Ibrahim, a day-labourer in Dhaka supporting a family of four, had to cut back on potatoes as the humble tuber had doubled in price. To save money, his family now makes egg curry with more watery sauce and hardly any potatoes.
The increasing costs of essentials are forcing low-income consumers like Ibrahim to trim their expenses for eggs, potatoes, fish, and chicken.
Afsar Uddin, a non-government employee, also feels the pinch. He used to have eggs regularly, but now his family only boils one egg for their son. The rising costs have made it difficult for families like his to balance expenses and needs.
The stress of surging commodity prices has become unbearable for those with limited incomes, leaving the middle class clueless about how to navigate the present tough times.
The price of a dozen eggs has gone up from Tk125-130 in a few months and is now being sold at Tk150-155. Now each egg is available for Tk12.50 but a few days ago it was sold for Tk15 or more. Potatoes rose from Tk30-35 to Tk45-50 within a month.
Egg curry prices in Dhaka's street eateries, where low-income people eat, surged from Tk20-25 to Tk30 when eggs were over Tk15. When egg prices dropped, potato prices rose, leading to an increase in egg curry prices to Tk35.
Meanwhile, the menu cost of a serving of mashed potato (aloo bharta), a popular side dish for its taste and low cost, has doubled in some places, jumping from Tk10 to Tk20, with some vendors halving portion sizes instead of increasing prices.
The government more than a week ago fixed the maximum retail price of potatoes, eggs and onions to ease market prices. It ordered the sale of eggs at Tk12 each, potatoes at Tk35-36 per kg and local onions at Tk64-65 per kg.
With this, the price of onion has come down by Tk5-10 and potato by Tk5 in some places. And to control the price of eggs, the government has allowed the import of 10 crore pieces of eggs.
However, traders are still reluctant to sell at the capped prices. Even after almost a week of fixing the price, eggs are still Tk12.50 each, potatoes Tk45-50/kg and onions Tk80-85/kg.
Saifur Rahman, the owner of Tiger Trading, one of the traders given permission to import eggs, said the eggs may start to arrive next week. He also said that these eggs would be sold at Tk9-10 at wholesale.
Drives dry up potato sales
Meanwhile, the consumer rights body is conducting daily market raids to enforce price regulations. Following a recent raid on a Munshiganj cold storage where potatoes are stored the owner was ordered to charge Tk 26-27 per kg. Many storage owners have halted potato sales after that.
Aminul Islam sells vegetables in Motijheel. On Wednesday, his shop had all kinds of vegetables, but potatoes were missing.
Aminul said, "There have been so many arguments with the customer over the price for the last few days that I have stopped selling potatoes for two days."
However, potato wholesalers at Karwan Bazar had a bizarre version of the price-sale controversy. They say ever since the price was capped, potato demand itself has plummeted 50% compared to regular times.
Low-income people are usually most dependent on eggs, poultry, fish and potatoes. But the price of all these have shot up to an unusual high.
Broiler chicken prices have jumped from Tk 140-150 to Tk185-190, tilapia fish from Tk120-150 to Tk200-250 depending on size, pangas fish from Tk110-120 per kg to Tk170-220, and rohu fish from Tk250 to Tk350-450.
Even the coarse rice consumed by the poor is not below Tk50, according to the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh.
Consumers Association of Bangladesh President Ghulam Rahman told TBS that the high food price will have repercussions on low income people.
"Rising prices of cheap fishes like pangas, tilapia, and poultry like chicken, may drive up demand for eggs, and when egg prices are high, reliance on potatoes and lentils may grow. With escalating costs across the board, people are left with no option but to endure hardship," he explained.
'We don't get to eat chicken even once in six months'
"Even water is not free in Dhaka city. If the water faucet in the house breaks down, we have to go without water for a few days," said Ramprasad, a 46-year-old cobbler, who has been working on the side of Dhaka's busy roads for nearly 29 years.
Currently, Ramprasad can be seen sitting at the corner of Birdem General Hospital's gate in the capital's Shahbagh area, sewing shoes from morning to night. After a full day's work, he earns a maximum of Tk500 to Tk800.
Bhelpuri seller Mujibur has to cut back on food
Mujibur Rahman sells bhelpuris – a type of fried snack – in front of the Eskaton Garden High School in Dhaka from 11am to 3pm every day. He then takes a break and again sits on the side of Hatirjheel Lake from 5pm to 10pm. He earns about Tk1,000-Tk1,200 by selling bhelpuris twice a day.
The bhelpuri seller has a family of two children and a wife. His daughter is in the eighth grade at Ispahani Girls' School and College, and his son is in high school at Dhaka Udyan Government College.
After paying rent, food, rickshaw-puller Dulal is left with Tk50
"I've been pulling a rickshaw since when the deposit fee was Tk20. Now I have to pay Tk70 to rent the rickshaw for a shift, costing me Tk140 for two shifts. And there are other costs as well," said rickshaw puller Dulal Sheikh, who has been making a living by pulling rickshaw in the alleys of Dhaka city for the past 33 years.
In the past 33 years, Dulal has seen many ups and downs in Dhaka. He has struggled many times to keep up with the rising cost of living in the city. The cost of essential food and the cost of living have both increased significantly in recent years. The latest food inflation is making it difficult for him to cope.