Meet the essential workers in Chennai who are silently helping you get through the lockdown

Providing vegetables in the time of COVID-19

The streets of Chennai’s Kilpauk are often visited by a lady in a pink mask, selling produce in her pushcart so that residents can avooid crowded shops

Alamelu’s vegetable cart is a riot of colour: ripe yellows, rich reds, soothing deep greens. “Were you looking for my sister? She has gone to Chengalpattu to visit her daughter, as she had not seen the girl since March. So you will have to deal with me for a few days,” she says in a gently teasing tone. Everything about her is gentle, from her bargaining methods over vegetables and fruit to her soft voice, in contrast to her sister, whose clear call for wares had been penetrating closed doors and drowning out loud fans in six-storey Kilpauk flats ever since the COVID-19 lockdown began. Even Alamelu’s mask is mild: pale pink, with a cream rim. “I bought three different ones at a shop nearby and wear them in turns. They have to be washed everyday, you know, and dried in the sun,” she tells me in between weighing out brinjals, potatoes, pomegranates, curry leaves and mounds of grapes. “My friends and I get the vegetables from a small market in Villivakam and the fruits from Madhavaram. The wholesale markets only sell them in bulk. How can we buy 70 kilograms of vegetable and sell them in pushcarts? We buy about 15 kilograms of each vegetable and divide them between ourselves.” They have not had to expand their area of operations, because more people sit in wait for them now, than in the pre-pandemic days: “What would you prefer, driving to a crowded shop or buying from me at home, at a few rupees extra?” Even so, selling the produce takes a good few hours of work, from 8 am till late afternoon, and her profits run into a few hundred rupees only on good days. “On others, people barely buy at all.”

Her “area” of work comprises a few lanes in Kilpauk, some tree-lined and others sun-beaten. Most of her business invariably comes from four buildings, “especially one near the petrol pump and two near Rukmini school”. Residents here keep an eye out for the sisters, especially at one down Halls Road that Alamelu points out. “ A lady there sees me from her balcony, and comes down with a large bottle of water and some food everyday. We chat for a while,” she says with a fond smile.

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Printable version | Jul 14, 2020 10:35:52 AM |

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