Unusual Occupations

Friday, December 12, 2014

FDFS ( first day first show)

FDFS  ( First Day First Show)

I know I am recycling this post , some of the contents in this post  appeared some time ago.
Consider this the revised edition.

Because  today is  12/12 .

For most Madrasis it is an auspicious day ... as auspicious as Deepavali or Pongal
Actually more auspicious than Deeavali or Pongal.

Click on the video to experience the festivities at the Albert theatre in Chennai.

For a detailed account click here and  read on.

They say it is not like what it used to be in the good old days .

This is how it was in Madras of the good old days.

Summer vacations were never complete without watching the latest Rajinikanth release in Kapali or Kamadhenu theatre.  

Paatti  (Grandmother) would wait for us grandchildren to arrive  so that she could take us for the Rajanikanth movie that had just been released.

In other times of the year , Paatti  would settle for nothing less than the first day first show ( FDFS) of a Sivaji or a MGR movie.  The Black ticket vendor at the Kapali theatre shared a platonic relationship with Paatti for many years.  She was his regular customer.  When it came to Paatti  getting her grandchildren coming from the ‘north’, the black ticket vendor would leave no stones unturned . It had to be the best of balcony seats for Paatti and her progeny.

The Black ticket guy at Kapali theatre ( I do not remember his name) was infact the nephew of Kamala, the domestic help at the Mylapore house.  In the days when neither mobile phones not telephones existed, she was the go between for Paatti''s  visits to theatres. Kamala and her extended family lived in the mud huts with thatched roofs in what would today be called a slum behind the 'Mundakakanni amman temple' in those days.  In today's Chennai, 'Mundakakanni amman temple'  is a monorail station where one alights for Mylapore and Luz. No one knows what happened to Kamala and the residents of those slums.

It is not that Black tickets for movie shows were sold outside the theatre when the demand and supply was skewed. That is what happens in a free market economy.

Not in Madras where movie going was entwined in its tradition. Black ticket guys around movie theatres in Madras hoarded a few tickets and sold them at very minimal profits only to ensure that their regular patrons get their rightful share of tickets when they visit the theatre. Especially those who are devoted to preserve the FDFS culture. It was more of a service than a business that these guys rendered.  

Clad in a nine yards sari, Paatti was your typical orthodox Brahmin mami, who would not eat ( nor let her grandchildren eat) food cooked from unknown sources.  Our trips to Kapali theatre were therefore something  of a picnic, what with Dosa smeared with milagai podi  and gingely oil, packed in steel  boxes  and a steel Gooja filled with water accompanying us inside the theatre . The intermission time was Tiffin time.
We were oblivious to popcorn and samosa until we came of age and went for movies without needing to be accompanied by an adult.

I must say I have a remarkable sense of family history.

My cousin Shankar was born the year Rajanikanth’s Tillu Mullu  was released. 
Cousin Ravi was born the year Rajanikanth’s  ‘Johny’ was released .

My parents got married around the time Sivaji Ganesan’s   ‘Vasantha Maalaigai ‘ was released.

One afternoon Paatti returned from Kapali theatre after watching the matinee show of ‘ Raman thediya seethai’ and she got the telegram announcing my birth. The birth of her first grandchild. Incidentally 'Raman Thediya Seethai'  was a super hit movie from Jayanthi Productions that year.

You get the drift... don’t you !!!

In Madras movies are not synonymous with  entertainment.   It is a religion and is an inevitable part of your life.  In our case, it is a part of our family folklore.

First day first show (FDFS) of Rajinikanth movies are what legends are made of .  Giant cut-outs of the Thalaivar is bathed in milk before the FDFS. Fireworks galore the movie theatres and the police department works overtime to ensure the smooth release of Thalaivar's latest films.

Wanting to experience the fanatic frenzy that goes with the FDFS, I pleaded with a die hard Rajini fan who happens to be a good  friend, to take me for an FDFS.  He avoided me and my request.  Here is a guy who spends a good part of his salary to buy an FDFS movie ticket at Albert talkies in Chennai every time a Rajini movie gets released.  He has apparently never missed one since he was a young boy.

When I asked him why I could'nt go  with him to Albert Talkies for an FDFS he scoffed at my request as though I was asking to Trek Mount Everest with Tensing and Hilary.

