23 June, 2007

known city, unknown places

Sniff and tell : Over 20 tonnes of seafood are handled by over 3,000 people at this market every day. Asha S. Menon fishes around for details of the trade.

I am in the way. Of thermocol boxes or men dragging boxes of fish, of cups of tea or women with cane baskets… I have no fish to sell or buy, but am at Chintadripet Fish Market during one its busiest hours (5 a.m.). I hang around, hoping to unde rstand its working between shouts and being pushed about.

My first stop is a man who has balanced his plastic, deep tray of fish on many boxes. After a few full-throated cries, the man disgorges himself near his makeshift stall and into the muddy water pools on its floor, and in a few minutes somebody upsets his tray. After a few shouts, the prawns that were spilt in the muddy water on the floor are restored to the tray — back in business.

Hygiene is the first victim in cramped spaces, and therefore KMS Dharmalingam, head of the fish vendors’ association that has rented out this space, has requested the government to give them more space — a centrally located two-acre plot instead of the four and the half grounds they currently occupy. “Three to four thousand people do business here on weekdays, and five to six thousand on weekends,” he claims. A figure that is not too hard to believe when you have experienced the crowd. Around 20 to 25 tonnes of sea food, one-fourth of the city’s consumption, is bought and sold here, says Dharmalingam.

A hundred varieties

The day at the 200-year-old (if you believe Dharmalingam) market starts with the arrival of thermocol boxes that carry a hundred varieties of fish including pomfret, shark, koduva, sankara, vanjaram and kezhanga. They are brought, by rail and road, from different parts of the country — Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Karnataka, Goa, Mumbai, Gujarat and Kolkata (and the rest of Tamil Nadu, when the 45-day ban is not on). Some boxes are packed and boarded on the train, while some are brought by people like Saradha.

Forty-year-old Saradha lives on the rails. She takes a late night train from Andhra Pradesh and lands in Chennai in the early morn. After her day’s business, she takes a noon train back to Andhra Pradesh, and returns by the late train. She gets paid a part of what she sells.

The market starts filling in at around 6 a.m., and retailers, mostly women, push their way through the crowd. While the wholesalers (who do business from 4 a.m. to 9.30 a.m.) stay perched on raised platforms keeping accounts, their assistants trade. Everyone is exchanging notes on the rates at which the fish is being sold, and everyone is in a hurry to get the best price. I am carried by the crowd to stalls where people are arguing over prices. They shout and sometimes abuse one another over prices, but together crack into laughter at a joke. Fish that are presumably dead, jump back into life and out of the baskets in pathetic attempts to escape. One tries to wriggle away, through the muddy waters on the floor, but its escape is aborted by a fish vendor who drops it back into a plastic sack.

During the busy trading, I spot tea cups that magically appear in hands. I look around to find the source, and spot Kannan with a thermos flask. While he supplies within the market, Ajees does outside. Once the buy is made, the vendors step out into the road and have a cup at Ajees’ bicycle teashop before dispersing to different corners of the city.

Some fish vendors like the elderly Nessapattu stay back and wait outside the shed. A few retailers and members of the association, including her, are allowed to trade in the shed after the wholesale trading. I ask her what the association does for her, and she replies, “Provide fish and space, and little else.”

During her wait, Nesapattu tries vending her shrimp placed on a thermocol sheet. She sprinkles water on them every now and then, to ward away the flies that gather. This corner she shares with four others is crowded with boxes, decaying jute sacks and plastic pots that hold water. Selvam too waits his turn at the corner. He is selling vavval fish to women who will then sell it to export companies. He says he was selling the fish for Rs. 50, when the previous day it was priced at Rs . 150.

