Singanallur comes alive on Sundays as vendors selling locks, mats, vegetables and more set up shop in the narrow lanes.
The afternoon sun shimmers in all its glory and that’s when Singanallur Sandhai witnesses brisk business. Pearls of sweat run down my face, as I take in the sights and sounds of the Sunday market. But the heat doesn’t seem to deter the traders. “Kosuvalai, kosuvalai,” hawks one of them repeatedly and grabs the attention of visitors to the mosquito nets. Greens, blues, yellows…pick your colour.
An aged V. Subramaniam and a young R. Giri, both from Manrampalayam village, sit under an umbrella with their steel locks. “I have been coming here for 35 years,” says Subramaniam who repairs locks, torch lights, and umbrellas. They have a steady flow of customers wanting duplicate for their two-wheelers and four-wheelers, and to repair locks at homes. “We always check the copies of the RC books while making a duplicate key. If we have to open locks at home, we ask to see a copy of the ration card.” says Giri. As he sharpens his metal aram, Giri says: “We need good eye-sight and strong hands, and the brains to survive in this trade. It is handed down to us by our ancestors.” Every single lock from the tiny ones that cost Rs. 20 to the big, sturdy ones costing Rs. 350 is hand-made. “This is a town sandhai and the business is good,” says Subramaniam.
A whiff of citrus fruits comes from the mounds of oranges, arranged on push carts. Colourful T-shirts, frocks, and sarees are displayed. K. Jothi from Sowripalayam sits pretty with her cane basket full of luscious green betel leaves. She has a stream of customers. “I buy apples and oranges from here for home,” she smiles. A footwear vendor sells his ware for as little as Rs. 30.
What’s a sandhai without food, and as you shop, you can savour piping hot bajjis and murukkus. Nearby, 70-year-old Chinnammal poses for the photograph with her butter churners, pallankuzhi, paniyara kal, dosa kal and knives in varying shapes and sizes. “I would come here as a child with my father, then with my husband, and now with my son. I sit here from 9 a.m. onwards… you get rice, dal, clothes, vegetables, silver utensils… Customers keep coming, and I have no time to shop,” she says sadly.
At the puffed rice corner, it is D. Gopal and his wife who are in command. Anyone who visits the sandhai makes sure to pack pori and kadalai from here. The couple also sells savouries, biscuits, and varieties of podis.
A mild breeze carries with it a heady scent of jasmine. It is from R. Palaniammal’s corner where she strings the flowers patiently. Most women stop and buy strings of jasmine that they immediately tuck into their hair. Palaniammal has seen the sandhai and the crowds grow in the last 50 years, she says. She also makes kalyana maalais.
Venkatamma (Chengappa Naicker’s wife, she tells me) sits next to her selling ground nuts in the pod, and seasonal fruits. As Vishu Kani is approaching, it is jackfruits now. “While selling at neighbouring village sandhais, we send the load in a mini truck and then follow in a bus to get there,” she says.
M.A. Salim from Neelikonampalayam is the mat man. “Because of the heat, people prefer traditional sleeping mats to plastic ones,” he says. His shop, V.M.A Karur Mat Store, is just a stone’s throw away from the sandhai. So, he makes it a point to display the mats at the weekly bazaar.
At the end of the street, to the right is the vegetable market complex. Fresh brinjal, ladies finger, lemon, snake gourd, radish, drumstick, green chillies and tomatoes vie for space. Amidst all the chaos, there’s fragrance. It comes from incense sticks that Laila has lit up. She also sells them. For N. Jothimani, a home maker from Singanallur, shopping at sandhai is a weekly ritual. “Sometime, we buy vegetables on credit and pay the traders the following week. They are like family. You can buy disposable palm leaf plates and cups, rat traps and towels here. We also buy mud pots from to make tasty dal and tomato chutney. The Sunday sandhai is the meeting point for family members. Daughters married off in the area sneak out with a shopping bag, buy veggies and catch up with their mothers without the knowledge of their strict mothers-in-law!,” she smiles.