Private firm employee Hedayetul Islam was gulping down a piece of bread and a banana at Paltan area on Thursday. But it was lunchtime, which means a quite heavy Bangalee meal comprising a plate of white rice, fish curry and lentils.
Hedayetul said he started to skip the lunch – which now costs at least Tk100 – to save money for other essentials of his family.
"The house rent went up by Tk500 in January this year. Rickshaws now charge Tk60, which was Tk40 previously, to pick and drop my son from school. Monthly grocery bills also ticked up to Tk8,000 from previous Tk5,000. The daily transport to the office has also become costlier," he said.
But what remained the same in the past one year was Hedayetul's income, forcing the household to rejigger their spending.
The private employee said he used to buy beef once a week, which is now completely a no-go. He had also stopped buying 1 kilogram of powdered milk per month, discontinued the private tutor for his son and stopped visiting doctors for minor health issues.
"Even after all the cost cutting, I have to borrow at the end of almost every month," said Hedayetul.
Anawar Hossain works at a real-estate firm and lives with his wife in Dhaka's low-income neighbourhood Demra.
He said the two-member family needs Tk26,300 in August for one sack of rice, five litres of oil, fish, vegetables, doctor bill, essential cosmetics, utility bills and apartment rent. But Anwar's salary hovers around 22,500.
"Even if I do not buy meat, milk and fruits, the income-spending gap will be more than Tk4,000 and it is widening every month. Even a couple of months ago, we could save Tk2,000-Tk3,000 per month."
"But now it has become impossible to survive like this," said Anawar.
Like Hedayetul and Anwar, around 3.5 crore people who belong to the low and middle-income bracket are in serious trouble to keep up with the rapid pace of commodity hikes. Latest record jump in fuel prices has compounded the sufferings, forcing many to witness their loans mounting every month.
For example, take the case of Mymensingh school teacher Md Abdul Malek Showrab who rides a bike to join classes around 45 kilometres away from his residence.
"I had a Tk885 pay rise in July, but fuel bills rose more than Tk1,000 in the current month. Besides, prices of all essential items have skyrocketed. We had already dropped meat and fruits from the menu, and put a hold on other non-essential spending such as new clothes and cosmetics. Even then, my debt is mounting per month," the schoolteacher said.
Abu Bakar, a private first employee in the capital's Moghbazar, said his monthly spending had increased by Tk3,000-3,500 a couple of months ago. But the fuel price hike has driven it up to Tk4,500.
Low-level public employees also in trouble
In a Facebook post, a cop described the struggle of public employees belonging to the 10-20 grade of the national pay scale.
Mentioning that an employee of 20th grade gets Tk8,250 monthly salary, he said the amount runs out fast only to buy rice and vegetables in this volatile market.
"…No one will understand how helpless the employees with a monthly salary of Tk8,250 in this market are. Around 80% of my friends and colleagues are borrowing to meet household expenses. Some have taken loans for a second time," he wrote.
"We cannot agitate on salary discrimination of grades 11-20. And our problems remain unnoticed. Big bosses get paid up to 8 times more, so they don't think about us," the cop said in the social media post.
'Last ate meat in Eid'
In search of livelihood, rickshaw puller Zahirul Haque came to Dhaka from Mymensingh in 2007. The 42-old said he is not getting as many passengers as before, while his stay in Dhaka has become costlier.
Zahirul's daily income was up to Tk700, but now it is only Tk400-Tk500. As he has to pay more for the mess rent and food, the rickshaw puller said he struggles to send money to his family in ancestral village.
"Since people don't have enough money in their pockets and all the items are pricier, they do not ride a rickshaw unless it is an emergency," said Zahirul.
Day labourer Md Farid has been living with his family in Kalyanpur slum for about 25 years. Everyone except Farid Uddin's daughter-in-law does odd jobs.
"We could not buy chicken or beef after the last Eid in July. We used to eat eggs. But we had to drop it from the menu too. We have been eating vegetables and potatoes for the past few days," he said.