STAYING ALIVE!

Lockdowns are not easy on the small folk who have to earn a daily livelihood. With the big markets closed for Ponjekars it is the small community of urban farmers who came to the rescue with their local vegetables…on the pavements of Caranzalem and Taleigao in the early morning and evening hours. Here one could buy a bonanza of freshly picked vegetables and greens from ladies finger to cluster beans to brinjals, sweet potatoes, bitter gourd, bottle gourd, ash gourd, pumpkin, drumsticks, turnips…pineapples, love apples, mangoes, mangoes green and ripe everywhere these days. An entrepreneurial spirit rules above all…with masks in place of course for everyone knows it is coronavirus closedown times!

BY TARA NARAYAN

The coronavirus lockdown is taking a toll on the small folk who do a daily business in retailing various food businesses… By Tara Narayan

LOCKDOWNS can be as deadly as the current one to control the spread of novel coronavirus infection. But staying indoors comes with a pile of pile of problems for the common man urban or rural who have to have to eke out small livelihoods and are not dependent on government or NGO support for more their shelter and meals for days on end regardless of how reliable or unreliable they are.
In Goa too the scenarios being seen the country over are no different, although Goa hasn’t suffered too much as yet due to this one which commenced on March 22 with the first one-day Janata Curfew which continues to stretch to the new which is now May 3, 2020. People who have to earn upto a living begin to feel the weariness of lockdown time pass and sooner or later come up with ideas about how to get on with life without breaking too many rules and regulations imposed by government of the day– or inviting the wrath of the police who enforce the laws of lockdown strictly or with yet leniency (considering that Goa is not a rampant coronavirus-stricken hotspot).
The question arises: Why should one law fit all when it is not necessary? For the many lower down the economic scale life takes on new twists and turns as they take a chance and step out in the morning hours to get their stocks of essentials like vegetables, groceries, newspapers (although these are hard to find because distribution services have not been restored). With summer coming on there is the fresh fruit of the season which is perishable if not harvested and taken to urban centers where there are folk with money enough to buy, buy, buy to stock up or hoard up considering the paranoia which sets in with shortages of goods in the initial stages.
Is it is it any wonder that one finds so many small time vendors on the pavements between Panaji and Taleigao setting up shop al fresco beneath trees or wherever they may find some business to stay alive? With the big stores closed most Goans are quite happy to do their daily shopping with the saving grace of a small community of urban farmers who park themselves morning and evening in the shade of trees on pavement space here and there in town – with prices up for “gauti” (organic, true or not so true) veggies of pumpkin, bottle gourd, ladies finger, cluster beans, white and magenta sweet potatoes, bitter gourd, all kinds of greens, etc. Rs50 is the starting price for almost every vegetable be it bhendo or a small bunch of raw mangoes! Prices up or down most Goans have money and will buy. Local bakeries too do a roaring business for many turn up to buy large quantities of local breads poie, undo, pau, kakon.
Most Goans do prefer local produce although the Belgaum-arrived essentials of milk, cheese, paneer, salted and unsalted butter, flavored milk, khari biscuits and nankhatai, etc, are also welcome. In Panaji an Adityaa truck of goodies can be seen parked daily at the Caranzalen circle and here too one may see queues morning and evening. At the few bigger and more organized groceries and vegetable stores like Vishal, Magsons, Goa Sahakar Bhandar in Panaji the queues are long and spaced out with tight control of how many go in to shop – can be exhausting standing in queues as the sun rises!
Many well-to-do folk prefer to order home and were well served for a price of course. As a month of lockdown comes to close many more who are straining at the rules take the risk of hawking in goods vans parked at vantage places in the city – for it is water melon season, pineapple season, mango season! Farmers cannot wait to send their stocks of fruit to the places where folk will buy. Mango retailing is a big buzz with Goa’s prized mankurad going for up to Rs2,500 per dozen (the best quality), and the rest of mangoes from pairi, totapuri, alphonso, gota…selling at reasonable pricing from Rs50 to Rs500. The concern is about perishable food and even big businessmen like Kurade are not averse to hiring small vendors to sell the white button mushrooms at pavement locations which become more or less fixed over time during certain timing.
One young fellow with an entrepreneurial spirit turned down a local media person’s request for a photograph though, he said, “People complain and the police will turn up to take away my stocks saying I’m not allowed to sell here!” If not here, then where? He argued quite reasonably. Coronavirus or no coronavirus, a living has to be earned for these are small people’s retail businesses for whom time is of the essence – it is necessarily do or go bust for them. The melons, pineapples, mangoes have to sell or rot for want of customers and it is so with many others in their day-to-day trading.
Sonia Jalan who runs a catering kitchen from Porvorim with ten staffers says, “After that first Sunday of lockdown on March 22 and doing nothing I had to do something. I have ten migrantsboys from Bihar staying at my place, my staff, I decided to take the advice of my friends staying at housing societies who were requesting for bhel-puri chaat items. We go out with the goods in the evening to deliver chaat papri, samosa, sev, dry bhelpuri and other items ordered…but while we were allowed to park for a while at various housing societies, some others would also come up and buy our goods, all freshly made. And I assure you hygienically prepared in my kitchen where we wash hands frequently and have a bath the moment we get back from our delivery trips….”
Despite this, Sonia confessed, “It is an uphill job and now comes the rule that in a four-wheeler there must be only two people, it will affect me because there is the driver and I need a boy to do deliveries to the flats at housing society, I can’t possibly run up and down myself!” The question arises, Why don’t police understand the plight of small people to make a living? If she closes down her business what will her staff of young Bihari migrant kitchen helpers do? She can’t afford to shelter and feed them indefinitely and she fears the coronavirus lockdown will be further extended. This is one person who’ll be relieved when the lockdown lifts.
While the first three weeks of lockdown were like where have the people gone out on the streets, four weeks later one is beginning to see life returning to near normal despite the cautionary rules imposed of wearing a mask and no grouping of three to four people! Really impractical and unsustainable for any longer lockdown even if the government of Goa says Goa is a green state with no active coronavirus patients and nobody has to worry, the lockdown and all systems in place have worked to rescue the small state from going viral as the big metros of Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai.
It is really the worst of times with many in a state of restrained quandary, not knowing what to do to stay alive if the coronavirus is further extended after May 3, 2020! Most migrants without jobs will want transportation to return to their home states where presumably they may be better off in their own humble homes. It is true that in small state Goa it is comparatively easier to assure shelter and food to migrants who register at designated centers but are these stories of food or rations running out, or terrible toilet-bathroom facilities where 50 share one toilet or bathroom!
The redoubtable writer and Supreme Court advocate, Nandita Haksar, who took special pains to look out for migrants from the North East in Goa to a query replied, “Twenty-30 of our friends called up to say they needed a better place to stay and a kitchen facility so that they could take turns to cook their own food…but no kitchen was provided for them, although they got rations. They preferred to cook their own food. I had to use my contacts in Manipal to get them a better deal to get the accommodation provided for them swopped for a more livable place in Mapusa…”
Not all migrants had influential caring contacts. At Dempobhat, Tonca, there’s a group of Nepali migrants doing odd jobs like domestic work or working in shops. Most of them stay in indifferent cabin room rentals provided by local Goans for Rs4,000 or so with common bath-toilet facilities. With the lockdown many thought domestic servants were the first to bring in disease and so dispensed with their services – local MLAs and good Samaritans did rustle up ration bags for them to survive for a while, but how would they pay their rents and since they are here mainly to earn better money to send home to their folk in Nepal….how would they manage to keep body and soul together?
Although reams and reams of advice is available to citizens on how to put the lockdown period to good use like family bonding, learning a language, playing games on the computer, watching movies, etc, the migrant communities living in cubby hole rental spaces couldn’t care less about all that! With their poor health they are also vulnerable to colds, coughs, aches and pains, for they work hard and for long hours to earn a few thousand rupees. There is no such thing as migrant healthcare, not even in Goa. Healthcare has never been a priority with governments at State or Central level although there are budgets and although Goa is better off vis-à-vis other states it still means waiting in Out-Patient queues at the GMC for most who seek a doctor’s services and one may lose an entire day in the process.
One Nepali maid Rupa when asked, had this to say, “Even if I want to go to the Post Office to post some money to my brother in Nepal I have to walk and go for there is no bus!” It will take her the whole day and so she could not go do housework for her Sahab today and has taken “chute.” And so one finds oneself asking the question, so what if a few buses did ply during coronavirus lockdown times for the common people to use…nobody is dying of coronavirus in Goa as in Mumbai hotspots!
Really, somebody ought to explain to Prime Minister and Chief Ministers the very worthy concept of one size does not fit all. It is okay for Goa to breathe a little more easily even in lockdown times and let the people stay alive without fear or favor! Any good government would ensure this.

