It’s scary to see the bike riders in black coloured clothes in the backdrop of the Jallikattu protests in Chennai. Unfazed by all this is Amudha, who sells tender coconuts on the wayside. Despite the hardships of life, she is not a bitter cynic. She plans for the future and also splurges. For her younger son’s wedding, she spent Rs 8 lakh and had also invited Stalin, the son of the DMK leader, Karunanidhi. She buys flowers for Rs 100/- every Friday for the gods but the last time she saw a cinema in a hall was 30 years back. Shail profiles the resolute woman, who is a face in the crowd, in the weekly column, for Different Truths.
“I drink a lot of coconut water. It balances out all the other toxic stuff I put into my body.” ~ Rihanna, Music artist
Amidst an uncertain backdrop of Jallikattu, fifty-year- old Amudha’s tender coconut cart comes as a welcome respite. With the roads filled with youngsters zooming on bikes in black coloured clothes, it didn’t seem the appropriate atmosphere to either sell coconuts or to take an interview. But then, both of us had deadlines to meet.
She has been selling tender coconuts from the time she got married.
So, was it difficult to start earning soon after you got married?
“It is a part of life. I do not come from some rich family to enjoy the luxuries of newly married life. I too have to support my husband, so it was not a big thing.”
What does your husband do?
She points out to a cart covered with cloth some distance away from her cart.
“He sells watermelons here. We both work here. I sell coconuts and he sells watermelons. Today, he is sick so he couldn’t come otherwise by 6 am we both are here.”
So, are you comfortable with him working nearby?
“What is there to be uncomfortable about? He is after all my Taai Maama (mother’s brother).”
What about the other members of your family?
“I have two sons and one daughter.”
Have they studied?
“Yes. Yes. I couldn’t study. None of my sisters did. So, I saw to it that with whatever my husband and I could earn we made our children study. My sons have studied until 10th and my daughter until 8th .”
Do your sons earn?
“Yes. Yes. Both are auto rickshaw drivers.”
So, you all live together?
“No. My elder son is married and lives with his family very near my house, while my younger son just got married and lives with us. He has recently become a father too.”
Do you have your own house?
“No. With our kind of income where is the money to save and buy a house? See, I make just enough to take care of the essentials along with my husband’s income.”
She paused for a while and continued.
“You see that bank nearby? I had some money in it. But then, my elder son wanted money for the education of his children. So, I not only used that little amount but also mortgaged my jewellery and gave him 40, 000/-. It is eight months now but he has not mentioned one word about returning it back. He knows that my love for my grandchildren is my weakness. What to do?”
“I go back by 7 0’clock in the evening.”
What do you do when you go back home? Do you have a TV?
“Yes, we have a TV. But where does my husband allow me to watch? He is always watching the news or movies. I tend to the housework so I hardly get to watch. Even if I get to watch some serial I never get around completing it.”
Tell me, if you were not selling coconuts what would you be doing?
“See, I have no specific desires. If I was not selling coconuts I would be selling something else, doing something to support my husband in running the house.”
What do you like to eat?
She laughs. “Do I have a choice? I eat whatever is available. My husband too is not very fussy. He has two idles for tiffin in the morning, rice in the afternoon and two chapattis for dinner.”
When was the last time you saw a movie I asked of her thinking that she might have seen something on television at least.
“You know Liberty theatre? The last movie I saw was there. And, that was 30 years back. Where is the time now? And, I cannot indulge in such luxuries.”
You lived in the village you mentioned. How did you feel when you came to a city like Chennai?
“When one is in the village, especially when one is unmarried and in the mother’s house, it is real freedom. When one gets married and comes to a bigger place only then does one realise what life really is!”
So, your children especially the boys, did they find their own wives or you found them their spouses?
“I did. See, the world is really bad. Youngsters are just running off and doing all sorts of things. So, when my children did not study after their 10th I told them that they are not to get into affairs and all. I will search wives for them.”
Are you happy with your choices?
“More or less. For my elder son’s wedding, I didn’t spend much because one is always wary when one is making arrangements for a child’s wedding for the first time. For my second son, I just threw caution to the winds. I spent eight lakhs for the arrangements and even invited Stalin (son of DMK chief Karunanidhi) for the wedding.”
And she beamed happily.
Do you believe in God?
“Yes, I do but don’t visit the temple often. I just say ‘Namaskaram’ from outside. But, every Friday I buy 100/- worth of flowers and decorate the pictures of all the Gods at home. That I do without fail.”
“See, I am not afraid of anything. We all have come empty handed and will go back empty handed. We will get only what is written for us. I only wish that till my dying breath I am able to function without depending on anybody.”
What would you want to say to youngsters today?
“Spend according to the size of your sheet. Do keep something for yourself but give the rest to your parents. And yes, marry the girl that your parents choose for you.”
“No desire as such. I have lived all my life in a rented house. At this stage, I don’t think that I will ever be able to stay in my own house. That is okay. I am only saving money for my eight-year-old granddaughter. She is very good in studies and wants to become a doctor. She belongs to the Simha Raasi you know, just like Amma (Jayalalitha).”
Tiny selfless dreams this grandmother has for her grandchild. Even after making a hand to mouth existence she has something to edge her on in life, some goal to keep her going. What more does one need?
I thank her, have some sweet tender coconut water and start for home.
Photos by Vinod Naraen
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