A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A HAWKER-part 2

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

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A HAWKER

Part-I

Papeeeer…. Pazhayaaaa-Paper[1]”- cried Thangappan, in his patented sing-a-song manner. Whatever be the other sources of sound pollution-the cawing of crows and beggars, barking of dogs and auto-drivers, the hoarse cries of the vegetable vendors included, his primordial song contrived to catch the attention of all. Attribute it to his baritone, the only thing of substance he inherited from his father.

clip_image001[12]

It was now 11 am  and just about the right time when the ladies of the big bungalows of Sarojini Nagar will be relaxing after packing off their husbands and children to various establishments around the world. Thangappan, though illiterate was smart enough to know the timings of the mega-serials and tear-jerkers. Unlike the middle-class ladies of Ramakrishna Street whose TV timings were from 11:30am -1:30 pm, the upwardly mobile ladies of Sarojini Nagar in general  were addicted to only life-style and travel related programs on the English channels, starting from 1pm onwards. All this information was privy to Thangappan, courtesy his ears and his contacts with the fortunate servants of Sarojini-Nagar.

He slowed down his old ‘Hero-Champion’ bicycle as he neared ‘Santhi-Niketan’ , the house of the dentist, who practiced in the outhouse of his bungalow. Out came the lady of the house, Mrs. Latha Viswanathan who cried, “Hey, you ‘Paper’, stop!” Though this was the way, she always addressed Thangappan, yet the unlettered one never failed to wonder, whether his face resembled, of all things, a newspaper in any way. As could be expected from an active dentist’s house, a huge variety of newspapers, magazines and old-coffee table books soon piled. Though this was routine, even Thangappan could not suppress a toothy grin as he eyed the catch, which lay before him.

The lady commanded, “Quickly calculate the weight”. Thangappan took out the tools of his trade-a weighing balance and a 1 kg weight. The modus-operandi was simple and time-tested. First, the 1 kg weight was roughly balanced with a pile of newspapers at the other end, with the balance precariously tilted in favour of the former. Next, the 1 kg weight was placed on the pile of newspapers, already placed in the other pan, to make a 2 kg weight. The sly operation would be repeated at the end of it all, Thangappan pronounced” 10 kg newspaper, 4 kg magazine”. As a rule of thumb, the measured weight was two-thirds of the actual mass. Even before the transaction had taken place, the industrious fellow calculated that he has made a profit of 5 kg  and 2 kg of newspaper and magazines respectively. Combine this with the Rs 5.50 and Rs 4 paid per kilo, by the wholesale dealer for the two items, it was not a bad start.

clip_image001[14]The old hand, shivered with thrill and fright at having acquired 7 kg of “black-paper, a term the cinema buff in him had coined after being bowled over by the machinations and glamour of the on-screen villains, who seemed to derive their power and charisma from black-money and gold-biscuits. It is a different thing that Thangappan had little idea of the meaning of black-money and the poor fellow did not dare ask anyone, not even the all-knowing wholesale dealer Kumaran, for fear of his passion for villainy being discovered. However, Thangappan from a concocted  understanding of black-magic, religion and the best rational reasoning his brain could conjure up with, had somehow concluded that the term-BLACK was the X Factor and so prefixed ‘black’/’Karuupu’ to every term of monetary value. He fervently believed that  Karuupu[2] Sami (a demigod in rural TN) would reward him for his mad faith in the power of BLACK. By his standards, 7 kg of black-paper was a good booty and this combined with ‘SanthiNekatan’ being  an assured catch every fortnight, made Thangappan refer to  it as ‘SuperStar’ à la bluechip stock, again a result of his adulation for a particular cinestar. clip_image003[6]

To be fair to Thangappan, he was atleast impartial- the same con-job was dished out to everyone irrespective of caste and class considerations. But social justice was delivered in the next stage, the ladies of Sarojini  Nagar and other upper class localities were paid Rs 3.00 per kilo while the middle-class localities were given Rs 4 for the same. Here too, the statesman in Thangappan used only economic conditions as criteria. Not that he cared a damn about balancing economic inequality, it was just that the middle-class household ladies knew when they were being swindled as opposed to just being fooled. As he gave Mrs. Viswanathan the sum of Rs 47 in crumpled notes of five and ten, Thangappan shot a prayer, “ Karuupu Sami, gratitude for giving a boni[3] of Rs.50 to a man, who is making a living as honest as practical”.

Thangappan did not get any more opportunity to mint ‘black-paper’ in Sarojini Nagar. He had earned a fifth of his average income for a day. As he ambled along from his ‘BlueChip’ Nagar, he could not help feeling that Karuupu Sami had flattered his ‘boni’ to deceive him. It was almost noon and the next stop was ‘Kumaran Corporation’- a ramshackle of a scrap shop, whose proprietor Kumaran- a semiliterate rustic, was a compulsive day-dreamer , who referred to himself as Chairman and was generous enough to address those around him in grandiose terms too.

click for part 2 and part 3


[1] Paper….Old-paper

[2] Karuupu is the name of the colour Black in Tamil.

