KOCHI: The sun rises over a changed landscape in a narrow road beyond the Gandhi statue in Perumbavoor on Sundays.
The Gandhi Street, as it is known, resounds with Hindi, Oriya and Bengali on Sundays. The buses plying in this route too will have names of the places written crudely in Hindi. The shops play Odia songs. The roadside eateries dish out boondi and chana jalebi instead of banana chips and halwa. Even the only theatre around, interestingly titled ‘Lucky’, replaces the posters of South flicks with likes of Anubhav Mohanty starred Odia movie ‘Mental’.
The socio-political and economic fabric of Gandhi Street in Perumbavoor, a satellite town of Kochi, gets flipped on Sundays. It is as if the street gets transformed into a mini-West Bengal overnight. From early morning itself a sea of migrant labourers, whom the locals call ‘Anya Samsthana Thozhilalikal’ but a two to three million strong community in Kerala, starts flowing into the street.
The bazaar in Gandhi Street on Sunday puts up for sale a wide range of ‘exclusive’ products for them to chose from. They range from the Bengal-made ‘Mukti’ beedi to besan ladoo.
“Jo jo chahiye, sab milega (you will get whatever you want),” said Muhammad Ayinul Wahab, a native of Odisha who has made Kerala his second home and who frequents the market on all Sundays. He added after a pause, “Thoda zyada bi milega (will get even more).”
The story of ‘Mukti’ beedi, is itself a fascinating one. Purchased in large bundles from the streets of Bengal and transported via train(legally and sometimes illegally, tells the salesman), it makes a long arduous journey before it reaches the hands of a craving customer in Kerala.
“People come from even Kollam and Idukki to purchase things from this Bazar,” said Abdul Rahman, who has been running the shop in the street for the past 15 years.
One man stands(actually sits) out in the melee. He could be seen sitting on a stool in the traditional Indian style, keeping an eye on the happenings on the street. His name is Lateef, a gulf-returned Malayalee, who is an important guy here in this market.
It can be safely said that Lateef call the shots in the bazaar, because a lion’s share of shops in the streets, is owned by him. He also supplies water to the bazaar, meeting the expense from his own purse. We asked him why and he replied, “It is easy to make a parallel between this bazaar and the sea of Malayalees meeting in Riyadh on weekends. They are basically good people who badly miss their home state. It is to eke out a living that they are here just like we go to Riyadh or Saudi. Why not treat them well,” said Lateef.
Though the immigration of labourers from Eastern parts of the country to Kerala is no new story, the increase in their numbers has dramatically changed the landscape in Perumbavoor. At present, they make almost 90 percent of those employed in the plywood, chemical and glass factories for which the place well known. They also populate the 5,000 something small scale industries in the region.