It’s that time of the year when thousands of Mumbaikars survey street shops to stock up on goodies for the wedding season, and for Christmas and New Year. With my uncle’s wedding just a few days away, I set out on a shopping spree. Be it Bandra’s Hill Road, Colaba Causeway, or Linking Road, all of them would have had their shops packed with people if it wasn’t for the government’s decision to demonetise high value currency.
My first stop was Bandra’s Hill Road. To my surprise, the whole street was empty, with vendors passing their time playing games on their mobile phones as they anxiously waited for a customer to stop by. Anzar Malik, 36, is a bag vendor. He was not at all happy with the demonetisation decision. “I have been in this business since 1998 and I have never seen this street so empty. Today, I am facing an 80% loss in my business. I have not even paid my workers their salary and I am not able to pay my rent either. I don’t think the situation is going to get any better in the next two to three months, it will take a lot longer for the market to stabilize.”
A few kilometres away at Linking Road in Khar, I came across Neresh Shukla, a 27-year-old undergarments vendor. He seemed more than happy to have a customer walk into his shop, and he also said that he would happily accept old currency notes. Curious to know how the government’s decision was impacting his business, I investigated further. “I think it’s one of the government’s best decisions so far, and personally, I welcome it. I go to the bank every morning to get change. Customers are bringing Rs. 2000 notes and I am happily accepting it. Even though I am facing losses right now, I believe it will be better for my children and for the future of the country,” he says proudly.
Thankfully, Neresh was kind enough to give me some change, so I headed to Colaba Causeway. I saw a crystal stone vendor closing his shop for the day. He was putting away all the crystal stones on display into a cardboard box as I approached him. “I have been running a business here for four years now. It’s been three to four days that I have earned something between Rs 1000 to Rs 1200 per day, whereas earlier I used to make about Rs. 4000 to Rs. 5000 per day. I think it is a good decision, but it would be better if the new notes of Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 were in circulation. It is mainly foreigners who are buying right now; very few Indians are coming out to shop,” says Akshay Madhukar Gaikwad, a crystal stone vendor.
Yusuf Khan who deals with women’s garments had a different take on the matter. “I am accepting the old currency as the government has allowed time till December 31 to exchange old notes. I’m not able to accept Rs. 2000 notes because I can’t give change. They should have launched the new notes before banning the old ones. At this point, I hardly get two or three customers a day.”
After picking up a beautiful crystal stone, I headed to Fashion Street at Marine Lines. When I asked Vinod Mohanty, 58, a salesman at a shoe stall, if his business has been affected badly, he said, “We used to make about Rs. 5000 to 7000 a day, but that has dropped to Rs. 1000 and 1500 this past week.” Vinod was quick to add, “The decision by PM Modi is a very good one, and it will prove itself in the future.” He was optimistic about having a better future for his children.
Arif Shaikh, 38, who works at a jeans shop, is very disappointed with the government’s decision. “Earlier we used to sell about 30 to 35 jeans, and now we are only able to sell five pieces per day. There are more important changes that the government could have made, instead of demonetising the currency and disrupting so many people’s livelihood. Even in bank lines, I only see middle class people; you will hardly find rich people standing in queues. We are the ones facing the repercussions of this ban. There will be no happy ending in 2016 for us.”
The hubs of street shopping in Mumbai that are normally bustling with cackles of crowds and excited shoppers seem to have come to a complete stand still after the government’s demonetisation move.