The story of how a hawker leased a shop, only to be thrown back onto the street by Covid-19
Aslam Akand used to hawk fruit in different areas of the capital until mid-2019. He sold a variety of fruits, including dates, maltas and pomegranates.
As sales were good, the 41-year-old rented a store on Badda Link road in June last year to expand his business. But near the end of the year, he incurred some losses after clashing with a city corporation official.
Keeping some fruit in front of his store was his offence. The city corporation official allegedly illegally confiscated fruit worth Tk15,000-20,000 by exercising his power.
Before Aslam was able to recoup the loss, the novel coronavirus pandemic dealt another big blow to his business. After the virus broke out in China late last year, imports of fruit from there began to fall.
Fruits were then imported from other sources and this caused prices to go up, Aslam told The Business Standard.
"It was worse for fruit traders compared to other businessmen because many fruits, including grapes, maltas, and pomegranates, come from China. Even dates that come from China are sold as the Saudi Arabian variety," explained the fruit seller.
Considering the situation, Aslam decided to discontinue the lease on his store in February this year. His fruit business witnessed a downturn that month.
When schools, offices and public transportation gradually began to be closed in the wake of the pandemic in March, he tried selling fruit as a street vendor but there were almost no sales.
Lots of fruit rotted at my home, he said.
He has three children. At that time, his son was only three-to-four months old. His eldest daughter is a fifth-grader and his other daughter started school this year.
Considering the safety of my children, I was scared to hawk fruit
"Considering the safety of my children, I was scared to hawk fruit," he said.
He tried hawking fruits in different areas of Dhaka, hoping to recover his capital. But because of the lockdown, people did not go out much, and finding customers was a struggle for him.
As sales did not increase even in April and May, he moved to his hometown in Khulna, with his family, after the lockdown was withdrawn. He has a small piece of land there. He constructed a house on it and started living there.
He initially planned not to return to Dhaka and make a living in Khulna as a fruit seller. But there were not many fruit customers there.
"Even during the mango season, there were not that many customers. So, I had to come back to Dhaka," he said.
Even during the mango season, there were not that many customers. So, I had to come back to Dhaka
As he had been forced to move to the village, he had to spend money on building a house there. He failed to do business there and had to live off his savings. This put him in financial trouble after his return to Dhaka. He did not have enough money to start a business again.
His wife had some savings. He withdrew that money in Khulna and brought it to Dhaka. He returned alone as his family continued to live in the village.
After returning to Dhaka in August, he started living at a relative's place. Then he rented a room in a bachelor's mess in Badda for a monthly rent of Tk5,000.
He started hawking fruit again in the Gulshan area.
"This time, my capital is really low. I owe some money to several wholesalers in Badamtali. I repay some loans, then buy fruit on credit, and then sell them to earn money," he said.
I owe some money to several wholesalers in Badamtali. I repay some loans, then buy fruit on credit, and then sell them to earn money
Aslam said daily sales had fallen compared to this period of the previous year. Back then, his highest daily sales reached Tk4,100.
The lockdown was in force during this year's Ramadan, a month when date sales usually grow immensely.
"But that was not the case this year. Date that can be sold for Tk1,000 could not be sold even for Tk400 this time," Aslam said.
He said the number of fruit customers had not picked up yet. "Considering daily sales, I am just getting by."
The vendor said bribes need to be paid to different parties to do business on the street and profit remains low considering sales.
Nonetheless, call it fate or necessity, he still has to sell fruit on the street to make a living.