[3] Boni- first sale.

Hell hath no fury like a MONDAY Morning !

Originally written on January 23rd, 2008 as part of the ‘Monday Morning Blues’ contest in office…

Disclaimer: Suited for only discerning viewers with a sense of humour clip_image001

Every mortal irrespective of age, gender, vocation and position must have gone through this dreaded phenomenon seductively named, Monday Morning Blues, as if it were an exotic flower or a delectable flavour of an ice-cream. On googling ,a slew of results come up, which basically define MMB as “ a reluctance to wake up every Monday morning and drag yourself to work”.

Some among you don’t agree? No !  Don’t worry, your lead-PM/APM,  whoever it is will not deprive  you of  a better bucket if you accept the truth, though your carefully constructed image of a  go-getter and enthusiastic team-player ever ready to assume more responsibilities including being the chosen one to represent the entire team at the 6 am Monday  call, may take a beating. clip_image001

Ofcourse, I also don’t agree with the popular definition of MMB. Hey, don’t come to any hasty conclusions. Even during college or for that matter, school (sniff, sniff.. getting nostalgic),  I had an acute dislike for Monday. It is not just restricted to work.  To the bewilderment  of my parents, their perfectly healthy son who was jumping and hopping (naughty readers, I know what you are thinking !) during the weekends, sporadically  got tummy-aches on Monday morning, especially in those years which had  no PT class during  the day.  I conveniently put the  blame on Amma for having overfed me. The lady, though concerned was only too happy to shoulder it taking it as an affirmation of her ability as a good Mother. clip_image002

In my school, we were supposed to wear an all White uniform on Monday. I should confess, I liked this practice, the sight of the students standing prim and smart during the morning assembly presented a nice spectacle. But other than this, Mondays during schools have many bad memories for me. Have observed that, Mondays  share a disproportionately high share when it comes to  the reprimands dished out by my class teacher(all years) to poor meclip_image003. Maybe it is a case of MMB for her too, taking out her Blues on someone.

Also during one particular year(I think it was 8th std), Monday morning 1st period was biology where a  well-informed  lady  taught us, the mumbling students, the basics of creation of  life, right from amoeba, mitochandria to other complex thingsclip_image004. She had a bad habit of asking questions. Her appearance and demeanor would suggest she will be sympathetic to kids who would blabber some nonsense for an answer. She was anything but that ! I reiterate. I always had a feeling, she especially singled me out  for questioning. The lady should have had exceptionally good eyesight. Or else how do you explain her picking me  inspite of yours truly hiding behind the heads of classmates and  keenly peering  down   the science textbook, barely glancing at the lady. Her admonishments were known for their terseness. But it was as mighty effective as Kumble’s  “Only one team played in the right spirit”. Her disapproving looks  cut into my psyche like a warm knife through butter. My best friend and I promptly named her “The Silent Killer”. The name became a rage and I had some macabre satisfactionclip_image005.  I lived in mortal fear though.

XI and XII classes were a different league altogether and by this time, I had developed equanimity. All teachers, maths/physics……, alike, seemed to me like baying for my blood. The CompSki Sir was promptly named “Brute Force” for his frequent use of the same(word). The whole class took vile pleasure in calling the greatest terror of all, our respected Maths Madam-“Ultra-Vixen” giving a whole new morbid twist to her initials.

In school, the unit tests/assignments always started on a Monday and I don’t think, anyone but the nerd, who topped it looked forward to it. Admittedly, I was a good student. But I will be lying if I say, “Oh yeah, When will Monday come? Assignment starts Na”. After all this, will any soul blame me if I occasionally feigned sickness on Monday Morning, during school? Those of you, who don’t agree, I say,  ”You don’t have a  heart , Silent Killers”.

Mondays during college, though not exactly looked forwarded to, were definitely not as terrorizing and the period was uneventful, except for during 1st year which had the Mechanical workshop, at which I sucked.

Here at the workplace, I have noted that, most of my batch mates from Academy days heap all sorts of expletives on that day, unfortunately named Monday. The  stark contrast between the treatments meted out to Monday and other days, especially that lucky one named Friday is all the more evident as the week goes by, with the inbox being inundated with forwards celebrating that elusive lady Friday and deriding that  horrible villain-Monday . But of late, these forwards themselves are becoming more elusive. People are working too hard. clip_image006

Now, what is the solution to this modern urban phenomenon “Monday Morning Blues”? If you go by http://www.ehow.com/how_117079_beat-monday-morning.html , you will be mistaken into believe that MMB has a scientific cause to it and that it can be remedied by simply sleeping more on Monday. It is a whole lot of crap, I tell you.  People, honestly tell me. How many of you have a problem in hopping out of bed like a spring-chicken on a Monday, which happens to be a holiday and there is  a very interesting test-match/ any other activity which you passionately like? I don’t see much hands going up.  So the truth is finally revealed, most of us down here, are not exactly in love with our jobs. Only a lucky few are in a vocation they are passionate about and these folks won’t be experiencing MMB, I feel. As for the others, either get a job you loveclip_image007 or get to like the job you get.