CHENNAI: Red and white candy, lollipops, ‘mysore-pak’, chips. The girls in their school uniform - pink davanis - crowd around Vijaya’s shop, jingling with coins. One biscuit, two rupees, two sweets, one rupee. They count the coins; some of them pay in credit. They address her familiarly as ‘aunty’, and she too knows many of them by name.
Every day during the lunch hour and school dismissal hour, the otherwise empty road is filled with uniformed children crowding around the three food carts. The nameless vendors around the schools are all over the city, with untold stories.
“It does not pay me much, but I don’t feel much difficulty doing this job,” says Vjaya who has battled with cancer and survived. She usually makes around `500 a day, of which her profit she says may be 10 per cent. “My daughter will soon finish her Class 12, I don’t know where to go for her college fees,” she says with apprehension.
She comes to the street in T Nagar at 8 am every day to cater to the two small schools in the vicinity, and before she began working here, her mother used to come to the same spot with the same cart.
Vijaya was a student of the same school back then, where her daughter now studies. Vijaya dropped out of school after a fire accident, and worked as a maid for some years, which again she had to stop after being diagnosed with cancer.
“It is hard to make ends meet. But I can’t think of any other work,” she says, quite cheerfully. Her husband too comes to the same place with another cart selling raw mangoes and papayas and cucumber.
“Some of the children are affectionate towards me, and this is the only place I come to.” For the children in these schools too, every penny counts as it is a free school and most of them too have parents who are domestic workers, watchmen, daily wage labourers.
“I come here when I collect enough coins, to buy chips or jamuns,” says Velankani, a Class 6 student who takes the bus home with her younger sister. The rest of them walk or cycle home, and as the children leave, Vijaya too packs her baskets and waits for her daughter to help her carry it home, just as the nameless vendors outside schools, still being paid in coins and the one-off ten-rupee note.