Someone asked for one-time plastic cup — a new requirement even in a footpath tea shop during Covid-19 pandemic
"Should I add ginger?" Munir asks as he stirs tea for a customer, while taking order from another man carrying a flask.
A customer is waiting for a cup of milk tea without sugar and Munir has to serve a man who stopped a motorcycle and asked for a Benson light.
A rickshaw-puller helped himself in arranging a betel leaf with betel nut, chewing tobacco and lime. Three men, seated on stools, are gossiping and asking when their tea will be ready—one red tea with lemon and ginger and two milk tea, one with sugar and the other without sugar.
Someone asked for one-time plastic cup — a new requirement even in a footpath tea shop during Covid-19 pandemic.
All customers are in a hurry and Munir had to attend to all at a time --- listening, answering, serving, taking money and giving back changes.
And he checked his mobile phone for a missed call.
It was an office day and Munir had no time to spare. So, after having my tea, I took his mobile phone number to talk to him in his free time—after 9:30PM.
Munir runs a tea-stall on a van on road beside IDB Bhaban computer market at Agargaon in the city. A large umbrella, provided by a consumer goods company, protects him from sudden rain, which is common during this time of the year.
A youth in his 20s from Laxmipur district, Munir Hossain passed HSC before he moved to Dhaka for a living. He started with selling tea in a roadside stall. Three years back, he was picked up by a pilot of a private airlines for domestic chores and office duty.
"My sir lost job during Covid and he told me, 'Munir, now see how you can help yourself.' Then I thought why not going back to previous work," Munir said, when contacted over mobile phone at night on Tuesday.
Munir had everything for a tea-stall – gas stove, cylinder, van, plastic cans for bakery items — to restart his small business.
After losing job, he had to wait until shutdown was lifted on May 31. He had hard times during the 66-day shutdown when he spent the last month's wage and borrowed few thousand taka to feed his family of six.
Munir's stall is an outlet of cheap bakery items like biscuits, cake, loaf and cream-roll, cigarette, banana, condensed milk, loose tea, betel leaf, banana and so on. Many of these items are produced for targeted customers—mostly working people and pedestrians – who take a break at roadside tea-stalls.
These tea-stalls were closed during the lockdown, and sales of tea, bakery and other items dropped.
"People rarely take condensed milk at home. We need the item most for milk-tea," Munir said, giving an idea of how many businesses—from betel leaf to tea or condensed milk—suffered during the shutdown, enforced to contain spread of virus.
In that area alone, there are 25 to 30 stalls and each of them requires 4/5 condensed milk cans every day.
"So, you see companies lose sales of some 150 condensed milk cans only in this area. There are thousands of tea-stalls in Dhaka city and you can imagine how big their loss was."
Munir had no data in hand, but he could give an idea what closure of tea-stalls means to many businesses—from banana to cake, from betel nut to Benson.
Tea gardens saw a record production this year, but unsold tea piled up in their warehouses and price declined as most tea stalls, hotels, motels, and restaurants were closed for months.
He receives supplies from four to five men every day and takes home Tk300-Tk350 after meeting dues of previous day.
Thus he makes hardly Tk10,000 a month — down from a monthly pay of Tk15,000 when he used to serve the pilot.
Can he make both ends meet?
"No, I can't. I am waiting for my 'sir' to get back his job and call me back," Munir says.
Business prospects of air travel look bleak and there is no indication when airlines will be able to resume their operations in full swing and call their pilots back to work.
Munir has no idea, but he has not given up hope.