click here for Part 1

clip_image001The old warhorse-“Hero-Champion” creaked along and somehow reached the Corporation. Kumaran was heard bargaining with the scrap-iron dealer, “Hey Collector[1], you don’t know the market rates. The prices of iron have crashed owing to the Iraq war and share market is also down”. He paused and concluded authoritatively, “The chairman is always fair. Take it or leave it”.  The diminutive figure at the receiving end squeaked, “OK Kumaran..er…. chairman. How am I to know the repercussions of a war taking place in Eerak? It is all the result of ‘Shani Dasai’, conspiring to deprive an illiterate man of a margin of Rs 25”. Thangappan was even more in awe clip_image002of Kumaran. The fellow in addition to knowing everything had the wonderful knack of always getting his side of the bargain. Thangappan was all admiration for the man, who got his way even with the hardened, experienced ‘collectors’ like himself. . clip_image003

Kumaran turned around and addressed,” Thangappa, you are early today. Collection below par?”‘Yes Chairman, only boni so far.’-replied the devotee and continued, “Hope paper prices are not affected by the war.” Kumaran, a most unscrupulous shrewd dealer usually did not lie to the former, atleast until he could marry his pretty young daughter Selvi.

“No collector, paper prices are stable” came the reply to which was added nonchalantly, “Selvi’s +2 exams next month illa? After that, it is time for her marriage. Isn’t so Thangappa?”

Sighed Thangappan, “Amam Sir. A good boy has to be found. Hope the girl’s two brothers help with some money too. Selvi is smart, you know. The only member of my family to reach upto  +2.  She says that ‘Amman School’ will give her a job as a teacher, after she passes out.”

Kumaran chipped in, “Don’t be too fussy about the age difference between the couple. Up to 15 years[2] is reasonableclip_image004”. The wily 33 year old Kumaran decided that this should be enough for now and his basic instincts took over as he commanded, ‘Thangappa, quickly put in your collections on the balance. I have other work to do.’

After Thangappan pocketed in the Rs 50 offered by the Boss, he attended to his favorite activity of leafing through the film magazines, gazing dreamily at the photos of  heros, heroines (the plump Rubyclip_image005 was his most desired) and ofcourse the villains- his perennial idols. This was a legal and reasonable leisure, he afforded himself after a sweating it out in the sun. This was one of the reasons, why he gave the Corporation, the most favoured status (MFS). “Nobody has more colourful and raunchy film magazines than Kumarans’, he swore.

clip_image006After refreshing himself with  the customary tea and snacks at Nair’s , Thangappan started on his second round- Ramakrishna Street, Tamil Mozhi lane, Poornam Extension and other middle class localities. This was physically the most trying session; “Slogging around for 2.5 hours until 3 pm  in the hot sun is tough” , he would proudly  proclaim to his docile wife and rebellious sons. However the sheer expanse of the territory covered guaranteed him the necessary volumes of black-paper and so the 2nd session was the major contributor to his bottom-line.

Even the din and the noise of the title songs of the mega-serials could not subdue the reverberation of “Papeeeer…. Pazhayaaaa Paper”. Seethalaksmi Ammal, the diminutive wife of Subramanian  B.A.B.L was the first one to be hypnotized by the elixir of the song. “Thangappa, stop” cried the lady, as she hurriedly dragged the bundle of Tamil newspapers. After all, each commercial break during the afternoon soaps lasted only for 5 minutes compared to 10 minutes during the prime-time slot in night. “Amma, why no Kumudam, Vikatan[3]and others? “ queried the old fox. “No, my in-laws have come and are reading them”, replied Seethalaksmi Ammal with a mixture of pleasure and regret. One thing which spurred Thangappan during the afternoon session was the subtle human bonds, he shared with his customers. Unlike the high class localities, here, he was almost always addressed by his first name. Also on the odd occasion, some ladies were generous enough to offer him watered down lassi, though he would have asked only for water. Not surprisingly at such tender moments, the innate tenderness of his heart cursed the trader in him for duping the lady of ‘black-paper’. But Kali-Yuga had matured enough to mask the primordial kindness in all.

“6.5 kilo paper which comes to Rs 26” pronounced Thangappan after the familiar routine. This was his only prey in Ramakrishna Street. The poor fellow, who was a firm believer in omens and patterns lamented above, “Karuupa ! clip_image007 Is today such that, I get to do only 1 business in a street”. The believer  pondered over and exclaimed, “Aha ! Today I woke up and  first saw the face of my second son, the one born on Ammavasai[4] ”.

At Tamil-Mozhi lane, he drew a blank. The situation was better in Poornam Extension, where Radhika Madam, the fat wife of the Seth, offered quite a collection of newspapers and magazines-both Tamil and English. “The residents of Poornam Extension, though not the rich, were the highly educated lot who liked to be surrounded by the smells and opinions of the vernacular press”, Thangappan had reasoned over the years. The reasonable collection  of 5 kg of black-paper inched him closer to the halfway target. The hard-core believer did not expect another catch as he lethargically blared out his sonata. The ‘Hero-Champion’ had almost turned around the corner, when Thangappan suddenly remembered that Kanagamathi, the dweller in the house near the Puliamaram[5] had called for him on the Saturday that  went by. The  irony was that, the affairs 2 days ago were so favourable to old Thangappan that he had uncharacteristically postponed this deal after the ‘Hero-Champion’ groaned under the burden of success of black-paper. Also the ‘Collector’ was settled well-enough to take the day off on Sunday. Thangappan wondered from where the reminder had suddenly come and prayed that the naughty spirits of the Puliamaram were not his benefactors. “Everything happens for good” chuckled the old hand as he raced towards the panacea which will break the jinx. As the bicycle chugged along, the smile on his face turned to despair and finally to terror. He turned around cursing his second son”. 

click for part 3

[1] Collector is the slang for Indian Administrative Officer(IAS) in India.

[2] For people from the poorer strata of society, age difference of 10 plus years is common especially if the groom is rich

[3] Entertainment magazines in Tamil

[4] Ammavasi– New-moon day regarded as inauspicious in certain parts of India.

[5] Puliamaram– tamarind tree,  where according to superstition, spirits are alleged to live


One Response

  1. […] by A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A HAWKER-part 2 « Cogito Ergo Sum — October 28, 2008 @ 12:39 […]

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