“Did you know coconut costs Rs. 24 per kg, now?” Sitting on a plastic stool amidst piles of vegetables, Pankajakshi makes the point clear to one of her customers who is appalled that a coconut costs Rs. 20. “What can we do? Prices are shooting up daily,” she adds, nonchalantly chewing betel leaf. At 8 a.m., business is picking up for the day for this vegetable-seller, a familiar face for those who pass by the West Nada of Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple. She isn’t sure about how long she has been in the business. “Forty years, probably,” she says, with a smile that lights up her stained teeth.
She used to be a manual labourer at Vellayani but she found that she was unable to make ends meet because work depended on the weather. “Then I joined my mother-in-law and sister-in-law who were selling vegetables. We chose this spot because that was the only space available then. In those days, there were many others who sold vegetables near the temple since there weren’t many greengrocers in this area. But now the number of roadside vendors has reduced,” she says.
Pankajakshi stays at Thiruvallam with her husband, Ponnayyan, and grand-daughter. Her daughter Sobhana works with her.
Her day starts at three in the morning. So early?... “Yes. Along with my daughter, I go to Chalai market. She has a two-wheeler. We buy the vegetables, load them into an autorickshaw and bring them to this place. By 6 a.m. we get our first customers. Our peak hours are between 10 and 11 a.m. I close shop by around 2 p.m.,” she says. In addition to vegetables, the mother-daughter duo also sells plantain leaves and brooms made of coconut frond ribs.
She works on Sundays as well and can’t miss a day’s business even if it rains. “It is very tiring. But I have to make a living, right? I try to sleep as early as possible, so that I get up by 3 a.m.,” says the 66-year-old.
The best part of the business is that she is “so close to Padmanabha Swamy.” But there were instances when she was asked to vacate the spot. “There is always pressure on us to move out. However, so far, the officials have been kind enough to understand our plight,” Pankajakshi says with a deep sigh.