Retired school teacher turns vegetable vendor

A. Surya Catherine sells fruits outside the farmers’ market at Anna Nagar in Tiruchi.  

As the afternoon traffic roars past Uzhavar Sandhai at Anna Nagar in the city, A. Surya Catherine is busy keeping a very determined goat and cow away from nosing into her crates of oranges and guavas that form part of her stall on the median.

“They are very clever, and love to sneak away with fruits,” Ms. Surya laughingly tells The Hindu.

Ms. Surya has been vending fruits and vegetables from the concrete platform outside the farmers’ market in Anna Nagar since 2013. But the doughty 66-year-old had an earlier career too, as a school teacher in Thanjavur.

“I finished my Secondary School Leaving Certificate (SSLC) in 1974, and joined the teacher’s training diploma course in Thanjavur. I worked at an elementary school in a nearby village for three years, and then as a Class 3 Tamil teacher in Thanjavur from the 1980s until retirement in 2013,” said Ms. Surya.

Ms. Surya said both she and her husband Arogyasamy, who worked in the security department at Simco Meter Factory in Mannarpuram, devoted themselves to educating their three children in the best institutions that they could afford.

“We faced a lot of challenges along the way, but thankfully, many kind people helped us to achieve our goals. By God’s grace, my children studied hard, earned post-graduate degrees and have settled down well in their lives. They have made it worth all the hard work,” she said.

As a teacher, Ms. Surya commuted daily to her job in Thanjavur by train from Tiruchi, returning in time to attend to her family’s needs by early evening. “I continued to teach after my husband passed away in 2007, but after retirement, I realised that I would need to make myself financially independent in old age. Though my children were willing to take care of me, I didn’t want to burden them,” she said.

Ms. Surya started out with a capital of ₹600 as a coconut seller, procuring the nuts from Gandhi Market and reselling them in the city for a small mark-up. “When I managed to save around ₹2,000, I decided to reinvest it into fruits and vegetables, and set up this [rent-free] stall in Anna Nagar,” she said.

Her day starts at 4 a.m., when she sets off from her modest dwelling in Milagu Paarai area to Gandhi Market in an auto-rickshaw and selects her stock. She is at the stall from 6 a.m. until early afternoon, and on most days, tries to clear the day’s stock before she returns home at 8 p.m. On a good day, she earns up to ₹2,500 she said.

With a simple lifestyle devoid of a mobile phone and TV, Ms. Surya looks in on her children when she is free, and manages to subsist on her earnings. “God has been very kind to me, even during lockdown, when many people lost their livelihood suddenly. One must work hard, irrespective of one’s age,” she said.

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2021 7:18:30 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Tiruchirapalli/retired-school-teacher-turns-vegetable-vendor/article33250414.ece

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