Chandramohan Nair’s thatched shed with its bunches of plantain, bottles of boiled sweets, groundnut candy and chocolates is tucked away in the midst of bungalows and huge flat complexes in a quiet lane off Marappalam, just minutes away from bustling Kuravankonam and Pattom. Although it looks out of place and quaint in its rapidly changing surroundings, once upon a time, these little outlets were meeting places where women bought the essentials while men gathered around to chat. Children made a beeline for the multi-coloured boiled sweets, especially lime flavoured candy and peppermint (called ‘gas mittayi’ by locals).

The city still retains such reminders from another era when it was more like an overgrown village with quiet roads and simple dwellings. Chandramohan began life as a shop keeper after retiring from the army 18 years ago. “I am from Thirumala in the city. My wife hails from here and I thought this would be a good profession to make ends meet. I still sell most of the things I used to sell nearly 18 years ago,” he says. He stays in a small house behind the shop. His tiny makeshift place sells everything from needles, thread, egg and coconut to plasters, soft drinks, marbles and biscuits.

The years have been kind to him and Chandramohan is a contented man. He says his customers still come there to buy plantain and there are even buyers for the boiled sweets (Naranga mitayi) and peppermint. “In those days, it used to cost one paisa for a sweet but now it costs 50 paise. Many senior citizens come here to buy these when they go for their walk,” he says with a smile. There are even takers for marbles!

“During the holidays, parents buy marbles and rubber balls for their children,” he insists.

Most of the stock is bought from Chalai. But he says it is difficult to get the thatched leaves for the roof. Earlier, as a stream was nearby, there were women who used to thatch the coconut palm leaves. “Now the stream is almost dry and there is no one to thatch the palm leaves. So I am forced to get it from Nedumangad. They bring the thatched leaves and replace the old ones. I have to pay for the leaves and their labour,” he says.

As the complexion of his place changes, his clientele has also changed. As we are talking, a couple of migrant labourers come in to buy something. To cater to the construction workers swarming around in the locality, Chandramohan keeps a huge vessel of chilled soft drink that he makes every day. “I know Hindi and so I can converse with them,” he says.

Although Chandramohan does not keep track of how much he makes every day, he says the shop has provided for his family. His son Rajesh is a student of engineering and his daughter is an undergraduate student in University College. “Fortunately, my children study well and my son got his seat on merit. He also helps me in the shop,” he says. He is a contented man and says the shop has given him his bread and butter. His children pitch in by taking classes at home. A steady stream of customers keep dropping in to buy biscuits, wafers and candy. Chandramohan is busy.

(A weekly column on men and women who make Thiruvananthapuram what it is)

SARASWATHY NAGARAJAN

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