Times of shortages and the criminal mind…

Times of shortages and the criminal mind…
A contagion like the coronavirus and accompanying lockdown of an entire can lead to shortages of short or long duration – as in any wartime – and trigger off all kinds of acts of cheating, lying, outright crime (hard to pin down oftentimes). So it was the case with Shyamji who runs a local grocery store at Tonca Junction called Jack-of-All Superstore. He got a surprise one morning when he turned up at the store a little late to be present for the early morning Goa Dairy delivery of eight crates of packaged milk. The delivery truck guys usually leave the crates at the door of the store between 6am to 7am regardless of whether any store staff employee is present or not. Goa’s public transport system is nothing to write home about at the best of times and these were stressful times with everybody worried the coronavirus contagion lurking everywhere. Everything worked normally till the coronavirus shortages hit town. That day when Shymji hurried in a little after 6.30am he was surprised to see – no Goa Dairy delivery of milk crates as per standing routine order. When customers started coming in for milk packets a forlorn Shyamjee still standing at the entrance of his store confided, “Koi mera doodh ke crates choora gaye!” (Someone has stolen my crates of milk!”) So no milk today, sorry. Maybe tomorrow. Something like this had never happened before and he said he couldn’t even suspect anybody. Who would do this to him, steal his crates of milk? An amiable, trusting fellow, he was overwrought with the day’s loss and checked several times with Goa Dairy if their truck guys had done delivery that morning? Yes, yes and yes. Stolen or not, he would have to pay the Rs5,000 for the milk, his daily billing. “But I didn’t get the milk,” protested Shymji, how can I pay for something I didn’t get? It was a stalemate and until he paid up the company refused to do any more deliveries. Since this incident there has been no more Goa Dairy milk packet deliveries at Jack-of-All Superstore and after a day or two he started stocking Warana, Amul and other milk packets coming from out of Goa. This is to say ask around and several stories of theft, loss, overcharging, sheer cheating on recycled goods are making the rounds. One friend exclaimed that even the sugary Jery biscuit packets of Indonesia have gone soft within, although the outer wrapper look very new. She had come looking for Indian Nutri cream crackers, “But only the foreign biscuits were available in plenty and no Marie or Cream Crackers…” She was quite disgusted with the Indian love for “phoren biscuits.” Coronavirus or no coronavirus something is wrong with how we do business in India! Do we blame the people or the government or both? Trust is no longer legal tender and are there any ethics around, or have we reduced life to riding smartarse merry-go-rounds of you cheat me-I cheat you and so on in a vicious cycle of vengeance! Call it a crisis more serious than any viral epidemic if you like.

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