MetroPlus writes on the Humans of Coimbatore who are part and parcel of our lives and yet often invisible to us like the roadside food vendors
M. Soundaryavalli (40) fries the piece of Neimeen I select from a tray. She takes out the crisp fish on a steel plate, along with a side of onions and a wedge of lemon and hands it to me. Soundaryavalli owns a road side fish stall at Power House junction and she has a variety of marinated fishes —catla, naimeen, kelanga, sardine, jalebi, nethali, karimeen—neatly arranged on trays to serve up to hungry customers.
Soundaryavalli moved to Coimbatore 16 years ago from Karaikudi where she was a farmer, she says. “Water was scarce and we were forced to look for other jobs. I came here with my husband. He worked as a room boy in a lodge for a while before we took a bank loan and set up this stall.” She wakes up early as she has to, “reach Ukkadam market at five in the morning to buy the best catch. Freshness is the key.” She buys 50-60 kg daily. “I buy fish depending on the amount I earn the previous day. I usually buy it for Rs 3000 – Rs 5000.” After cleaning and marinating the fish at home she opens her stall at 4 pm right up to mid night. She sells the fish at Rs 20- Rs 30 per piece depending on the fish. “I also sell boneless fish chilli ranging from Rs 40 to Rs 50. People also buy the marinated fish from her to fry back home. She says health inspectors conduct regular checks to ensure quality “I use sunflower oil and bottled water. I do not add food colour.” Even though she has to deal with drunks at times, she is happy about what she is doing. “I have no many dreams for myself. I will run this stall as long as I am capable to manage it and in the future I wish to help my son set up a business.”
Soundaryavalli is the sole bread winner in her family. “My husband is a heart patient and can’t work now. My daughter is married and my son completed his degree”.
Shiva S (40) was selling fruits before he started selling fruit juice near VOC Park. “I sold mosambi, sappota, jack-fruit, pine apple and oranges in a cart, which I pushed through the streets. I shifted to selling fruit juice 10 years ago following a friend of mine.” He now makes muskmelon and mosambi juice for Rs 20 a glass. “I don’t add water and the rates differ according to the market price of the fruits. There were times when I sold a glass for Rs 40”. He buys around 50 kg fruits from Ukkadam market every morning and works from 9 am to 7pm.
Shiva’s business is dependent on the climate. “Last week it rained and I had no customers and the fruits rotted. I lost the money I invested on fruits that day.” Though he has no complaints about his work, he does not want his children to take it up. “My life is on the streets. I don’t want that for my kids.” His biggest dream is to buy a house. “I have been working for so many years but I have not yet made enough money to fulfil my wish.”
Chippikul Muthu (50) came to Coimbatore 26 years ago from Mayiladuthurai looking for a job. “I worked in Mumbai in a hotel for a while, where I started experimenting with dosa varieties before coming here.” After coming to Coimbatore, he worked in a hotel for two months, but later quit it to start a roadside stall. “I started with garlic, masala and podi dosa. Over the years I included mushroom, paneer, butter, cauliflower, chicken and egg to my list. Recently I have come up with Baahubali dosa and Kabaali dosa.” Baahubali dosa is stuffed with mutton intestine and in the Kabaali dosa he adds a chicken leg along with grated vegetables and other masala. “I have my stall from 6.00 pm to 10.50 pm”. His dosas are all priced at Rs 20 except for Kabaali and Bahubali that cost Rs 50. He serves the dosa with chicken, fish, and crab gravy, along with the traditional chutney and sambar. He agrees that it is not easy to run his stall and that there is a lot of competition. “I start work at 7.30 in the morning, and it goes on till evening.” He has four people helping him in his stall. “I earn around Rs 3000 daily and am planning to start a hotel in the future.”
Selvam. M (40) is a tapioca chips seller stationed at Dr Radhakrisna Road. He came to Coimbatore 12 years ago from Dharmapuri. “I leant to make chips from my friend who had a stall here and after two months working with him, I put up my own stall. I buy tapioca from Ukkadam market.” Selvam opens his stall at 8 am and works till 9 pm. He sells his chips at Rs 200 for a kilo. “I am uneducated. This is the only thing I know to do. I am happy. I don’t expect anything from anyone.” He visits his family in Dharmapuri once a month. “I buy my children gifts when I go home. I am educating my kids, so that they don’t have to sell chips on the roadside.”
Santhi I (45) worked as a typist for five years before she joined her husband’s family business. She sells butter milk and kambu koozh with appalam, spicy mango slices, chilly and pineapple. She takes turns at her thallu vandi with her husband through the day. “I come only in the afternoon, after cooking and sending my children to school.” She makes the kambu maavu at night and butter milk early in the morning. “I sell buttermilk for Rs 10 a glass and kambu koozh at Rs 20. People can munch on the appalam, mango, pineapple and chilli in between sips of their drink”. She says that her business has seen better days. “Most of the sale happens in summer. Last week I did not even put up the stall as it was raining. Life is hard. I did not go to college. I understand the value of education. I am educating my children so that they can have a good life”