He explained that in the frenzy that surrounds the release of  a 'Thalaivar' movie, a non-believer would get blatantly exposed. He did not want to risk that ordeal with a non-believer like me on the tow.    

Like they say the Madrasi's fanaticism for movies and the fanatic frenzy around FDFS cannot be described, it can only be experienced.  

Saturday, November 29, 2014

UNUSUAL OCCUPATIONS – Seller of small things

UNUSUAL OCCUPATIONS – Seller of small things

It is a Thursday morning. 
Rush hour traffic and the bus stop is about 200 meters away on the main road shielded by the houses and apartments in the leafy residential neighbourhood. 
The neighbourhood is buzzing with harried mothers leaving their little ones at the day care, the school buses picking up the older ones for school, the software programmers leaving for their day job to catch the  public transport for their commute, the girl at the till in the supermarket rushing to work, the construction workers working in the nearby construction site arriving on a tractor, the security guard at the mall getting back from work after the night shift.

At this intersection of the tree lined  residential neighbourhood where the maddening traffic is still about 200 meters away on the main road  Selvam parks his cart on Thursday mornings . The wares displayed on his cart are a colourful  array of small things.

Bathroom Mirrors, hair clips, toy mobile phones, shaving razor, plastic mugs, nail polish  remover,  nail paints of different shades,  comb, rubber bands, utensil scrubbers,  bangles, toothbrush stand, to name a few are all arranged in his waterproof push cart.

Two women, one immaculately dressed in her security guard uniform and the other, probably her roommate dressed in the uniform that advertises her retail supermarket brand hurriedly step out of their Paying guest accomodation building nearby and walk towards the main road from where they would catch the public transport to get to their place of work.

They are in a hurry, but not so rushed that they would  not stop by Selvam’s cart. The lady Security guard looks up the cart and buys a black plastic hair clip for ten rupees.    Her room mate is not satisfied with the shades of nail paints displayed and asks Selvam if he could procure a particular shade. He promises to stock it up next week for her.

Next week around the same time Selvam would park  his cart at the same place, where his loyal customers would stop by hoping the arrival of their favourite nail paint shade or a foldable bathroom mirror that would exactly fit on the shelf of the bathroom at the men’s paying guest accommodation shared by anywhere between 
5-10 men who work different shifts.

On other days of the week, you would find Selvam at other intersections  at the nearby residential layout  where there is a good footfall of people whom the economists would classify as ‘upwardly mobile’ lower middle class consumers.

 Selvam’s customers  are worker bees that run the Retail outlets, beauty parlours, call centers,  construction sites or sometimes an occasional housewife who is dropping her kid off to the school . 

These are people who are not brand conscious. In their products they look for value for money and utilitarian value.   Selvam procures his wares from the wholesale market at Kumaranpet.  
 He along with his other cousins who run the ‘line’ in nearby areas procure from the ‘Marwari Sheth’ at the wholesale market.

There is always a profusion of new products which they are advised to try out. They need to exercise discretion and buy only products depending upon the taste and demographics of their clientele.

Some products are seasonal. Mehendi cones before the festival of Karwachauth and Diwali, Bangles and earrings around the festival of Navaratri and Rakhis around the time of Rakshabandhan sell like hot cakes. 

Oh well ... not exactly like hot cakes.  These are commodities that are not perishable. But like hot cakes, their  utility  value diminishes right after the day of the festival. 

If you are accurate with your inventory and have an instinctive evaluation of your demand and supply, you could then rake up immense profits in a day or two.  But if you are not, then you could be left with unsold inventory and suffer huge losses.  All you can do, is store up the goods  and hope to sell them cheap next year around during the festival season.  All their wares are bought wholesale for cash and there is no concept of credit in their line of business .

This is where experience and business acumen comes in handy, says Selvam. He says there are many who try their hand in this trade but give up within a few months.  This is a trade that needs a long term  view and lot of patience combined with the knack of understanding customer demand, pricing point and preferences.
Selvam has been in this business for about 15 years now. When he started off, he apperenticed under his uncle who had migrated to the city almost a generation ago from their village near Manapparai, in the neighbouring state of Tamilnadu, about 400 miles away.  He would run the line along with this uncle for many years. As his uncle grew old and weary, he took upon himself to run the ‘line’ in this area. Selvam was not the only one to have apprenticed  under his uncle.  All his cousins who grew up in Manapparai came to the city as strapping young teenagers and ran errands  or were trained under the wing of the uncle and other relatives who hailed from the same area. 

