It is a sweltering hot day. The sun beats down on a lady who is seated opposite the Open Air Theatre cheerfully dehusking a tender coconut. This lady is Sarala, and she has been selling tender coconuts at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras for the past eight years.
Sarla’s daily routine is well set. She wakes up in the morning, prays, does the household work and then leaves for work. She stays on campus from 9 am to 5 pm and goes back home to help her son with his school work and then prepares dinner, prays again and sleeps.
The common perception is that sales for tender coconut vendors increase during summer, but for Sarla it decreases. The reason it declines is that she sells only on IIT campus and during summer, sales are low because there are no students on campus. Even though sales are low during summer, she prefers to sell on campus for various reasons. She finds the campus to be a very safe place and most of the customers and students are her friends. Moreover, she is not new to the campus; her mother used to work on campus and Sarla used to come as a young girl to help her. She says, “My future plan is to make sure that my son studies really well. He wants to become an aeronautical engineer and I am ready to do anything to make it happen.
Some students forget to pay her sometimes, but she says that they make it a point to come back and pay her. She doesn’t make much profit during the summer. She gets her coconuts from Pondicherry, and the most profit she makes is at the beginning of every year. She sells around 100 tender coconuts a day during the months of January, February, and March but in the months of April and May, she manages to sell only a maximum of 30 coconuts.
Her husband, Raman, works as a car driver and financially supports the family as well. Her income on a good day is about 700 rupees. She says that she is very fond of her job because,”I am not answerable to anyone since it’s my own business and I can work at my convenience.” Even though she enjoys her job mainly because she works on campus, she does face a lot of difficulties. The heat gets too much at times, but she has to continue to stay in the heat so as to attend to her customers. She also has to deal with the pain in her right arm from repeatedly cutting the tender coconut for serving it to the customers. The personal connections she makes is a bonus for her as well as the people who live on the campus. She sells tender coconuts on credit, and people also get some tender coconuts delivered at home.
She underwent a lot of health issues three years ago. She had a lot of bleeding, and when she went to the hospital, they diagnosed it as cancer. She saw it at an early stage, and she immediately went under treatment. She got her uterus removed. The cancer has reduced after radiation. Now she is normal and is on tablets. Kalingnier benefits used by her during the time of operation. Both her and raman’s parents are not supportive of them at all. They are earning whatever they can to make their son’s life a happy one with no glitches. In Spite of all the problems that she went through regarding health and family, she has emerged and is very successful in her business.
Though her income might be less and her working conditions are not ideal, she enjoys her job and can take good care of her 12-year-old boy and give him a good education and also help him with his studies. She puts in a lot of effort to make sure that her son gets a good education and all her income goes into taking care of her son’s needs.