After a cup at Ajees’, I step to the left of the market, where ancillary businesses like cutting and cleaning take place. Kumaran has been doing the job for 10 years now and get paid Rs. 5 per kg by hotels and Rs. 10 per kg by homemakers. He hopes to retail in fish someday, and would like his school-going children to work elsewhere. Around 30 people work in this part of the market; like the retailers, each of them has to pay a rent to the association. To rent space, you need to be a member of the association, and “to be a member, five to six generations of your family should be in this line of business,” says Laxmi, another fish cutter.

I return to the main shed at 10.30 a.m. to see the market winding up. Boxes and sacks are making their way out, and retail traders sweep and swab the shed clean. They set up shop on the platforms and customers start trickling in. The retail trading shuts shop at 2 p.m. and reopens at 6 p.m. for an hour.

After its throbbing morning hours, the market’s afternoons and evenings seem like a stretch and a yawn before it’s time for bed.

credits: thanks to Metro Plus, The Hindu
Story: Asha Menon
Photos: K. V. Srinivasan

20 June, 2007

Known City, Unknown Places
planning to have this as a series. let c how this goes. lets start with Maskan Chavady

One day in the life of ... Maskan Chavady: Pet destination. Every Sunday, Maskan Chavady turns into a bazaar for birds and animals. PRINCE FREDERICK hangs around

Traders at Maskan Chavady are wary of reporters. Three years ago, rooster-sellers went into silence at the sight of my scribble-pad. So this time around, I leave pen and paper behind but dress up for this special assignment. After my alarm clock duti fully wakes me at five in the morning, I get into a canary green polo-neck T-shirt with a block-printed image of a pigeon and catch what is probably the first morning bus in my neck of the woods. From Parry’s Corner, I hire an auto for a Sunday morning date with birds and beasts. Nobody gives me a second look, thanks to my canary green T-shirt. Good for me, the milling crowd thinks I am one of their own.
There are no shops here, but it is still a busy market. The commerce takes place on either side of a road that leads to what is called the Kozhi Market (a wholesale chicken market in Broadway). The area is known as Maskan Chavady. Standing and squatting, men and a sprinkling of women line the road selling ducks, pigeons, budgies, cockatiels, African love birds, roosters, puppies, kittens, white mice and rabbits. These are some of the more common creatures at Maskan Chavady, but pretty much any animal can be brought and sold at this Sunday market (from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m.)

Attempt at history

I show an interest in homing pigeons, offered by Ravi at Rs. 200 a pair. When I try to beat down the price, he says his price is fair. Apparently, he keeps pigeons as a hobby, selling some to maintain the rest. When he reduces the price to Rs. 100 a pair, I tell him I am not interested. That I am a journalist looking for a story.

Ravi introduces me to 71-year-old Mohan, touted as the best bet to throw light on the market’s origins. But Maskan Chavady existed even before Mohan began to sell pigeons as a 10-year-old. As it turns out, he is not very informed about the market’s history.

The bazaar is sustained by the passion of pet lovers. Many travel long distances to be here. The traders take a lot of trouble too. Duck-seller Kumar pedals from Vadakkarai (beyond Red Hills) after ingeniously piling cages high on his cycle carrier. However, Nakeeran tops the list for enthusiasm. He can’t use his legs and with a cycle made for the handicapped, he travels slowly from Old Washermanpet to sell rabbits. And there is always someone new entering the fold. Rajkumar is just knee high to a grasshopper. But this boy has come (escorted by 17-year-old Elvis, his neighbour and ‘anna’) to trade in white mice today (at Rs. 30 a pair).

It is 8.30 a.m. and two hours of chatting and walking around is beginning to tell on me. I am badly in need of my morning coffee and something to chew on. For small change, Nagoor offers me a cup from the steel can he carries around on a cycle. And I depend on Samikanu from Korukupet for breakfast – gruel made from ragi. As pet lovers and traders leave home early, these mobile eateries do brisk business till the last man leaves.

I decide to buy myself a memento from Maskan Chavady. There are bird cages, which I will require shortly for a mini-aviary I have been planning for my little son. The one I take a fancy for costs Rs. 900, more than what I carry with me to the market.

