Image: Mrunali Rathi
A wholesale trader in the small Maharashtrian town of Khamgaon, Manoj Rathi, the only earning member in a family of six, is facing unprecedented problems because of the Covid-19 lockdown. Work hours have halved for the trader of sugar, jaggery, wheat, rice, and agricultural products—an indicator of how bad business has been.
“I used to work from 9 am to 9 pm but have to now shut shop at 5 pm. But this is an improvement; in the early days of the lockdown, I would work only from 8 am to 12 pm, and later, stretch till 2 pm,” he says.
An early riser, Rathi is up and getting ready for the day at 6 am; his day begins with gardening around his house. While the shop starts at 8 am, he gets there after breakfast by 9 am, when customers start trickling in.
The lockdown has left a literal obstacle in Rathi’s path. Road construction right in front of his shop, which started over four months ago, has been halted during the lockdown—this has led to an unconstructed, open manhole right in front of his shop. “Due to the manholes, customers are buying from other shops instead of mine,” Rathi says. “It’s difficult to load and unload the trucks too.”
The truck rents and cost of transport has “doubled”, even from places near Khamgaon, which has also led to an increase in the prices of his goods. “My business runs on repeat orders. If I charge customers higher prices now, they think we are exploiting them in this time of need. They are losing trust in us.”
For agricultural products too, sales haven’t been smooth since March. “They are gradually getting better as monsoon is arriving, though,” he says.
Rathi is typically back home at 12.30 pm for a lunch break, and back to work again at 1.30 pm. Rathi buys fruits and groceries after 5 pm, runs errands and returns home. Once back home, he finishes up the gardening, watches the news and does a bit of cleaning. He shuts shop by 8 pm so that he can spend the rest of the evening with his family.
Rathi says things are finally looking up, as sales are improving. “We have increased operations for rice and wheat, so customers have multiple options to buy from,” he says. “This is helping us increase footfall at the shop and get things back to normal.”
While Rathi tries to mandate social distancing at the shop, it isn’t always possible. “I have downloaded the Aarogya Setu app, but not everybody has it. We are constantly at risk,” he says.