In Lakshmipur, truck driver Abdus Salam has switched to panta (soaked rice) from paratha for breakfast. With customers few and far between, southern district fabric trader Anwar Ahmed has his worries. In Cumilla, university admission aspirant Rabiul has left town for his ancestral village. In Sylhet, Koyes Ahmed has done away with the services of the private tutor for his son, while Cumilla house help Shahin Akter now skips her medicine despite having swelling legs.
The cases of Salam, Anwar, Rabiul or Shahin Akter may look different, but what lies beneath them is the same adjustment mechanism to survive the skyrocketing prices of both food and non-food daily essentials.
With the world economy already devastated by Covid-related shortages and now reeling from impacts of the Russia-Ukraine war, basic items such as bread, meat, and cooking oils have skyrocketed around the world, sending shockwaves through the domestic market.
For the most vulnerable people in rural Bangladesh – take for example the day wagers, the marginal farmers or the transport people who have to spend the lion's share on food – the spiralling prices pose a genuine risk of hunger. For others living in the faraway districts, the price shock means a pressure to switch to alternatives, or to cut back on their spending.
"For me and my helper, the breakfast – four paratha and two plates of vegetables – used to cost Tk50. The same meal currently costs Tk90," said truck driver Salam. He now carries panta for breakfast when he leaves home at dawn.
The transport worker said he also has had to reduce tea consumption to 1-2 cups from the previous 5-6 cups a day.
Meherpur shopkeeper Ripon Ali too left roti and bread, and said he now eats rice for breakfast. "I'm buying the daily essentials in smaller quantities. But it would not be an option if the prices keep surging."
Meherpur bakery shops are at present charging at least 30% more for bread, biscuits, cake and chanachur, while other snacks and sweetmeats cost Tk2-Tk5 more per piece.
Sunil Das has been running an eatery at Palpara area on the bank of River Gomti in Cumilla for more than ten years. People who visit the river for a breath of fresh air in the afternoon are his main customers.
Sunil said bakeries have halved the size of a Tk5 bread and bun a week ago to accommodate the price surges of flour, oil and sugar.
During the pandemic, Bogura's Golam Kibria had to shut down his fashion shops and subsequently managed a part-time job at the local health complex.
"The pandemic has already put me in a tight spot. Then came the price hikes, causing me to struggle to manage three meals for a five-member family. My wife and I have already skimped on the food menu to save for powder milk for our baby boy," said Kibria.
Bogura private employee Shamim Reza said he has not been able to afford red meat or fish for the last two months, as milk now seems a luxury to him.
Kalyan Das, a private firm employee of Bogura, said, "Instead of fish or meat, we are eating only vegetables in all three meals of a day. From multiple curries, the menu recently has turned to a single dish."
Entajul Islam, an autorickshaw driver in Dinajpur, said he now can buy meat only once in three months. "Even eggs are not an alternative anymore as prices have doubled," he added.
Sabbir Hossain, a salesperson in Barishal, said he has cut off fish and meat from the menu to manage the price hike. "I used to go to the bazaar everyday but nowadays I go once a week to reduce spending."
But there are rural people for whom trimming the menu is not enough, as they have to adopt serious steps like stopping medication to tackle the situation. Cumilla's house help Shahin Akter is one of the unfortunate individuals who had to take such steps that threaten physical well-being.
Shahin Akter said she recently borrowed Tk32,000 and bought her husband an auto-rickshaw. Though the husband cannot carry passengers for too many hours as he is ill, the rickshaw-earned money had been enough to repay loans and buy medicines.
But Shahin got hurt in her legs two months ago and had to visit a doctor. Now the price shock, loan repayment, schooling cost for the kid and medical expense for the husband compel the woman to skip the drugs to tackle the pressure.
Alongside the commodities, transports and other services currently cost people more in rural areas. Rajshahi people said rickshaw fares have increased by Tk5-Tk10 in different places of the city. Towhida Ara, a private clinic nurse in Rajshahi, said she has to spend Tk100 daily now only for picking and dropping her daughter to school and tuition.
"From transport spending to daily food costs, everything goes under trimming. I have to manage the increased rickshaw fares by cutting other costs," said Towhida Ara.
Zahurul Islam, a transport worker in Meherpur district, said he used to have some savings even two months ago while the monthly spending has gone beyond income in recent times. He said bank borrowing would be his last option for survival.
Lakshmipur banker Mohammad Ala Uddin said many of his customers are eating away their savings, while new deposits have been on a gradual decline.
Jamal Hossain, an office assistant in Meherpur fisheries office, said he had to take a bank loan to support the family and meet the educational expenses of his children.
Some 25 sheets of notebook white paper were at Tk15, which rose to Tk20 last month. For a family with three school-going children, the hike alone for notebooks is Tk200 per month.
Jamal said, "I tried everything to avert borrowing from the bank, but failed. If the living cost keeps surging, I will be in further trouble with the loan."
"We are struggling with commodity prices. Now I wish the month had 25 days instead of 30," commented a Dinajpur housewife whose husband is also a public employee.
Our Correspondents: M Jahidul Islam Jewel from Barishal, Bipul Sarkar Sunny from Dinajpur, Sana Ullah Sanu from Lakshmipur, MH Manik from Meherpur, Bulbul Habib from Rajshahi, Nazrul Islam Razu from Rangpur, Tayubur Rahman Sohel from Cumilla, MR Reyad from Noakhali, Khorshed Alam from Bogura and Debasish Debu from Sylhet contributed to this report