 As the population expanded, development came about, nearby hallis ( villages) got swamped into the frenzy of the city there was enough and more business for many of the smart ones to run their own ‘lines’.    

The old man who works as the caretaker at the construction site nearby walks upto Selvam’s cart to look up a shaving razor.  Selvam open a box of plastic shaving razors stocked up in varying colours. 
The old man picks up the orange one, examines it  and  then puts it back into the tray. Presumably he does not like the colour.  He is now toying between having to choose the Fluroscent Green on his left hand and navy blue on his right hand. 
Selvam’s mobile phone rings and he picks up the call while attending to the fickle minded old man who is struggling to make up his mind between the fluroscent green and navy blue.
It is his mother on the phone and she is frantic.  Yet another cattle was mowed down by a long vehicle on the highway last night.  She is howling about how it was getting difficult for her to manage the livestock farm and how her  husband’s brother’s family in the neighbouring farm hardly seem to lend a helping hand these days.  She is complaining about how it is so demeaning for her to go out and ask for help and how they are all subtly sizing her up at every possible occassion .
Selvam takes the high ground here and is telling his mother to stop crying and to stop taking everything to heart. He tells her that the times have changed and they ( her brother in law's family ) have come into new money  and this is what she should expect of them.  He begs her to stop picking up fights with them. He tells her that she is not going to win her battles with them, no matter what.   

The old woman  is inconsolable.          

The old man is indecisive.

The old man asks him the price of the Shaving razor. 

 ‘Bees Rupaiya ’ twenty rupees,  he replies to the old man in Hindi who probably hails from the north of India, while still talking to his mother on the mobile phone.

Seri vidungamma’ Ok, just leave it mom,  he advices his frantic old mother in Tamil who is on the line over his mobile phone.  She cannot stop talking and goes on a rant about the dwindling livestock in their farm and the heartless neo-rich relatives that she has to put up with everyday.

The old man has decided on the Fluroscent green razor, and tries to bargain asking for a reduction in price. 
Selvam is losing his patience, probably with his mother or may be with the old man. He takes the fluroscent green razor back from the old man and keeps it back into the tray. He has firmly, but non-verbally indicated that there was no bargain with the price while continuing to listen to his mother on the mobile phone.  

The fickle old man hovers around the cart.
The frantic old woman is ranting over the phone. 

Selvam  tries to wrap up his conversation with his mother , who seems to be in a state of perpetual distress and is hanging on to the conversation with her son, hoping for him to lend a sympathetic ear to her woes. Selvam is trying to be patient, but it is peak business time for him. He tells his mother he would come down in a couple of weeks and set things right. But for now, he got to go.
Selvam’s extended family owned land and livestock in the outskirts of the town in Manapparai

Manapparai, a small town along the now constructed National highway 45 ( NH45) in the State of Tamilnadu in India is famous for ‘murukku’ a fried knickknack and for its indigeneous breed of oxen and cows. The breed is on the verge of extinction and all efforts are being made by the government and the people to preserve the cattle which are native to the area. 

Through the 1960’s and 1970’s, during the hey days of green revolution in the Socialist India,  the high milk yielding Jersey cows  were imported from the west.  Farmers took to breeding these foreign cows, then heavily subsidised by the government while it  pushed the breed of indigeneous cattle to neglect and extinction. The Manapparai oxen is known for its sturdiness in ploughing the farm. The advent of tractors and the marginalization of small farmers, further put the draft cattle into disuse over the last couple of decades. 

The NH45 cuts through the outskirts of Manapparai linking the six lane highway between Chennai  the capital city of Tamilnadu all the way through to Kanyakumari, the southernmost tip of India.  The world class Road infrastructure has now enabled massive investments by industrial houses  along the NH45 in small towns where labour is available in plenty.  Large vehicles transport raw materials and finished products from and to these industrial houses along the NH45.
While the highways that have been built in the last decade are world class, the safety standards are not.  The highways are not exactly barricaded along the fringes and across the villages.  It is not uncommon for cattle – cows, buffaloes, ox, goat , sheep , chicken, dogs and also human beings attempting to cross the NH45,  that not very long ago was their very own grazing ground.
Every other day it was not an uncommon sight to find a cattle or sometimes even a Human being  hit by a vehicle along the NH45 particularly in the  early hours of the morning when the sleep deprived drivers were driving at break neck speed on the highway and the cattle who were up before dawn went straying around.
When the government proposed to acquire their land to build the highway, Selvam’s extended family was caught in family fueds between brothers  who had inherited the land from their ancestors.  The part of land that was partitioned to Selvam’s father’s  brother was acquired by the government for the construction of the highway.  The brother’s family  came into money, while Selvam’s parents were pushed to the fringes of the highway where they had to be contended with their cattle farm.  They owned a  sizeable number and variety of  cattle which took care of  their livelihood.

