Senior citizens run small enterprises, taking the pandemic in their stride

Janaki Neelamani  

K.P. Neelamani was a renowned Tamil writer, who also distinguished himself as a small entrepreneur. A small lending library on Mandaveli Street is his claim to entrepreneurial glory.

Decades ago, I was part of a group of youngsters — average age somewhere in the mid-twenties — that frequented the library.

Neelamani was of a friendly disposition, and was open to having a light-hearted conversation with us, as we browsed through the collection.

After his demise, his wife Janaki Neelamani took over the reins of the lending library — named ‘Leo Library’ — and has had a set of loyal customers continuing to patronise it.

She brings a lot of discipline to how she runs the library, which is set in a space that is less that 100 sq.ft. She opens the facility on the dot at 9 a.m., every day.

The library would be closed for a while around noon when she would take a break, and reopened for business, it would continue to stay open until 7 p.m. depending on footfall.

Except for a few months, those involving the early phases of the lockdown, she has kept the library running.

She charges a nominal ₹100 as membership fee which is significantly lower than what is charged by other lending libraries. Only Tamil books are lent.

Recently, when I visited the library, she spoke with great affection, having remembered that I used to frequent the library decades ago. As she is 84 years old, her memory is indeed really sharp. She was even aware of my membership number — 100.

I would like our friends to once again patronise the lending library and that would the greater honour one would extend a lady who had displayed impressive initiative and grit.

There is a lot that youngsters can learn from her life. When I offered to become a member of the lending library once again, by paying a membership fee afresh, she flatly refused to take the fee.

When she created a fresh membership card, she reminded me that my membership — which came at a measly fee of ₹10, thirty years ago — still holds good, and that I would be an esteemed member of the library. The library is located near the Mandaveli Market opposite CC Bank.


Helpful attitude

Many in Mylapore have likely bought stamp paper from Rouf Basha. For more than two decades, he operates as a stamp paper vendor at Paripoorna Vinayagar Koil Street, near Rayars Cafe on Arundale Street, functioning from his house that doubles as a shop.

Senior citizens run small enterprises, taking the pandemic in their stride

Recently, overpowered by nostalgia, he narrated to me how chance, not choice led him into the profession, and that his enthusiasm for it is intense as when he first began. Rouf is 75 years old.

“Ask for any stamp paper, any denomination and I will have it,” says Rouf.

When he has not stocked up on the stamp paper you are looking for, he would go to the trouble of sourcing it for you the next day.

His shop is open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and again, from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.

He has visitors knocking at his door even at 11 p.m asking for stamp papers, and he also sells non-judicial stamp, notarial stamp, share stamp and insurance stamp.

The pandemic had dealt him a huge blow, as real estate transactions have dwindled, but in the last one month, things are looking up.

Property registrations have started, and people have started knocking at Rouf’s place for stamp papers and anything that they may need for submission of documents.

The precautions he has put in place to carry out his work are impressive.

Though of restricted dimensions, his shop shows signs of COVID-19 protocols being followed diligently.

He gets visitors to use a sanitiser dispenser, and makes sure people do not crowd at his shop.

“I allow only one person to come inside at a time, and all the others have to wait outside,” he says.

“Of course, I wear my mask and make sure everyone entering my shop wears one too.”


A punishing schedule

Easwari is well-known around the Chitrakulam area in Mylapore. Her family is known for its expertise in the kitchen and she runs a small mess in these parts.

She is diligent in her work, and age — she is in her seventies — has not changed her punishing work schedule, one that she had imposed on herself decades ago.



She has work timings that are set in stone, both in the morning and evening.

She would begin her work on the dot, selling idlis and dosas and uppuma, and also has a knack for quickly assessing what combination of food items would sell the most at a particular hour.

Easwari also cooks at a few houses for a few hours every day.

(Baskar Seshadri is a resident of Mandaveli and a volunteer-writer)

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2021 5:15:36 PM |

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