From shops selling 300 plates of Momo a day each to struggling with finance, here is what the pandemic did to Jhalupara
Due to the impact of the Corona lockdown, business and trade has had to face the worst of times in the past year, with many going out of work and losing their jobs. Even though lockdown restrictions were eased later in most parts of the country, still it was never enough to put the economy back to where it belonged in the pre-pandemic period. Small-time independent businesses like food joints are slowly getting erased, street vendors have been absent from their usual roadside spaces for months now, already looking for alternative sources of income to support their family.
In Silchar, Jhalupara in RK Mission road is one of the busiest places when it comes to food joints, with Momo being the special attraction of this place. Hundreds of people flock to that neighbourhood after evening every day to devour Momo dumplings in a place mostly popular among the youth. The narrow street of Jhalupara houses probably 10-12 consecutive momo shops, owned and operated by the families residing in this neighbourhood, all independently. But ever since the onslaught of the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown that followed, the usual happening place has become somewhat of barren land with customers hard to come by. This has, of course, gravely affected their financial stability with most shop owners completely relying on this specialised momo service at evening hours. Also, most of these momo joints employ helpers to run their shop and also assist in preparing the dishes, who come from the fringes of the district looking for better opportunities in the city to provide for their own families.
Now, the lockdown restrictions, albeit partial, has forced them to compromise their business operations with a takeaway of dishes as the only option to keep on running their momo shops. As Jhalupara momo joints open around evening, there’s no chance of providing seating arrangements inside their shops due to the lockdown restrictions. Dheeraj Gurung, one of the momo vendors in Jhalupara, said that since March 2020, their lives have been turned upside down due to the Corona lockdown as they were forced to shut down their shops for months under the cloud of total uncertainty.
“Before the lockdown, we used to sell 100-150 plates of momo per day, sometimes even going beyond 200. But after lockdown, everything seemed to have stopped and even though unlock followed later and for a few months, everything was opened, still, it wasn’t enough to get us back to normalcy. The sales started to finally pick up slowly but then the second wave hit us, and we went back to zero. As of now, we’re surviving with only the takeaway service of momos due to the lockdown restriction. But sales are poor and have come down to one-fourth of what it used to be before”, said Dheeraj whose family consists of four including himself.
Many people have already given up on their primary business, especially when it comes to street food joints, looking for alternative sources of income. Dheeraj didn’t look elsewhere and rather chose to stick with his momo business. He said, “My mother is a retired government employee so we do get a pension. But as our momo business is getting hampered due to lockdown, although we seem to be surviving somehow, we also can’t seem to save up a single penny.”
Another such vendor, known popularly ‘Aunty momo’, is also going through such an excruciatingly difficult phase. Ambika Thapa, the owner and primary architect of ‘Aunty momo’, happens to be one of the oldest momo shops in the town, being in this business for more than 20 years now.
She said, “We’re running on fumes since our business has been halted due to the lockdown. Our financial condition has gone down in the gutters, as we barely get any customers now. We do have takeaway service of momo, but as people are still scared about the Corona infection, they don’t seem to come down in numbers as seen before. From 200-300 momo plates per day, we are now reduced to selling hardly 30-40 plates per day at best. I have one son who helps me in this business so I’m fortunate to have him by my side. All our helpers too have left for their respective homes due to the lockdown, so we’re managing on our own.”
Rs 7500 crores loan waiver to buy TV-Scooty, but nothing for entire MSME sector, not even waiver for a fixed charge of electricity.
In Assam, happy days for salaried class, pensioners, and beneficiaries. It is absolute hell for those who produce and contribute to the economy.
— Mrinal Talukdar (@mrinaltalukdar8) July 23, 2021
Ambika Thapa also mentioned that if it wasn’t for her neighbours, she wouldn’t have known how to survive in this lockdown period as many of them came forward to help her financially on several occasions.
Rohit Gurung, a musician from Jhalupara, is another such momo vendor who has been facing this tragedy for the entirety of the lockdown. Unlike many others like him, he chose to not venture out looking for other business models, as it would mean he doesn’t get enough time to give to music.
“I thought about looking for other sources of income when the situation became too hard to continue. But somehow, we’ve been surviving and hanging on to a thread. Takeaway service is there in our shop but sales have never come back to what it was before the pandemic came. Now we sell 50-60 plates per day, that too through takeaway service. Whereas, earlier we used to have 250-300 sales per day, and we don’t even know when those days will ever come back,” asserted Gurung.
He runs the momo shop with his brother, Mandip Gurung, who also happens to be Rohit’s bandmate in multiple projects. But now, with survival being the first priority, their musical ambition too has taken somewhat of a backseat due to this financial instability enforced by the lockdown.
The busiest Jhalupara which is popular for its Momo is now walking on a tightrope and sailing on a lifeboat. There is no waiver for their cries as they don’t have loans that the government promised to repay. But, at a time when culture and tradition is being discussed as a hot topic, shouldn’t the government look after these momo-vendors?