His presence is not as conspicuous as his absence. That is Trichur Kilimangalam P.S. Gopalakrishnan, a septuagenarian, who along with his pushcart equipped with a stove, a hurricane lamp, a ladle, a pan and a stainless steel container is a familiar sight on the Government Botanical Garden road here.
Though his presence is taken for granted and people from all sections of the society here and many regular visitors are aware of the fact that he has been around for long, only a few know that it is now 50 years since he started wheeling a push cart with pea nuts. Though landmarks are aplenty in this vacation destination many tend to agree that the best known is Mr .Gopalakrishnan’s pushcart.
The landmark makes its appearance near the out gate of the Lawley Institute, a heritage club on Government Botanical Garden road everyday around 2 p.m. and remains there till late in the night monsoon rain or winter chillness notwithstanding.
Mr. Gopalakrishnan who is now about 72 has been pushing it between that place and his house or some place nearby almost everyday since 1964 selling roasted pea nuts. Ever since he started the business, he has stuck to the spot near the Lawley Institute. In the process very few among the large number of people who use the road fail to stop or slow down to exchange pleasantries with him or buy a packet of his peanuts.
The taste of his uniformly roasted (in hot sand) peanuts sold earlier in ‘potlams’ and now in packets has remained the same but the price has gone up over the years. Speaking to The Hindu the ‘kadalaikaran’ as he is popularly known said that a small ‘potlam’ which he had in the early days sold for ten paise started fetching fifteen paise in the early 1970s. A few years later 25 paise and 50 paise potlams were offered.
With coins becoming increasingly scarce he started selling Rs. 1 potlams. For sometime now small packets are being sold for Rs. 5 and slightly larger ones for Rs. 10. In a reminiscent mood he says that he dropped out of school after doing his Class V due to personal reasons and when he was around 20 years moved to Ooty in search of a livelihood.
Finding a ramshackle cart he had started selling peanuts. With perseverance enabling him to make ends meet, he got married in 1970.The couple has a daughter and two sons and all are married.
Stating “my worst experience was when I was attacked by a few stray ponies and my cart caught fire in 1972”, he said that he escaped with minor injuries. Regretting that with age catching up he is finding it increasingly difficult to stick to his routine.
“The strain of standing in a single spot for 50 years is beginning to tell”. He added that he would be happy if his health permits him to continue his trade for at least another couple of years.
Having endeared himself to people of all ages by patiently answering questions about himself and his trade and listening to the personal problems of his customers, many treat him as, ‘part of the family’. He cherishes a scarf thoughtfully bought for him from New York by a girl from the Lawrence School in Lovedale who has been eating his peanuts since the late 1980s. Many tourists particularly foreigners are intrigued and excited at the manner in which he roasts the peanuts and see in him a fine photo opportunity.