‘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