TIRUCHY: As Sindhu tucks her children into bed, her husband, Marimuthu starts preparing tea, but not for himself. He carefully lets the tea boil and the aroma of ginger and cardamom fills the entire house. As the clock strikes 10 pm, this tea master loads a big can full of tea onto his cycle, throws in a few biscuit packets in the bag in front and sets off to the highway near G Corner in Ponmalai.
He finds a nice spot, parks his cycle, gets the teacups ready and stands to wait for customers. When we pull up, he eagerly starts pouring a cup of tea and smiles and says we are his first customers for the night. The smile never leaves Marimuthu's face as he recalls his struggle during the lockdown. This tea master at a busy shop in Tiruchy has been left without an income since March 24. This father of six says it has been a difficult battle. "We managed with the rations for a few days and savings. But I have seven mouths to feed and my wife also has not been working since the lockdown. My children need good nutrition.
To save them and prevent them from starving, I decided to start selling tea. I come here daily at 10.30 pm with two litres of tea," says Marimuthu.
He has been earning about Rs. 300 each night since the past 10 to 15 days, when he started selling tea. On most days, he goes back home by 2 am, when his tea sells out. He wants to ensure a good future for his three girls and three boys. The oldest child is 16 and the youngest is five. As you drive down the highway, both sides are dotted with such tea sellers. As the night progresses, the number of people selling tea also increases. This is not the primary job of most of these men selling tea. The lockdown has forced them to do this for their livelihoods.
Kishore (18) also sells tea every night. He comes out by 7 pm and sells tea till 2 am. Having finished his Class 12 board exams, this was not the summer vacation he expected. "My father is a scrap iron dealer. Since the lockdown, he has not been able to earn anything. To support him and the family, I have been selling tea. My father also accompanies me on most nights. We earn about Rs. 300 to Rs 350 each night," says Kishore, who wants to be an engineer.
Kumar (47) used to earn anywhere from Rs 600 to Rs 1,000 per day at the juice shop he was working at. He has been selling tea near the vegetable market for two months now and is earning about Rs. 500 per day. "You have to work hard. I have two girls and have to support them. I will not go and ask anyone for money. We can manage by doing what we know. If this fails, I will do something else," says Kumar.
The one thing common among all these tea sellers is their enterprising nature and their never say die attitude. They have turned adversity into an opportunity.