KOLKATA: For two weeks, Mohammad Irfan went to bed on a half-empty stomach, making sure his children get three square meals a day, but with the extension of the lockdown, the rickshaw-puller in the city's Paikpara area knew it was time to look for an alternative source of income.
Irfan, these days, wakes up at 4 am and rushes to wholesalers' hub - Mechhua Bazar - to procure vegetables and fruits, which he then sells in his neighbourhood.
Much like Irfan, taxi drivers, small shopkeepers, tea stall owners and other vendors in the city, who mostly trade in non-essential items, have taken to selling vegetables, fruits and fish, with the COVID-19-induced lockdown having dried up much of their resources.
West Bengal Consumer Affairs Minister Sadhan Pandey, when asked about this trend, said if the traders abide by the norms, the government sees no reason to stop them.
"They can surely opt for an alternative source of income in this hour of crisis. Just that they should do business between 8 am and 4 pm," he said.
Nirmal Kumar, a shoe shop owner-turned-fish seller in Behala, expressed hope that he would be able to send money to his ailing parents in Burdwan this month, as his new trade was picking up pace in Manton area.
"I couldn't send money home last month as I had used up half of my savings to buy a cycle van. Now, I visit Chowbaga fish market every morning and buy some staple varieties for sale in Manton. Many residents place orders on phone, and I deliver them to their doorsteps," he said.
The story is no different for Ratan Halder, the owner of a fast-food stall in Baguiati area, who has started selling vegetables from his kiosk.
The 45-year-old, who pooled in money from relatives to set his alternative trade rolling, cycles 30 km up and down to buy fresh produce from Polerhat in South 24 Parganas district.
"I had recently spent Rs 3,500 to buy raw materials for my fast food stall. It has all gone waste. Not once did I foresee this month-and-a-half-long lockdown," Halder said.
A senior official of a retailers' body said more vegetable vendors would mean more options, and people no longer have to stand in queues.
"I must say that's a good move. If retailers are turning into vegetable sellers in this scenario, that would be of help to them as well as the customers. People will no longer crowd just one store and the practice would keep prices of commodities in check," said Kumar Rajagopalan, the CEO of Retailers Association of India.
"Also, if some of these vendors are moving from one lane to another to sell essentials in mobile vans, residents would no longer have to step out of homes to visit the nearby market," he said.
A vegetable trader in one of the city's biggest wholesale marts -- Koley Market -- said at least 40 per cent of retailers who visit the market every day are fresh faces.
"Most retailers throng the wholesale market between 3 am and 8 am. Many of them are rickshaw-pullers and taxi drivers, who have taken to vegetable selling only recently. With businesses shut for a month now, this seems to be their only plausible option," he said.
Economist Asish Sana noted that the situation may get more challenging in the near future, and many might end up losing permanent sources of income.
"New challenges, however, will teach people to look for new means of livelihood. People will have to adapt to the changing circumstances," he added.