Name: MuruganOccupation: Roasted groundnut seller
The aroma of roasted groundnuts and the ‘cling’ of the metal ladle leads you to Murugan. Rain clouds have cleared and he is making the most of the evening sun. His right hand briskly keeps moving a metal ladle, skilfully tossing the groundnuts in a wok on his pushcart. Roasted groundnuts, chilli-roasted nuts and roasted green gram are kept in three separate vessels. Neatly cut pieces of magazine/newspaper, and a huge vessel containing raw nuts are arranged on the cart. The paper pieces are of different sizes, depending on the quantity customers ask for.
For the last 15 years or so, Murugan has been a familiar figure at bustling East Fort. “This is where I do business everyday,” he says, pointing to the entrance to Gandhi Park, facing the main road. He stops work in between only to pack the nuts, in cone-shaped paper packs for the customers who keep streaming in. Well, who can resist the taste?
The city is second home for Murugan who hails from Tirunelveli. “I came to the city in search of work. Back home I used to be a daily wage labourer, but there wasn’t enough work. When I came here, I began working in a tea stall at Palayam. But that didn’t last long and I turned to this business. There was no particular reason for me starting this business,” he says, adding, “Initially it was difficult…my hand used to hurt from using the ladle for many hours. Now it has become part of my life.” In fact, there are over a dozen people from Tamil Nadu who do the same business in and around East Fort, he adds.
Murugan stays at Karimadam colony, while his wife, Sumathy, and two kids live in Tirunelveli. “I go there once in every two weeks or so…can’t stay away from them for long,” says Murugan just as he packs a Rs.5-paper cone with peanuts. It is just a small quantity, I wonder. “Look at the price of nuts now. It used to cost Rs. 35 per kilo once, now I have to pay Rs. 80 for that. Daily I get nearly 10 to 15 kilos of nuts from Chalai. I need around Rs. 1,500 to buy nuts and the green gram,” says Murugan, even as his hand is busy tossing the nuts.
The nuts are bought in the morning and marinated in salt before they are roasted. Why do they use sand to roast them? “Otherwise the nuts get burnt.” He does business from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. on all days, and looks forward to the festival season when there is a huge demand for the nuts. “I manage to save Rs. 400 or so on certain days, sometimes less. When it rains, the business is hit,” he says, just as I pop the hot, crispy nuts into my mouth. Crunch!
(A weekly column on the men and women who make Thiruvananthapuram what it is)