The new found money of the neo-rich relatives, the continuous death of the livestock from her cattlefarm,  lack of young people to tend to the farm and a general decline in her quality of life is what pushed Selvam’s mother to the frenzy that she was now caught up in.
 The frantic calls from the mother to the son  who was busy selling small things  in the distant city was getting very frequent in the last few months.

As his mother hangs up, Selvam gets back to work.  He is busy selling to a steady stream of customers who stop by to buy things. The cost of most items  in his cart are about half or one third the cost in the neighbourhood corner shop.  Most of these items labelled with some form of brand is sold in the nearby supermarkets for about 10  times  the cost.  Selvam says that his repeat customers come to him because they know that while his wares do not have a brand label, it much the same content in the branded items.  They  do not want to pay a very heavy price in the shops and supermarkets.    The same wholesale merchant from whom he procures also sells the stuff to branded labels .

When Selvam makes about a couple of thousand rupees in turnover, he goes back to the wholesale market to replenish the stock. For, in his line of business it is important to stock up all the fast moving items like toy mobile phones and shades of nail polish inorder to keep the loyalty of his repeat customers intact.      

Selvam is religious and philosophical in his outlook.  He is undertaking a 40 day penance to go on a pilgrimage to Sabarimalai and would not be selling his wares for a couple of weeks in the month of January. 

 He is extremely content with the way his business is doing  and thanks God for the abundance that he has been blessed with.

 He is now saving up for the annual pilgrimage to Sabarimalai in January. On the way back he hopes to make a trip to Manapparai and meet his frantic mother and spend some time with her.
In mentioning that he also says that the  NH45 would drastically cut the travel time and he could reach Manapparai in just under four hours from Chennai after the pilgrimage to Sabarimalai.  

When in Manapparai,  he along with his (neo-rich) cousin plan to ride on a motorbike aboard the NH45  that could now take them to the town of Madurai in just under 15 minutes.          

That is the brighter side of the development story that his mother would never acknowledge or understand. 


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Put yourself in our shoes ...

Today, October 16, is Blog Action Day. Founded in 2007, Blog Action Day brings together bloggers from different countries, interests and languages to blog about one important global topic on the same day. Past topics have included Water, Climate Change, Poverty, Food, Power of We and Human Rights, with over 25,000 blogs taking part since 2007.

This year’s topic is : INEQUALITY. 
As the yellow bus drove away carrying school children of the same age crisply ironed school  uniforms and neatly polished school shoes, these set of children slowly walked their way across to reach their school on time.

INEQUALITY exists. However education is the  hope  that will bridge the wide gap to achieve social equality.   

I am participating in 31days of five minute free write

This post is also part of Write tribe pro blogger October Series 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

It happens only in India

It happens only in India

Some things just bring a smile on your face ...

The local  kannada slang  - swalpa Adjust maadi' ( why do'nt to adjust a little)
is a strict no-no for these strictly vegetarian house owners.

This post is a part of 31 days of five minute Free write
This post is also a part of Write tribe - pro blogger October series  

Monday, October 13, 2014



What a prompt to start the work week with. 

Monday morning blues ...

No I am not going into what a drudgery it is getting to be. 
( Ah .. I know there are colleagues who follow my blog and I know I have a responsibility to keep a cheerful disposition at work)

So here I go with a resolution for this work week.  
At work , this week I will ensure that I do  
  • A ittle bit of what is urgent but not important,
  • A little bit of what is important but not urgent
  • A little bit for me to enjoy      
  • A little bit for others to Enjoy
And make my workplace  better place for me and everyone to be in.