I sit on my haunches and inspect a pile of catapults spread out on a cardboard. I end up buying one for Rs. 15 from Kumar, a gypsy who makes them using rubber meant for surgical appliances.

As I leave the market with this keepsake tucked in my pocket, I can’t help thinking, “This is interesting! Nobody knows when it started. Nobody can lay claim to any space. It is not controlled by rules, yet there is order.”

Thanks to : Metro Plus, The Hindu
Photos & Story: Prince Frederick, The Hindu

13 June, 2007

the druids of a lost tribe : The Georges, Sittlingi

i was there. to sittlingi, to visit regi and lalitha george. to witness a true story of inspiration, the passion with which they area serving to tribals. my words will fail if i try to explain the experience. experience with nature and innocence. i have copied story abt them featured in outlook and hindu.

Are you missionaries or Naxalites?" Dr Regi M. George was asked, when he approached the Scheduled Tribes Commission in Tamil Nadu for statistics on adivasis. George and his wife, Lalitha Regi, were neither. They were doctors from Kerala, a decade into their careers, looking for a place forsaken by the healthcare system. A 70-km bone-rattling drive into Tamil Nadu's Dharmapuri district brings you to what they found: Sittlingi. In this impoverished cluster of 21 adivasi villages, with a population of 10,000, they set up home and hospital 13 years ago, with little money and much family opposition.

"We don't let rigour or quality of work suffer just because we work in villages," says Dr George.

Why Sittlingi? The infant mortality rate (IMR) was 154 per 1,000 (15 in 100 children died before turning one), 75 per cent of newborns recorded low birth weight (LBW), diarrhoea was common. Dubious 'motorcycle doctors' peddled injections and medicines for hefty profits. "The nearest hospital was in Harur, 45 km away."

And the place was beautiful. Getting land was a struggle—bribe-seeking local authorities insisted non-tribals couldn't buy any. "So we just encroached and occupied an acre of tribal land that an adivasi was willing to sell, against the rules," says George coolly. ActionAid pitched in with Rs 10,000. Thus was an outpatient department born, in a mud-thatched hut. A full-fledged hospital with inpatient facility was constructed in 1997.

Initially, says Lalitha, adivasis stayed away, sceptical of doctors who were erecting masonry and digging wells. The breakthrough came after she rode a cycle to a remote hamlet and saved the life of a diarrhoea patient. Today, not just adivasis, but non-tribals too flock to their Tribal Health Initiative, drawn by low costs and ethical practices. OPD registration costs tribals Rs 15, non-tribals Rs 25. Repeat visits are free. Patient records are computerised. Says George: "We don't compromise on rigour and quality of care just because we work in a remote area."

At first, adivasi elders resented their girls being trained as health workers, but in 2004, there were 200 applications for six vacancies. The IMR has more than halved, to 68. No mother has died during childbirth in Sittlingi in the last three years.

Life is full, for George, 47, and Lalitha, 46, with work, and two children, but there are things they miss, and it's not just the Kottayam fish curry. Says George, "We work with the adivasis, but we don't share a common language of literature or music." What they miss most, however, is peer support. Engineer S. Ravichander, who shares their passions, administers the hospital. An architect couple educates adivasi children. Young doctors come and go, but none have opted to join them in 13 years.

Photo and Story Credits: Outlook www.outlookindia.com . Story by S. Anand, Outlook

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08 June, 2007


கண்களை இறுக மூடுகிறேன்
இருள் படரத் தொடங்குகிறது!
ஒன்று இரண்டு
எனத் தொடங்கி
ஆயிரமாயிரம் பிரதிகளாய்
விழியெங்கும் விரவி

அருகில் நீயில்லா பொழுதுகள்!

மின் தகனமேடை





காற்றுடன் கலந்து கரைந்து

காணாமல் போகின்றன

அருகில் நீயில்லா பொழுதுகள்!

credits: priyan