Whenever I see Lakshmamma, I am reminded of the ants – working tirelessly. As I sit down on the heap of gunny sacks for a chat with her, I realise I am right. Sitting behind a huge heap of vegetables, colourfully laid out, Lakshmamma tells me that she has been selling fruits and vegetables for over 40 years, and works for almost 16 hours a day. “I came to Bangalore after my marriage, it’s 50 years now…,” she says, cross checking with her son Gopi, if her maths is right. Native of a village near Hosur, Lakshmamma moved to Bangalore with her husband who packed beedis for a livelihood. “Don’t ask me about those years. I have just roamed with him from one place to the other – that drunkard was of no use. Can you count the hair on my head, we’ve moved that many times! Today here, tomorrow there… worse than Rama’s vanavasa!”
Mother of nine children, and after her husband’s death 30 years ago, Lakshmamma has been the sole mover and shaker of her large family – her in-laws, and brother-in-law, sharing space and resources too. “Bangalore was ‘simple’ then,” she observes, “life was not so complicated.” Lakshmamma, who has lived in Yelahanka all her life, would walk a few miles to a nearby wooded area and get firewood for cooking. She used to collect old bottles, iron scrap, and worked as a maid in several houses. “I have worked very hard, magane…” she says, busy packing peas, the succulent Ooty carrots, and heralekaayi for her endless stream of customers, mostly regulars. “My children also pitched in… somehow all of us worked together and pulled on.”
For many years, Lakshmamma sold guavas in front of the Baptist Hospital. Then she shifted to Gangenahalli Market where she sold black grapes all through the year. “I did that for 10 to 15 years. They broke down the market, and when they reconstructed it, there was no place for me. That’s when I began to sell vegetables in front of the AGS office, and for the last 10 years or so, I’ve sat here in front of the Income Tax office…,” Lakshmamma gives me a quick account of her expedition.
The day begins very early for Lakshmamma. She leaves home at 4 a.m. every day, and goes to the ‘Raitara Sante’ at Yelahanka. “There are buses, magane,” she says, seeing my surprise. “I take 290E and go to Yelahanka market, and by the time I buy vegetables and load it into the bus, it’s around 8.30 a.m. I get off at Guttahalli and take an auto from there. See, this is my daily pass…,” she pulls it out of her grimy purse. She even shows me a strip of painkiller tablets, “I get terrible hand pain from carrying all the sacks, loading and unloading them from buses… Last evening it was so bad that I felt I would collapse in the bus,” says Lakshmamma, who reaches home only at 8.30 p.m.
All her children are married, but Lakshmamma wishes to live on her own. “As long as I can, I will earn my meal. I spend Rs. 300 on transport every day, I have to pay Rs. 80 for the coolie in the market, and Rs. 10 goes for my betel leaf and areca. I make around Rs. 200 a day, which is enough for my living,” explains Lakshmamma, who eats just two idlis for breakfast and goes back home to have dinner. “This is my practice from those days… when I couldn’t afford an afternoon meal.” After spending money on her needs, whatever remains, Lakshmamma gives it to her daughters. “Poor things, I feel worried about them. Their husbands are alcoholics and treat my girls badly… I am not worried about my sons.”
Bangalore has good roads, and there are a lot more buses now, but life has become very difficult, feels Lakshmamma. The spiralling costs, less and less Kannada- speaking people, disappearing green spaces, Lakshmamma feels troubled by it all. “There used to be rain in Bangalore all the time, now it’s so dry. I would walk six miles early in the morning, and pick very good mushrooms from farm lands. Now there are only buildings everywhere,” laments Lakshmamma. Lakshmamma has a whole community of customers, who fondly call her ajji.
As I get up to leave she says, “Magane, keep these carrots. Pay me tomorrow, it’s okay,” and thrusts a carry bag into my hand. I have just gone a few steps, and Lakshmamma calls me back, “Are you married?” she asks. “I hope your husband doesn’t beat you…” She looks relieved when I say ‘no’.
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Keywords: fruit seller