It is 1.30 in the afternoon. Standing on the platform of one of the busiest streets of Chennai, he hands out glasses of sugarcane juice to exhausted passers-by stopping to quench their thirst.
Alternating between pushing the sugarcane into the rollers of the juice-extracting machine and attending to waiting customers, J. Santosh Kumar has a hectic day from the morning to evening. “I come at 5.30 in the morning and scrape the skin of the sugarcane.
Once I wash the machine clean and put petrol and kerosene, I set up shop at around 10 a.m.,” he says.
The sugarcane shoot is thrust five to six times into the machine. “We also place lemon between the crusher along with the shoot else the juice will turn black in a while, says P. Moorthy.
While most sugarcane juice sellers operate machines owned by someone and get paid for their work, J. Manohar uses the machine bought by his father on a loan.
“Earlier, it was manually operated. We had to turn the wheel for the crusher to spin. After we got the motor, work has become relatively easy,” he says.
During the rainy season and winter, the business is dull. While Mr. Manohar stays back at home and lives on his savings, others like J. Santosh Kumar who is paid Rs. 250 per day by the owner of the machine, continues his routine business.
But being roadside vendors, they say they are often evicted by policemen and corporation officials. The vendors do not find the popularity of soft drinks affecting their business. “This is completely natural and refreshing. It is an excellent antidote as we have many people buying it for jaundice treatment,” says Mr. Santosh Kumar.
But some customers are apprehensive about the hygiene of the glasses used to supply the juice. “We have started providing the plastic glasses to those who ask,” says Mr.Moorthy. But accidents are quite common even for Mr.Moorthy who has been in the business for 30 years. “I was quite careless once and my hand slipped between the rollers crushing my fingers. But we learn the job better from such accidents,” he says.