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The pandemic has once again reminded us what Charles Darwin had said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”
People are adapting to many changes brought about by the corona virus. They are adapting to the stifling mask, the frequent sanitisation and the intermittent lockdowns. They are learning to live amid the pandemic.
The ongoing crisis has rendered hundreds of people jobless and made survival a difficult task. But many among the affected are finding ways to escape extinction. They have diverted from their original profession to start new and temporary ventures. It is not easy to adapt to a new profession but that is the only way to overcome the crisis.
Jugal Chanda is a fine arts teacher and runs his drawing school on the premises of Bangiya Sahitya Parishad on Jail Road. The school has remained closed since the first lockdown in March end. The 56-year-old master is selling vegetables to earn a living, though that has barely solved the problems of the family of 10.
“I do not have the permission to sit on the roadside and have to keep the items inside the gate. There is no visibility, and hence, no sale,” said Chanda, whose art school is 12 years old and currently has over 40 students.
Chanda also delivers vegetables to the nearby houses to make up for the tepid sales. Though there is no immediate plan to resume art classes, some of his students have suggested starting a WhatsApp group to continue the lessons.
From painting to selling vegetables is not a likely transformation but Chanda said there was no other option as the pandemic has deeply affected the jobs market.
Selling vegetables is the popular choice for many people who are out of work. This is mainly because there are not many takers for non-essential goods as job loss, salary cuts and furloughs are a common story.
Eva Kharmawlong, who ran an eatery in Police Bazar, has transformed her restaurant into a vegetable shop. The 32-year-old woman from Laban buys the greens from Bara Bazar and opens the shop every alternate day following the odd-even system.
“If I could open the shop everyday, it would have been convenient because many vegetables perish in the one-day gap,” she said as she waited for customers.
Kharmawlong reasoned that the eatery business would have been difficult during the pandemic as customers are less and her new venture is “at least helping me earn something”. Income, however, remains over 50 per cent less than what it used to be before the COVID-19 outbreak.
She still has to pay the rent of Rs 5,000 for the shop and salary to her employees.
With many people resorting to vegetable vending, buyers are difficult to get. Yewplibiang Thongni had been standing with her limited stock of vegetables for hours but there was no luck. She had a permanent spot on the footpath before the lockdown. “Now, police chase us away. So we have to either stand or roam around the city. I come everyday from 7the Mile,” said the woman in her thirties who looked undernourished, hungry and tired.
There are many like Thongni who are going around the city, come rain or shine, to sell vegetables or tea. When asked, Maya Chaudhury, who was selling betel nut and leaves in a small plastic basket in Police Bazar, was reluctant to reveal what she did before the lockdown and talked about her problems in this time. “I cannot sit anywhere because of the police. I did not make much money today as there are not many people,” said the young woman from Harijan Colony. Her kohl-lined eyes were restless and looked out for “buyers”.
The fear of infection remains when one has to move around the city selling vegetables and other articles but “we are helpless as hunger of your children is more tormenting”, said Bidhan Dey, a vendor in Police Bazar.
R Thabah’s flower shop in Police Bazar is also gone and now he has started a shop on wheels to earn his livelihood.
Thabah, along with S Sangriang, both from Mawkyriah village, comes in a car with a variety of plants from the village nursery and parks near Barik Point. While his daily sales before the pandemic were between Rs 8,000-10,000, he only earns Rs 500-700 now.
“I made a loss of Rs 8,000 in three months as I had to throw away many plants. I tried selling vegetables and fruits but hardly any money came. So here we are, selling plants again in this car,” said Sangriang.
The duo leave home at 10 in the morning and starts for their village from the city around 6pm.
Beside Thabah’s car was a taxi selling betel nuts and leaves from Dawki, another example of adaptability. Nathaniel Nongsteng is a student of Environmental Science at Shillong College. He drove a taxi as a part-time job. But with restrictions on public transport, the 21-year-old student had to find a way to survive. His vehicle proved useful. Nongsteng and his sister-in-law, Baniar Mylliem, come from Nongkrem village every day and park the car at the same place. Mylliem had a shop in Bara Bazar but she does not expect it to open anytime soon.
“As you can see, there are only a few buyers but we earn enough to meet the petrol cost and keep some money aside for food and other essentials. Now that college is closed and there is no online class, I get time to help my sister-in-law. We are bracing for a long period of crisis,” said the cheerful youth.
Nongsteng also takes up jobs under MGNREGA for income and helps his family in farming.
Many women, who had makeshift shops in Police Bazar, are now taking the articles around the market. But all of them complained that the authorities are insensitive to the problems of the poor and “police keep on chasing us away”.
“How do we do business if we do not get to stand in one place? Customers do not come to us,” said Prestina Kharjana, who has six children, three of whom are ready for higher studies.
For those who have a permanent shop, like Sanjay Dey, there is no hassle about police but the story remains the same, “no business”.
Dey has a fast food shop in Laban. With his catering orders almost nil, Dey is also selling slippers and clothes. The new items on the list are stacked outside the small shop. “Whatever brings some money,” he said.
There were fruits and vegetables too kept in rows outside his shop. “No, those are not mine. I am helping a friend to sell these from here,” he replied when asked about the items.
His friend, Bidhan Malakar, drove a tourist taxi. The sector has shut down completely after travelling was restricted. Again, vegetables are a saviour. “I am looking for a private work. If you hear about any vacancy, please let me know,” he requested.
Vishnu, who worked in a private company and has been asked not to come for a few months, is selling clothes from door to door to support his family of four. His two children have passed board examinations and he is uncertain about their future.
Even as people adapt to the new conditions created by the pandemic, the weak economy and inconsiderate employers, there is no guarantee that they will survive. Though many companies in different sectors have logged in quarterly profits despite the lockdown, there is no way the inimical rich would share their earnings by creating jobs or extending a helping hand to their struggling employees. For instance, Malakar does not know when his employer would again call him for work or whether help will come from him. The trickle-down theory remains a hoax.
The lowest stratum of the society comprising daily wage earners and street vendors, among others, has been the worst affected. These people do not even dare to think about the future as for them, surviving a day is a priority.