Bhaskaran, 60, sits lost in thought near piles of clay pots at Attakkulangara Bypass Junction. Breaking into a smile on hearing that we’ve come for an interview, he says: “This is my 25th year at the Attukal Pongala.”
Items brought by Bhaskaran occupy a major portion of the footpath here, while other traders have occupied the remaining stretch, leading up to Vettimuricha Kotta. “Nearly 16,000 pieces are here, which include pots, jugs, pots to make fish curry, decorative pieces (like ‘para’), hearths… Of this nearly 10,000 are pots meant for the Pongala, which falls on February 26,” he says.
Bhaskaran, along with his wife, Omana, comes well in advance every year so that they get a prime place to keep their pots. “In fact, we came here on Saturday itself (that is, two days prior to the beginning of the temple festival on February 18. This is where we usually sit,” he says.
The pots cost between Rs. 15 and Rs. 60. So, is there a competition between the traders, most of whom are from the outskirts of the city? “No! Nothing like that. The price is fixed and I never change it, even if some people buy the pots in bulk,” he stresses, adding: “I believe that it is more auspicious to offer Pongala in clay pots, instead of steel/aluminium vessels.”
Belonging to the Velar community who are traditional pot-makers, Bhaskaran has been running a wholesale business for the last 40 years at Thittamangalam. “We get all the clay items from Nagercoil round the year. I supply the pots to traders in Chalai market, Nedumangad, Balaramapuram and many other places,” he says. During the course of the festival, Bhaskaran sleeps on the footpath itself, which is the case with most other vendors as well. “My wife takes care of the sale when I take a break in the morning. It is not easy to sleep in the open, with mosquitoes biting you all over and the rain in between,” he says.
He has three children – a daughter, who is married and two sons, Saji and Ratheesh. Saji helps him with the work and even keep a vigil at night on the footpath during the Pongala festival. “There is profit in this business. In fact, most traders collect over Rs. 1.25 lakh during the festival season alone. But, I doubt whether my son would really be interested in running this when I’m not there,” he says with a deep sigh.