Sivakumar stops his bicycle with a smile, expecting a potential customer. When I talk about the interview, he is amused. “This has been my business for the last eight years or so…,” says Sivakumar, pointing to a steel container with tea that is tied on to his bicycle. The container has a tap at the bottom. Hot tea flows out when the tap is opened. Disposable cups are arranged on another stand.
He is one among the many mobile tea vendors you come across in different parts of the city, especially near office complexes, bus stands, hospitals and busy junctions. We meet Sivakumar on the court premises at Vanchiyoor, where he has a lot of regular customers.
“This container is like a flask. It keeps the tea hot,” he says. A carry bag hangs on one of the handles of the cycle in which I find a plastic container filled with sugar and a plastic tray… Another container hangs on the other handle. “This container has snacks. Today I have uzhunnu vada and vazhakka bhajji. I get the short eats from an acquaintance and sell it along with the tea,” says Sivakumar, as he parks his cycle in front of an office near the court. He takes the snacks-filled container inside the office and comes out, leaving it behind.
Then, into two disposable cups, he puts some sugar, fills them with tea and mixes each well by pouring it in and out of a small container. “The tea has sugar, but there are some people who like it really sweet,” he explains. He takes the small plastic tray, places the two cups on it and takes it inside the office. After a while he returns with the snacks-filled container and is ready to move on to the next location – the eastern entrance of the court.
“I stay at Kaithamukku from where I start my work by around 10 a.m. I’ve some permanent stop-overs like a place near General Hospital and then here at Vanchiyoor. I don’t go very far and am back home by 11.30 a.m. I am at home till 3.30 p.m. In the evening, I start selling tea along the same route, from 3.30 p.m. to 5.30 p.m.,” he says.
Sivakumar, 43, was running a ‘murukkan kada’ for many years at Vanchiyoor. “But after a point I stopped getting profit. It was then that I thought of this job. I don’t earn much, but enough to take care of my family,” he says with a wry smile.
A cup of tea costs Rs. 6, which quite doesn’t match the size of the cup, we feel. “What to do? It was priced Rs. 4 per cup when I started out. Cost of living is going up and so I had to increase the price,” he says.
He stays with his wife, Murukesi, and two children, Nagalakshmy and Karthika. Before we ask anything else, he is in a hurry. “May I leave?,” he asks, before pedalling away through the busy road.
(A weekly column on men and women who make Thiruvananthapuram what it is)