This post is part of the 31 days of Five minute Free  write  
This post is also my submission for the Write Tribe Pro blogger - October series

Sunday, October 12, 2014



A brisk swim at the swimming pool
A warm bath after a good oil massage,

A sumptuous meal of rice, sambar and curry 
The fragrance of jasmine flowers wafting by...
The comfort of my bed with books strewn all around...
Drooping down with the book hung over the table lamp 
Waking up to a fragrant mint and ginger tea...
Slowly sipping the Tea, watching the afternoon drizzle
A restful afternoon Nap is what Sundays are meant for... 
The rest and its after effects is what gives the strength to take on the week ahead 

 This post is submitted as part of the Five minute Free wrtie where the for Topic for Sunday is Rest 
This is my submission for the Write Tribe Pro blogger - October series 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The world is more Indian than you think

The world is more Indian than you think

It was a farmer’s market at Hounslow, a suburb in London. The sale was drawing  to a close at 5.00 pm and the British farmer was eager to sell off his stock before the close of the day. 

An Indian, a software programmer, possibly  fresh off the boat,  camping in UK for a short assignment , comes asking for ‘Lady’s finger’ .

Lady’s finger, a British import was not native to India before the British arrived.  Even today it is part of the ‘English vegetables’ like tomatoes, potatoes and carrots.  In India they are not cooked  in a home on a day when it is paying its annual respects to its dead ancestors called Shrardh.

Those of us born well after the Indian Independence and who were educated in convent educational institutions set up during the British Era grew up learning Lady’s finger and not its American equivalent Okra, we knew Brinjal and not the American Aubergine or eggplant.

The Indian software programmer asks this twenty something British farmer, how much he was selling the basket of Lady’s Finger for. 

What ... Lady’s Finger ? asks the British farmer, a little perplexed.

The Indian software programmer tries the American variant and asks how much he was selling the basket of ‘Okra’ for.  

Since he figures that the British farmer did not quite get it, he points out the basket and asks the perplexed British farmer.

Oh ... Bhindi ... that one is two baskets for three pounds, I can make it three for three  mate.... the British farmer attempts to strike a quick bargain.  

The Indian software programmer smiles.

Sure ... the world is more Indian than we think.

Based on a true incident at the Hounslow farmer's market.
This post is submitted as part of Lufthansa's More Indian than you think.

Please watch the latest commercial from LUFTHANSA on More Indian than you think.



Waking up to the Sunshine in its myraids colours just at the onset of dawn on a grey overcast day.

This post is submitted for the Thursday photo challenge where the theme is shine

This post is submitted for Five minute free write 
This post is also a part of Write Tribe Problogger 

Friday, October 10, 2014



It is only a tiny seed that randomly sprouted in the pot.
But it is precious.  
It’s ancestor came home in November as a part of the baggage of seeds and saplings picked up at the government guest house in Belur.

While many saplings never survived, these magenta and orange balsam seeds  sprouted and spread colour and joy in our little balcony garden.  

Of the many saplings that flowered none really yielded seeds. It looked like the living memories from Belur would become extinct. 

That is when one plant started flowering and looked like yielding seeds. It was a recipient of lot of care and affection that we nourished it, gathered its seeds and propogated the next generation of Balsam saplings.

Here is one of them.  I care for it, watch it grow every morning and evening.
When you care for another living being, its gives it back multifold. 
This is when words do not matter.  Because that is a feeling that is beyond  vocabulary.        


This post is submitted for Five minute free write 
This post is also a part of Write Tribe Problogger 

Thursday, October 09, 2014



Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is a nation wide initiative in India to make India, particularly Indian cities a cleaner place to live in, within the next five years. 

We need local communities to join and take constructive steps to tackle the situation of cleanliness of the public spaces in the neighbourhood. The basic civic sense of seggregating garbage at source so that it can be disposed responsibly is a discipline that needs to be drilled in our psyche to tackle this problem.

If you live in India please join hands in enrolling with your local community to form citizen circles in your neighbourhood to tackle this problem and to do your bit in keeping your neighbourhood clean.

Here is an invite that can garner your local community to participate in this initiative. 

Ministry Of Urban Development (Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan)
Ministry Of Urban Development (Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan) shared a new resource in "Swachh Bharat".
Subject: Tagging or Inviting 9 Contacts.
Dear Friends, 

In line with the Prime Minister's model of inviting 9 people to commit to cleanliness, we request each one of you to invite 9 of your contacts (preferably from your neighborhood or city) to this circle. 

