It’s getting harder at the bottom

If you want to know just how well the people on the ground are coping in the current economy, you should take a look at the Indian food shops. They are doing brisk business — those which haven’t closed down … yet.

I usually go to this row of shops in SS 14, Subang Jaya for a good meal. The single row of three blocks have four Indian shops, and each has its own set of patrons. The busiest is Lakshmi Bhavan, perhaps, because it’s also the cleanest! I frequent Lakshmi Bhavan because the food is not so chilly hot. Yes, yes, I am the only Indian I know who can’t take chilly hot food!

Business has been better for Lakshmi Bhavan this year, so says its supervisor. It could be because one of the Indian shops closed down very early this year. So, now, there are three Indian shops there. Another Indian shop isn’t doing very well, and the owner is cracking her head how to grow her business. So, Lakshmi Bhavan is doing well by default — no credit to the economic situation!

Like Lakshmi Bhavan, other Indian food shops which have been able to survive, mainly because the smaller ones have closed down, driving some of the latter’s customers to the former, are doing well. But, it isn’t an indication that all is well with the economy.

Indian food is one of the cheapest foods one can get in this country. For a very reasonable price of about RM6, you can get a decent meal of rice, chicken or mutton, one vegetable and some curry. The price has now gone up to about RM8. But people are opting for Indian food because — despite the price hike — it is still the cheapest, which means price increases elsewhere is driving people to choose cheaper alternatives.

Busy Indian food shops — apart from those which manage to stay afloat despite a small clientele — in some ways is a sign that more and more people are struggling to cope with their incomes.

A friend, who is a doctor, shared how one of his patients — a family man — unloaded on him about how he was just able to manage with his income. If prices were to go up any further, he said he just didn’t know what to do. It is a story that we are going to hear more and more often in the days to come.

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