It’s 3.30 pm and Suresh Solanki’s tiffin is still untouched. “Every morning I tell myself, ‘I will have lunch on time today’. But that never happens,” he says, with a smile.
Even with a staff of 19 attendants and delivery boys, there just isn’t time during the rush hours — 9 am to 4 pm and 8 pm to 11 pm — to squeeze in a meal between tending to the 700-odd customers who visit the Solanki pharmacy in Bandra every day.
“In this business, most people who come to you are worried about their own health or a loved one’s health,” says the 45-year-old. “It would be unfair to not give them good service or to make them wait while you ate.”
The past few days have been more hectic than usual. With the chemists’ union calling for a statewide strike from October 18, to protest against ‘harassment’ by the Food & Drug Administration, people have been streaming in in larger numbers than usual, desperate to stock up on essential drugs.
“Even after the strike was called off on Monday evening, people were still in a state of panic,” says Solanki.
As he talks, the pharmacy graduate flexes his legs to ease the aching.
“My back and legs ache all the time, from all the hours of standing,” he says, adding with a laugh, “Good thing I’m a chemist. I can just pop a painkiller and keep going.”
The son of a general store owner, Solanki opened his pharmacy in 1991. “I’ve always wanted to be a businessman,” he says.
Solanki starts his day at 7 am, with a half-hour workout at the mini-gym in the three-bedroom Bandra flat that he shares with his wife of 23 years, Sushma, and two children, aged 19 and 22.
At 8 am, he has a breakfast of poha, idli, bread-and-butter and juice, then walks 15 minutes to his Bandra store.
At 9 am, he gets behind the counter. He will remain there for most of the next 18 hours. “From having my lunch to talking to relatives over the phone and having tea, everything happens behind the counter,” he says.
The first hour after opening is spent on a short prayer session and supervising the cleaning of the store.
For the next six hours, Solanki supervises and dispenses medicines without a break, filling out prescriptions, taking orders on the phone and directing lost delivery boys.
At 4 pm, it’s time for Solanki’s 15-minute lunch recess. Next, he takes stock of the medicines in store and makes calls to place fresh orders. The following three hours are usually a relaxed time, allowing Solanki to take a breather with a glass of tea or a soft drink sipped behind the counter.
At 7 pm, the evening rush begins.
“We deal with all sorts of people in this business. Some are patient, others lose their cool if we take more than a few seconds to find their medicines,” says Solanki. “But my staff has strict instructions not to argue back. We don’t want to upset any of them.”
At 11 pm, Solanki downs his shutters and heads home for dinner and some TV before turning in at 1 am.
Deprived of family time through the week, Solanki makes up for it on Sundays, with family lunches and dinners, movies and visits to relatives.
Three times a year, the Solankis take short breaks of up to five days, travelling to hill stations around the city or to Hong Kong and Singapore for some rest, relaxation and shopping.
“I can’t take long vacations because the store needs supervision,” says Solanki. “But I am passionate about my business and do not mind the sacrifice.”
(This weekly feature explores the lives of those unseen Mumbaiites essential to your day)