You can invite your contacts by sharing the attached or by simply sending the invite link below via whatsapp, sms, email or social networks. 


As we roll out local Swachh Bharat circles, you and these contacts will automatically be placed in that circle. 

Thanks again for your commitment to the cause of Swachh Bharat! 

Wednesday, October 08, 2014


SAY ...

If you are happy and feeling good ... Say
Say ... I am Happy.
If you feel love for your near and dear ... say .
Say ... I Love you.
If you feel Gratitude for all the good things that have come to you... Say
Say ... Thank you.
If you feel used and exploited ... Say
Say...Stop it.
If you are feeling sick and Tired ... Say
Say ...Give me  a break
If you are feeling miserable and guilty ... Say 
Say ... I am sorry

Say it .. today and now

For you will never know when it might be too late.   

Tuesday, October 07, 2014


Go ... visit a new place every year
Go... befriend someone whom you have’nt met before
Go... Drive  a different route this weekend
Go... pick up a book at random
Go... bring a smile in someone’s life today
Go... do something.
Go..Get a life


Five Minute Free Writes button

Monday, October 06, 2014



She just knew.
There was no vocabulary to describe it.
There was no precedence in recorded history known.
She knew it because her instinct told her so.
She knew it because she felt it and perceived it.
And yet could not describe it in words, because there was no vocabulary that could describe it.
Knowing is not always tangible.
Even if it cannot be put in words, described with an example, backed with evidence or tagged as a pattern, it is still a fact.
A fact that is not yet widely known, discovered or acknowledged by the world.

Five Minute Free Writes button

Sunday, October 05, 2014



Deluge of emails, meaningless meetings and zombied existence.
I am not complaining.  It pays my bills and takes care of my mortgage.
But every once in a while I cannot help when that inner spirit rears its head and asks me ....
Being stuck in a rut  ... is it worth wasting a lifetime just so you pay your mortgage !!!         

Today's prompt is STUCK . 

Friday, October 03, 2014

UNUSUAL OCCUPATIONS - The flower seller

UNUSUAL OCCUPATIONS - The Flower seller 

As a 5 year old girl, Nethra would come back from school and spend the evening helping her mother at the makeshift shack where her mother sold flower garlands to the devotees who thronged the adjacent Shanishwara temple. On Saturdays,  the auspicious day for Lord Shanishwara the footfall of devotees would be particularly high and Nethra would help doing small errands for her mother helping with the customers at the flower stall.  
The footfall at the temple was dwindling because of frenzy of roadworks that cut off the approach to the temple for all the regular devotees who would come on foot or alight at the nearby bus stand.  It was a shack that her mother had set up to do business for as long as Nethra could remember.  
Construction work for the flyover bridge that would cut across the railway track and build an approach road to the other side of town was in full swing.  In anticipation of the flyover bridge the builders had already grabbed lands that were erstwhile factory godowns to build multi-storeyed apartment buildings and office complexes on the other side of the railway track. 

Selling garlands made of fresh flowers, was the business that helped them meet the ends.  As Nethra grew up and attained puberty, there was increasing pressure on her mother from the neighbourhood, not to let the young attractive girl attend to the customers. 
It was a pressure that her mother reluctantly gave into. 
Money was scarce and the business at the shack where she sold flowers near the temple was not doing well except for a few devotees who still braved their way through all the construction works and came to the temple. It was at this point in time that Nethra took to being a domestic help washing dishes and clothes at the nearby houses. Her education had stopped after secondary school.
Years of hard work took a toll on her mother in the form of ill health. When Nethra was in her late teens her mother died leaving behind a shattered daughter whose future would hang at the mercy of relatives and neighbours. 
It was in these trying times Nethra met the young Manjunatha and fell in love with him. 
Just at the time when her relatives from the extended family and the neighbourhood moral police started getting a whiff of romance sprouting about, the couple decided to run away and set up home and livelihood far away from the prying eyes of the relatives and neighbours.
The bridge over the flyover had now been inaugurated and the lush green landscape  that was home to factory godowns, quaint farmhouses and huge tracts of rose farms that fuelled the floriculture business opened up to embrace the  development of the city.  It was to Thubarahalli, 10 kms away, on the other side of the railway tracks across the flyover bridge that they ran away to set up home after getting married at the temple where her mother sold flower garlands long time ago.
Manjunatha did odd jobs to earn a living and they set up home. Their daughter was born the next year. With the high tide of prosperity that swept due to the development all around them, he  managed to lease an autorickshaw, drove around and was earning decent money.  Their son was born four years later and by now Manjunatha’s income from the autorickshaw was falling short for the family of four.

