Name: BadushahOccupation: vendor of banana wafers

Rain or shine, Badushah says there is no shortage in demand for ‘upperi’, gold-coloured, coin-shaped wafers of raw banana. Standing amidst heaps of upperi in wicker baskets, Badushah is busy packing the upperi or chips into plastic covers of different sizes while his cousin Kabeer is busy slicing raw bananas, four at a time, into sizzling oil. As soon as they are done, each batch is put into wicker baskets to drain.

He says the demand for different kinds of upperi peaks during Onam because what is Onam and Onam sadya without the crunch and munch of upperi. On an average, 50 kg of chips are sold daily during and before Onam. With pride he tells you that every year, a substantial quantity of the wafers made by him find their way to homes in the United States, United Kingdom, West Asia … “all around the world.” “I have regular customers who order it days in advance. They want it on a particular day before they leave and I keep it ready for them,” he adds.

The jaggery-coated wafers are made first thing in the morning, as soon as they open shop at 8 a.m. Once that is done, it is only upperi that is made. “During this time of the year, customers ask for the cut chips. But we make that only to order. It takes time and one person has to be assigned that task,” he explains.

Rising prices have hit him and getting the right kind of plantain becomes increasingly difficult as Onam approaches. “Even today, I went to Manacaud at 5 a.m. to buy bunches of plantain but I am not too happy with what I got. Most of the produce comes from places such Nagercoil, Marthandam, Parassala, and so on.”

Hailing from Balaramapuram, Badushah turned to this trade when the glitter of Balaramapuram handloom dipped during the eighties. “My father was a weaver but we found it difficult to make ends meet. That is when I started working, that too after I passed my SSLC,” he says proudly.

Forty-two-year-old Badushah became his own master after working as a apprentice in a makeshift stall at Statue, making and selling hot-from-the-wok upperi. “I have been working here for 21 years now. My cousin Kabeer helps me in running the place because we need at least two people to man a stall,” says Badushah who has his own tiny stall at Vazhuthecaud.

Beginning with plain banana wafers, he now has more than six varieties for sale: jaggery-coated, sweet wafers, longitudinal wafers, cut chips, and spicy ones with a sprinkling of pepper or red chilli powder. In addition, there are jackfruit wafers and colacassia and tapioca too. “But colacassia chips will be on sale only after Onam,” he adds.

The festival season fetches him about Rs.10,000 every day. But he says getting help is a problem as they have to endure the heat and be on their feet the entire day. Getting an assistant from Tamil Nadu did not help him as the worker left after a week. Once in a while his son does help but Badushah is keen on his son, a student of B.Com, to find another profession. His daughter has been married.

“As long as I can, I will continue doing this. Till then, I want to do it in the best possible way. I know many places where they buy old chips from shop and mix it with the fresh one and then sell it for lower prices. I will never do that. That is why my customers keep coming here,” says Badushah.