‘Covid Ruined My Life, Not Physically But Financially’

Imran Malik, who owned modular kitchen business in Delhi, says middle class families are the worst affected by the pandemic, and slowly slipping into the poverty pit

I started out as a karigar (craftsman) and slowly rose up the ranks. In 2015, I was lucky enough to start my own small business called Malik Aluminium Decoration. A major chunk of our business was focussed on building modular kitchen fittings. I took the first few years to break even and just as our business was picking up, the pandemic struck.

As I look around, I see almost everyone in the same position. People are just about managing, and their patience is being tested to the extreme by Covid circumstances. Unemployment is rife, future is uncertain and the market is stagnant. Our family finances have dwindled too and only God knows what’s in store for us. The pandemic situation keeps changing every few days, but the stress is constant.

I am a part of a large joint family with five brothers and our mother. My father passed away many years ago and since then my elder brother and I have served as the financial backbone of the large family. But the spine is beginning to crack now.

Malik’s labour-intensive work suffered when his employees left for their native places during lockdown

When the first lockdown was announced, we thought it would only be a matter of a few months and our savings would see us through. None of us was prepared for the lasting impact. I had taken a shop on rent at a prime location in Laxmi Nagar (East Delhi), but when business didn’t pick up even two months after the Unlock, I had to let go of the space. Shifting of raw material, storage also incurred costs.

In the first wave of the pandemic, most of my karigars left for their native places. Whatever little work orders I received, I had not enough people to work on them. My work is labour-intensive. The few karigars that remained with us, I paid their full salary, work or no work. It breaks my heart to see that they are in an even more difficult position than I am.

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The second wave was worse. My sister-in-law got infected and we had arrange oxygen cylinders at a premium. I pray that no one else gets the virus, because apart from the emotional toll it takes on us, the financial impact is also difficult to recover from.

I shudder at the thought of the third wave as people’s finances are stretched beyond limits now. The thing that mattered to us the most: the education (and subsequent employment) of our younger brothers and children, have been put on hold. Studying at home isn’t the same as studying in school.

I feel the middle class is in the most difficult position. Unlike those who truly are living a hand to mouth existence, we don’t want to take recourse to Public Distribution Schemes and unlike the rich, we don’t have fat bank balances. The government must come out with some support for the middle class too. If the government does not take steps on urgent footing, many families will slide into poverty and apart from the physical health, the emotional health of the country will also be in turmoil. I hope we see better days soon.

As Told To Yog Maya Singh

‘Covid-19 Gave Me Extra Time & A Home Business’

Pooja Makin Kapoor, 44, from Dehradun, Uttarakhand, learnt making soaps at home from a YouTube clip. In no time, it has turned into a successful home-based business and she is loving it

Among the changes that a raging Covid19 pandemic brought into our lives are: 1) we all found some little extra time on our hands; and 2) there has been an excess of soaps and sanitizers on our hands. I teach English and Maths on voluntary basis at NGOs and in the lockdown I got time to indulge myself in other pursuits. So one evening, when I chanced upon a You Tube video on how to make soaps at home, I decided to give it a shot. The idea so occupied my mind that I could barely sleep, eagerly waiting for the day ahead. I had a list of ingredients ready in my mind was excited like a young child.

The following day, I ordered glycerine, honey, goat milk, charcoal, Shea butter, castor oil, coconut oil and other knick-knacks. A few items like lemon grass, basil leaves were sourced from my kitchen garden. I already had silicon moulds that I used for baking and used them as moulds for soaps.

Just like many people learnt cooking and household chores in lockdown, I learnt making soaps. It was a new talent I acquired and soon enough honed it to perfection. When I was satisfied with the quality and novelty of my products, I started gifting them to my relatives and also started sharing pictures of them on various messaging apps.

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It was an expression of my creativity and I was having fun. Till, one of my husband’s cousin got super excited with the soaps and commented that these cakes would attract children to wash their hands more frequently. And then, she egged me on to start making them commercially. Thus my home-made brand Meraki Kraft came into being.

It takes a few hours to make the soaps in my kitchen every day and I have to focus intensely to get the balance of ingredients right. My family has been very supportive and help me with the chores as well as making of the soaps. My two teenage daughters keep giving me the right ideas to promote my soaps on social media. I am a very private person so my Facebook and Instagram and WhatsApp lists are restricted to friends, but word of mouth has turned into huge sales.

Meraki Kraft’s first hit was the tangy orange soaps, but things hit the roof with my doughnut shaped soaps. From there, it has been a successful range from muffin-shaped soaps to those with fruit and herbs bases like watermelon, lavender, basil etc.

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Things went a notch higher when I released my Shea butter and charcoal soaps for men with a hint of Hugo Boss perfume. It came in two shapes, circular and a square one that looked like men’s shirts. And then came the clincher soap, one that I have got the maximum feedback for. It is a soap that looks like an ice bucket with champagne bottle. Except the bottle, the cubes and the bucket are all soap.

While courier services have been a lifeline, a few stores in Dehradun have also started stocking my products. Each of my soap lasts almost a month. Now, I have started getting repeat orders from as far as Delhi- NCR, Chandigarh, Amritsar, Reeva (M.P.), Mumbai and Goa and of course Dehradun where I live.

If people are looking to start home businesses, it is possible if you strike the right balance. Just make sure you are enjoying yourself in the process. The pandemic is nothing in front of your courage, passion, instincts and ingenuity.

The name of my brand Meraki Kraft means labour of love. It’s a Greek word derived from the Turkish term Merak and after the pandemic subsides I feel only those businesses will survive which are a labour of love.