A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A HAWKER-part 3

click for Part 1, Part 2

“No evil-spirit ever came near a devotee of Karuppu[1] Sami”, was one of this oft-repeated dialogues to his wife. The veracity of this statement can be debated for another day. Today, he had first spotted a male…. And hoped that it was anyone but a young man. As it always happens on a bad-day, hope instead of propelling a soul drowns it.

Before the impulsive ones implicate Thangappan as an incorrigible pervert given to dealings only with lonely ladies, the morality of the old-veteran should be stressed upon and he was anything ( a newspaper included) but a womanizer. The reason for his withdrawal from a window of opportunity to mint the much needed black-paper is a strange one.

clip_image001 A couple of months ago, as Thangappan was wheeling through ‘Sarojini Nagar’, he was stopped by Asha Varma ‘madam’. His eyes gleamed at the sight of a substantial catch before him. As was the case in these parts, the super woman immediately inside to attend to more pressing needs. Since there was no soul to even remotely witness his ‘crime’ (Thangappan another favorite term courtesy villains), the old fox had already decided to evade more ‘blak-paper’ from the lady. As soon as the mere formality of the weighing operation was completed, out came the young son of Asha Madam. There was a deep regret inside Thangappan about his failure to establish personal bonds with the influential ‘Sarojini Nagar’ residents.

He decided to remedy the longing and enquired, “are you studying, son?”

‘Yes’ came the curt reply.

‘In Plus 2, I guess’, continued Selvi’s father.

Pat came the hurt response, “No..No… 3rd year in St.Stephens Engineering college.”

Here was the much needed link to establish a firm-bond, thought our man and with his toothy grin blurted out, “I go those parts once a month. There is always a substantial collection of used beer bottles, in your Men’s hostel.”

However contrary to Thangappan’s expectations, no immediate reply came forth and the boy barely muttered, “ oh, I see “ and thundered ‘HOW MUCH WEIGHT?’.

The veteran giggled and said, “30 kg beer-bottles, quite a collection, you know”.

The teetotaler boy who had not relished even the earlier association was now fuming with anger as he ordered, ‘hey Paper, I asked the weight of the collections from my home’

“8 kg newspaper and 3 kg magazines” replied a baffled Thangappan.

“What! clip_image002 Only 8 kg newspaper… hey Paper, just 3 months ago a similar collection had fetched me 25 kg at Kumarans’. Let me see you weigh again”.

“Master, I have been around for 20 years. You can ask your mother about my fairness” blabbered a terrified Thangappan.

“What have you then to fear? Just demonstrate” came the matter of the matter of fact reply .

At the first step, the boy tolerated the precarious balancing in favour of the 1 kg weight. But the moment, Thangappan pulled out the next step in the trick of his trade, the boy protested, “Hey’Paper’, this will not do. Either take a 2 kg or a 5 kg weight and weigh enmasse”.

‘I have only 1 kg weight” came the feeble reply.

The situation took a turn for the worse as the boy abruptly concluded, “you can go. I will myself sell the papers at Kumarans” and went inside dragging along the potential bumper catch of ‘black-paper’.

Barely had the wounds of his first ‘business failure’ healed when a second one followed soon after. About 4 days after the ‘Varma Boy’ incident, as Thangappan was ambling along in Tamil-Mozhi street, his services were called for by Chintaamani Ammal. Since his business had been below par that day, Thangappan was pleasantly surprised at being stopped by Chintaamani; a very rare customer. More exhilaration greeted him, when bundle after bundle of newspapers and magazines were stacked one over the other. The magazines were stacked one over the other.

The experienced eye could discern at first glance, a super bumper of 30-35 kg weight. The malefactor was giddy with delight having serendipitously nailed almost 11 kg of ‘black-paper’ when out rung a voice from inside- “Amma, today I will definitely go to Kumarans’ and sell the papers.

Chintaamani shot back, ‘Enough of hearing the same nonsense for over 2 weeks. Seeing newspapers everywhere is getting to my senses and also earning me a bad name from visitors. The ‘paper-man’ will save you the trouble and auto-expense.’

Out came the defeated boy with a purpose and demanded of Thangappan, “What is the rate per kg?”

‘Rs 4 for newspapers and Rs.3 a kg for books’ came the quick reply.

‘No. this will not do. I normally get Rs.5 for newspapers and 3.5 for books at Shanmugam Scrap & Co.” countered the experienced young man.

“Ok Master, I am prepared to give 4.5 for the newspapers”

The boy was not impressed.

Like a salesman, Thangappan raised the stakes, ‘Rs.5 for paper and 3.5 for books. Final’.

The unexpected and unaccustomed catch had lowered the guard of the veteran, who had decided that the margin of the substantial ‘black-paper’ will offset the losses from the higher cost price. The alarmed boy seized the moment, ‘Hey ‘Paper-man’, your pricing is amusing; fluctuating like the stock-market. You are raising the rate without me even bargaining for it. There is something fishy’.

The boy quickly leafed through the various bundles as if hoping to find some long-lost diamond necklace. The distraught Thangappan was dealt a killer blow when the boy pronounced, “You may go. I will myself sell the bundles at Shanmugams’.”

clip_image003As the despondent Thangappan got onto his bicycle, the final nail was driven when he overheard the boy pacifying Mama dearest, “Amma, crookedness was writ large on his face. Don’t you ever call that fellow, could be a member of those gangs inspecting houses for theft. Shanmugams’ will give us a better price.”

Ever the believer of omens and patterns, Thangappan decided that the whole tribe of male in the age group: 14-22 were fatal to his career and that he was better off dealing with the female of the species. A new theory was also formulated by our man, “the behavior of women change according to their economic conditions. But male teenagers are the same everywhere.”

Reverting back to the present, Thangappan wisely decided to follow the adage: “Prudence will be better served than aggressive soliciting.” The old-fox comforted himself, “Kanagamathi can be trapped when alone.” His resolve was steeled as he dwelt upon the truth, “ a bad-time will followed by a good time.” The ups and downs of his business over a long career, had developed within his mortal frame, a certain indifference which struggling spiritual aspirants would envy. It is another thing that he draped the cloak of indifference, only if pushed beyond a certain limit and was yet to develop the equanimity throughout.

The business pattern continued in Rama-Rao Street and Bhajana Kovil Lane and others. But as mentioned before, the anxiety of expectations was now subdued and he calmly continued his trade song- “Papeeeer…. Pazhayaaaa-Paper ”. The jinx was finally broken at his last stop-Justice Sundaram Iyer Street where he got to do 3 transactions. However, Thangappan reacted to this ironical change of fortunes only with a chuckle, in tune with the calmness prevalent inside. It was around 3:30 am as he reached the Corporation. As Kumaran was weighing the day’s collections, the serene Thangappan was smoking the leafy beedi reflecting upon the impermeance of luck, misfortune, business, life and beyond. The contemplative yogi was awakened out of this stupor, by Kumaran, “Enna Collector, dull business? You are not even glancing at the magazines.” The ‘fountain of peace’ replied, as he accepted the Rs.145, “This too will pass.”

A puzzled and worried Kumaran enquired as the latter kicked aside, the stand of the bicycle, “Thangappa, what next?”

“Kamadhenu Talkies. A film starring Rajini and M.N.Nambiar[2] has come” replied the enigma as he peddled his way towards his ultimate call of unalloyed bliss.


[1] A demi-god in rural TamilNadu, India.

[2] M.N.Nambiar- Top villain in old Tamil movies

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2 Responses

  1. […] for part 2 and part 3 Technorati Tags: paper […]

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