Nethra, who had always been economically independent even since her mother died, found it hard to nag her husband for money to meet household expenses especially when she knew that he was doing all he could to make the ends meet.
The Venkateshwara  temple at Thubarahalli had been built and inaugurated two years ago. Manjunatha was the loyal and trustworthy auto driver who would ferry the grandchildren of the temple’s trustee to school everyday. The temple trustee had owned the vast stretches of agricultural land in the area. He sold a good portion of his agricultural land when the government sanctioned permission for construction of a planned residential layout. As he made good money selling his land, he donated a portion of the land for building the temple in exchange of being designated as the managing trustee for the temple.

Nethra sensed the business opportunity. She sent in a word through Manjunatha and asked if she could set up a mobile cart that would sell flower garlands near the temple. While the temple trustee agreed and gave his blessings for the business, opposition came in the form of two other carts who had already set up business.
A third entrant into the same business would eat up their market share. There was no organized set-up to regulate the hawkers and hangers-on who could set do business around the temple that was now a popular public attraction set amidst the plush residential colony with many devotees that thronged the temple.
Nethra knew she was a late entrant.  Unlike her mother who had a monopoly near the Shaneeshwara temple, she was sceptical if she would be able to do business unhindered with two other competitors who had already set up their cart in the vicinity in the last two years.  Moreover there was no guarantee, that other hawkers and flower sellers would not follow in the future.
She persisted because she instinctively judged that she had an advantage.  It was a business she knew like the back of her hand. She knew the potential that the business held with growing population and prosperity in the area.   She, through her husband had the blessings of the temple trustee. On the side, Nethra had already grabbed an informal  contract to clean up the temple premises and draw ‘ rangoli’  every morning for a meagre but fixed salary for the temple.  
Determined, she elbowed her way through, and set up her cart right in the middle with the other two vendors who had already set up their carts and were doing brisk business selling flowers, coconuts and other items to the devotees who thronged the temple.
Nethra paid the price for pushing her way through. As an aftermath of a violent and ugly showdown in public amongst the three cart vendors, news reached the local police station. She along with the other two vendors were summoned to the police station.  
Like most workers in the unorganized sector she and the other two vendors bribed the local police and bought peace on the condition that they would not create any more problems.  Realizing that the blood sucking police would now demand a good deal of their profits in the form of bribe or confiscate their entire inventory, the three vendors decided to peacefully co-exist by setting up their carts at three different corners of the temple entrance and as far away from each other, so that the footfall of devotees who came to the temple  ended up doing equal business with each of them.

In order to be fair they also decided that each one of them would rotate and position their cart at the other’s positions every week so that  they all got a fair share of footfall as the devotees came to the temple.

This works well for the three of them. Although they do good business they pay some money to the local police every now and then. It serves two purposes.  One, the police does not make life miserable for them and moreover there is a guarantee albeit a temporary one, that a fourth entrant would not get into their business. With the protection money they pay the local police, it would get extremely difficult for a fourth competitor to get in and eat into their market share. If that ever happened, they are all too well aware that the fragmented market share would make business extremely unviable for all of them.

Paying the bribe to the local police is somewhat  like renewing the licence to operate a reasonably profitable business. This is probably an unwritten rule of law in the unorganized sector all over.      In a slightly altered manner it is the same fundamentals with which businesses operate in the organized sector as well.  Only difference being, it is not called bribe, but licence fee, that is usually given to the ones that have significant muscle power, capital and political connections apart from the ability to operate business.
The business of flowers is a very fragile one. Like vegetables and fruits it is a perishable commodity with a shelf life that lasts not more than 3-4 days. However unlike  vegetables and fruits which are essential commodities needed for everyday consumption, flowers are less so.  The demand for flowers is seasonal and varies depending upon times when there are major festivals or occasions. 

Following the rules of free market economics, prices of flowers also fluctuate depending on demand and supply.
Stocking an inventory of flowers has to be far more accurate that many other commodities, because it perishes in no time. This may lead to huge losses if not planned properly.

