In a long, narrow godown, in Royapettah, Kali stands next to a pile of aluminium vessels that tower above him. The big ones, he says, can cook 100 kg of rice; and nested inside their huge circumference, are a set of vessels that can, between them, feed a marriage party. The vessels, their enormous lids, brass lamps (approximately four feet tall), crockery, casuarina poles and portable hand-washes — they’re all part of Kali’s business: that of hiring out pretty much everything you will need to organise a wedding or an event.

“My father started this business in 1989,” says Kali, whose family migrated to Chennai three generations ago, from Madurantakam. But it was around the mid-90s that the business really took off. Now, wedding contractors, clubs and hotels are clients. “Usually, people book two months ahead. But sometimes, they even call from the marriage hall, and ask us to supply vessels,” Kali tells me, seated in the office room of ‘Radha and Sons’ behind the Royapettah Police Station.

The muhurtham seasons are the busiest time of the year. In the last 10 years, wedding contractors and big, expensive weddings have become the norm. And that, in turn, has given their business a big boost, says Kali. Today, it’s not unusual to find round tables and buffets in almost every wedding, and nearly all outdoor events call for a shamiana. Besides the regular ones, Kali also supplies Arabian tents and can arrange for a waterproof structure, in case the weather turns nasty.

“We specialise in North Indian weddings,” says Kali. “They ask for mattresses and diwans, and even specify the colours. The ceremonies are longer, and they have a mehendi ceremony too.” Lately, theme weddings have become popular. “They print the invitation card, and then come to us with that design and colour. And we match everything accordingly.” In this line of business, there is a lot of customisation, a lot of running around to be done. The raw material is sourced from Parry’s corner, and their inventory can cater to 10 big weddings at once. But it’s loading and sending the material on time, and accounting for everything after the event is done that’s painstakingly hard.

“Our business has no timings, only our shop does,” says Kali, even as a mini lorry pulls up in front of the shop, waiting to be loaded. The phone rings constantly with orders and follow-ups; and a lady walks in asking for 30 soup bowls. Since weddings tend to start very early in the morning, the team — Kali and his cousin, P.L. Saravanan, along with their helpers — load the items late into the night. (Kali’s partner is R. Palani, his brother, who lives in Saudi Arabia). As a rule, items need to be cleaned when they’re returned, or else it incurs a cleaning charge. In any case, some — like the stainless steel food warmers — need to be polished often. “The rental charges depend on what’s hired out. The vessels last only a few years, and there’s also breakage.” But when it’s only a small item that goes missing — say a steel jug — they’re willing to overlook it. “If they’re not very well off, we let it go,” says Kali, candidly.

Besides tables and chairs, carpets and crockery, Kali’s store also stocks up on the exotic — palanquins, swings and ready-made mandapams, to suit both North and South Indian weddings. The business is not without competition — Kali admits that there are many players in the space. “But because of good feedback, and word-of-mouth publicity, we’re no longer dependent on advertisements!”

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