C. Danapalan, a 65-year-old cobbler, eats less than what he used to a few months ago. He works the same 10 hours and makes the same Rs.150-200 a day, but the rise in prices has meant that his family of five has to cut down on its food intake.

“If you need to buy rice of good quality, you have to shell out atleast Rs.30. And these days, we spend about Rs. 35 per kg. So, our family has to eat less to be able to afford the rice,” he says, pointing to the rise in prices of not just rice, but a whole lot of essential commodities.

The rate of inflation in the country reached 10.16 per cent in May, the highest in the previous 19 months. The likes of Mr. Danapalan are clearly among the worst-hit.

“Even if you have to buy tomatoes or any other vegetable, you can't afford more than quarter kg. People ask me why I don't get the Re.1 rice given in ration shops. If you cook it in the morning, it does not stay till the night. The quality is not good,” he says.

With Rs. 1,500 a month paid as rent, his income, which is supplemented by a few hundreds that his teenaged sons make from part-time jobs, seems even lesser to sustain the family, post-inflation.

Workers like him belonging to the unorganised sector have a rather difficult time trying to cope. Take the case of potters in Chennai, who make about Rs.100-200 per day. Even this income is said to be decreasing, thanks to the invasion of plastics.

“Even to make such a meagre amount, the entire family, including children, has to toil. There is no other way of ensuring three meals a day,” says Sema Narayanan, chairman of TN Pottery Workers' Welfare Board, pointing to the plight of those in the profession.

The inflation and the soaring prices have been unsparing in the last few months. The salaried class and even the higher-income groups have begun feeling the pinch. Srinivasa Rao, Cricket Coach at Santhome Higher Secondary School, says the monthly grocery bill clearly points to the spiralling prices of commodities.

“The price of vegetables has also been increasing. These days, it is quite a challenge to make your children eat vegetables. And if you have to choose one vegetable over another for its price, it limits choice and makes it difficult for us to ensure children eat a lot of vegetables,” he says.

Vaishali Sabari Rajan, a research professional, says: “When the fuel prices go up, your day-to-day expenses go up. Vegetables get expensive. Transport costs go up. An autorickshaw driver who was charging Rs.100 from Gopalpuram to Velachery suddenly jacks up his rate to Rs.150, citing the rise in prices. But your salary remains the same.”

Observing that during such times savings tend to take a beating, she says families try and do away with certain things or look for cheaper alternatives to cope and maintain savings. The increase in number of customers at the State Government-run cooperative societies is perhaps evidence to this.

According to the manager of a co-operative society outlet in South Chennai, the last six months have seen a significant rise in sales at his outlet. “I see more upper middle class customers now. They see value in saving every rupee, as commodities have become very expensive now.”

If the rate of tuvar dal in the retail market averages around Rs.80, it is available for Rs.66 in loose and for Rs.75 in case of branded products at cooperative society outlets. “It was Rs.60 here till last month. It has gone up,” says the store manager.”

“It is not just about rice and dal. Whether it is mustard seeds, methi seeds, oil or toiletries, the prices of all these products have gone up considerably in the last couple of months.”

Homemaker S. Chandra says her family has cut down massively on meat consumption.

“I have cut down the quantity of vegetables we buy, too. Earlier if I paid Rs.300, I would buy vegetables that would fill this entire basket,” she says, pointing to her medium-sized, red, plastic basket.

“For the same amount now, I can fill only half the basket.'' she adds.

(With inputs from Meera Srinivasan, K. Lakshmi and Deepa H Ramakrishnan)

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