Three days a week, Nethra and her husband drive down to the city wholesale market at 3 am to buy fresh flowers. By the time it is about 6 am, Nethra and her competitors  have already set up their cart and would be busy making garlands out of the loose flowers for the devotees who start coming to the temple.  On a normal day Nethra buys about 2-4 kgs of flowers of different kinds and sells the finished product at a margin of about 30-40%.

On Saturdays, festival days and other days when it is an auspicious occasion at the temple, she would raise her inventory to about 10 -15 kgs anticipating a very high demand. On such days the flowers also sell expensive at the city wholesale market owning to increased demand. 

Her margin on those days is not unusually high although the volume of sales increases substantially.

One such day is the eve of Vijayadasami. The ninth day of the Navaratri festival.

The footfall of devotees has just begun for the evening. Nethra has her stall set up with not just her usual flowers and garlands but also coconuts, betel leaves and banana tree saplings. They would sell like hot cakes in the next couple of hours as devotees stop by to buy them for the next day’s dasami pooja at home.

A Skoda stops by, rolls down the window and the customer asks Nethra for the price of different flowers on display. Stunned at the exhorbitant cost for a marigold garland the customer tries his hand at bargaining. Nethra is firm today. She tells them that she is literally selling at cost price and that the wholesale market is selling flowers at Rs. 600  a kg. Realizing that there cannot be a bargain stuck today, the customer from the car buys all his pooja essentials for the next day and moves on.

As he drives on, Nethra’s mobile rings and the customer at the other end is enquiring about prices and the stock.  A couple of minutes later she is telling her the items she wants and Nethra packs them together in a plastic bag while simultaneously speaking to the customer in Tamil.

Meanwhile, a couple, probably new migrants into the neighbourhood walk up and buy some flowers before getting into the temple. Nethra  effortlessly converses with them in Hindi while seamlessly shifting to Kannada, Telugu and Tamil with all her other regular customers with complete ease.  To one of her customers she replies in broken English mixed with Hindi and a tinge of Kannada accent.

Meanwhile her husband drives past in his autorickshaw and parks for a minute across the road.  She quickly crosses the road and hands him over the items packed in the plastic bag meant for the customer that had called over on her mobile sometime ago. In a few minutes he would home deliver the items after dropping his current customers.   

A pile of banana tree saplings and gunny sacks full of marigold flowers are lying behind the cart.  As her stock of banana tree saplings on display in front of the cart has been sold out, she opens the pile to stock up a few more. She is careful that the fresh flowers are prominently displayed and the banana tree saplings and unsightly coconuts do not hide the view. 

According to Nethra, from the vantage point of the customer, apparently the freshness of jasmine buds, the delicate pink colour of the Arali  flowers and colourfulness of the orange and yellow marigold, is what makes the customers eyeballs linger, just a while longer at her shop and eventually choose to do business over there.  It is a split second decision between choosing to buy from one of the three vendors and apparently the customer psyche is usually won over by the cart where the display is bright, colourful and fresh. The unsightly pile of coconuts and banana tree saplings are also on display, but are stacked carefully by the side and replenished from time to time from the stock behind the cart.

In the world of big business are these not the same fundamentals that business consultants from the big four consulting firms are commissioned by the supermarkets, retail giants along with advertising experts to carefully study to determine customer psyche and buying patterns. 

Nethra, a high school drop out, fully puts them to use in her own way in accordance with the local customer preference, prevailing sentiment and demand. One cannot help but notice that Nethra’s cart attracts far more customers than the other two in the vicinity.
It is about 7.30 pm and in a short while the temple would close for the day. The footfall of devotees has trickled down considerably and the activity around the temple has now quietened down. 

Nethra begins to pack up her cart, while setting aside the more expensive and delicate perishables like the fragrant jasmine and roses in a big airy bag, while covering up all the rest underneath the porous plastic sheet and tying it up with sturdy ropes. She calls it a day when her husband’s autorickshaw stops by beside the cart. Before getting into the autorickshaw, she loads her left over inventory  of delicate flowers that would be stacked into their refrigerator at home.

Tommorrow would be another day. 

Tommorrow, they would start off at 3 am to the City wholesale market while the aged relative who now lives with them in their two room tenement would get the children (now aged 12 and 8) ready for school while Nethra and her husband would go about their daily business.     

This post is submitted for Write Tribe - pro blogger October Series

This is the tenth in the Feature - UNUSUAL OCCUPATIONS

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