Deepavali, the festival of lights is around the corner and Sivan is extremely busy doling diyas for customers. Diyas in different shapes, sizes and colours, from simple mud ones to elaborately decorated lamps are spread out on his makeshift pavement stall at Chala.
“The prices of the diyas depend on the size and the amount of work and the kind of material used for the making of the diyas. The small earthen lamps are Rs. 20 for 15 pieces. Also, over the years, as competition is high, the products are rather competitively priced,” says Sivan in Malayalam that is thickly laced with Tamil.
The lamps are from an artisan’s village in Chennai. “I have been visiting the village for the past few years before the month of Karthika and before Deepavali to procure these lamps. While most people prefer the plain mud diyas, there are those who opt for the clay ones as they are more durable. The potters in the village have introduced designer diyas which are decorative and there is a clientele for such diyas too.”
Although the lamps are almost always sold out, Sivan says he makes only a marginal profit as a hefty sum goes into the payment of transportation of the products. “This time I had to pay Rs. 8,000 for the transportation,” he says.
Sivan who hails from Karamana starts his day at 10 a.m. and ends it by 6.30 p.m. While breakfast and dinner are from home, lunch is from nearby eateries. Although the sun is blazing hot, Sivan doesn’t seem perturbed by the heat. “I have been doing this for years now. I am glad for the sun as it means there will be customers. On a good day, I sell around 200 pieces.”
Sivan says he started earning a living even as a teenager. “I am not well educated but started earning an income by working in a market. After saving a bit, I decided to branch out. I decided to opt for a ‘seasonal business’. After Deepavali, I will be selling lime for pickles and around Attukkal Pongala season, it will be tender mangoes. Likewise, during Navaratri, I sell bommai kolus. Because my products are seasonal, I don’t have to worry about my goods not selling. Although, I don’t make a profit, I do earn enough to lead a modest life with my wife and son.”
Does his son help him out with the business? “No, he works as a salesperson at a store in Karamana. He gets regular wages and doesn’t have to bear the brunt of the weather. I wouldn’t want him to quit his job and join me,” says Sivan as he cuts the interview short to serve yet another customer.