to be like before. Many among us have already decided to go back to villages and do something else,” says Irfan who is also a key-maker by the day-time. ‘
“From the tiffin business, we used to earn Rs. 20,000 a month. The margin for profit is very less. If we make Rs. 5,000 a day, the income after expenses would be hardly Rs. 1000. On some days, the business could be quite dull, depending on various factors,” he adds.
With no respite to lockdown in sight, Irfan says he is forced to look out for other businesses to feed his family of five. For now, his pushcart gathers dust at the basement of a building on the Raj Bhavan road.
‘Nobody wants me to enter office now’
Twenty-year-old Bhaskar used to carry tea in a flask to around 12-15 offices near the chief minister’s camp office in Begumpet. Bhaskar, along with his mother, sister, and brother-in-law, is now confined to their home. Selling tea at these offices for the last 11 years, Bhaskar cannot think of any other job he would want to do at the moment.
“I have been just sitting at home all these days. Our house rent of Rs. 13,000 is pending. When I went out to work a couple of days ago, most people did not want me to enter the office premises. They asked me to come back after some days. I was hoping even if I could earn Rs. 300 or so, it would be good,” says Bhaskar, a native of Visakhapatnam who is in Andhra Pradesh.
Selling tea at offices in the morning and evening, Bhasker used to earn Rs. 400-500 a day. Now, he is just hopeful of the return of normalcy.
Suresh Babu, whose family is in the business of running a small south-Indian mess, is already faced with huge losses owing to lockdown. Babu owns a branch of Sai Ram mess in Begumpet and another near Hi-tec city. Both his outlets have been closed since March 22, the day the Prime Minister called for nation-wide Janata Curfew.
“My business depends on the free movement of customers, be it office-goers or businessmen. As long as that is not happening, re-opening looks difficult,” says Babu, who has been in the business for 18 years.
On an average day, 150 to 200 people used to sit for lunch at his mess in Begumpet. Another 50-60 lunch parcels were takeaways. As for the lucrative nature of the business, he says as much as 80 per cent of the daily turnover of Rs. 45,000 from the two branches would go in provisions, vegetables, wages, rent, utilities, etc.
Since the lockdown began, his 15 employees are out of work. “I am hoping to start a business by the first week of July. From June 15, we want to start at least takeaway. We are a small business and it is not like 10 years ago. The expenses are on the rise and competition is more. I can’t afford to remain shut for long,” he adds.
As the Centre along with the state governments looks at rebooting the economy through a slew of measures, it is people like these who are staring at a bleak future.
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