Name: RajammaOccupation: Selling food packets near the Secretariat
“She is the senior most of the lot,” says a tea shop owner near the Cantonment Gate of the Secretariat pointing out Rajamma from among the bunch of vendors who are busy distributing lunch packets to their customers.
Rajamma seems rather reluctant to give an interview. We decide to wait as she continues to take out food packets one by one from a big blue coloured plastic container and arrange them on its lid.
Persistence pays as she says: “This is my 10th year in the business. When I started out, I was the only one selling food packets. I used to sit at the entrance of the Cantonment Gate. Six years ago I moved here [opposite the Gate].”
Rajamma actually works for a woman who has been running the venture for the last 25 years or so. “I can’t reveal any details about my employer… she doesn’t want to be identified. The food is prepared at a house near Palayam. My employer, myself and another woman start cooking by around 6 a.m. There are others to help with the packing. I come here by around 11.30 a.m. and go back home by 2.45 p.m.,” she says.
The packet has rice, tapioca, fish fry, a vegetable dish (usually thoran or avial), butter milk or rasam and pickle. “Earlier a packet was priced at Rs. 10 or Rs. 12. Now it costs Rs. 30. Cost of living has gone up, vegetable prices are increasing day by day… so we have had to increase the rate,” she says.
Rajamma has a regular clientele comprising Secretariat staff, daily wage labourers, and those employed at the shops nearby. “I sell the food packets on all days but Sundays. Strikes or protest marches near the Secretariat hardly affect my business. And I have more customers on holidays. Also, whenever any event happens at the stadium (Central Stadium) the demand shoots up,” says Rajamma, a widow, who stays at Kunnukuzhi. She has a son and a daughter, both of who, she says, are “settled”.
Rajamma says that the business has come down these days because over a dozen vendors sell food on the Secretariat premises itself. “There was a time when I used to sell 200 packets. Now I bring just 50 packets and manage to sell all of them on most days,” she says.
At 65, she doesn’t wish for more. “This job is all I have and I’ll do it as long as I can…”