Visiting a village shandy particularly in the South of India is an experience unlike any other.A few years ago having paid a visit to one closer to my home I became besotted by the hustle and bustle all over again,only this time as an adult !So when I was invited to the sandhai,as it is referred to in Tamil,in the Pulliyampatti area ,I was only too happy to accept!
I’ve come to develop a sort of kinship with the area in and around Pollachi. It so happens that whenever we visit the weather guardians get all elements in place in a manner that is one of complete enchantment. As we entered Negamam the clouds darkened visibly ,rewarding the beautiful landscape with a light shower of gentle raindrops that made people stop and smile rather than run for cover.
I did wonder about the fate of the sandhai but the passing drizzle added a coolness to the air which seemed to entice more folk out of their homes for their weekly Friday trip to this particular market.
At first glance , a small scattering of shops on the main road had me wondering if we had come to the right place.It wasn’t until Pravin escorted us to the side road that I caught a view of the entire market space. The sight,to put it quite simply was breathtaking. For starters it wasn’t like the shandys that I had been to thus far,where traders convened inside a large open space.No , this one was on a narrow street where men and women positioned themselves neatly on either side of the road and still left enough room for their customers to walk about completely unhindered. The picturesque skies in the background added to the beauty of the clean ,lively lane. And the colours just completely caught hold of our senses. Imagine every primary colour of the rainbow along with each of it’s complementary hues moving about amongst a river of humanity in complete abandon but with a strange sense of organized delight! Even the home owners seemed to welcome this colourful intrusion into their lives,with open arms.
Once our vision adapted to all of that vibrancy it was then that we stopped to actually pay attention to what was being sold. By then we ourselves had attracted a fair bit of attention.We pulled out our respective gadgets and that did it. Shouts went out from one seller to another, “hey look here,they’re clicking a photo!” At first we just smiled but,the damage was done and there was no way out. The next questions were,”hey why are you only taking pictures of her,what about me ?!” ,”Don’t take pictures of my badly comed hair,please take some of my vegetables!” , “Could you please take photos of my kid?”…and just like that we were drawn into curious conversation. The fact that we spoke the vernacular with ease wasn’t questioned,it was just accepted and the interaction flowed smoothly sans inhibitions of any kind .
The tomatoes, herbs, dried fish , peanuts ,potatoes, pomegranate etc were all priced at Rs.10. The quantity on the plate or bowl might have varied but the going rate on every mat was Rs.10/ “Maybe we should call it the 10 rupee market,”quipped Pravin. All of us were clearly in a heightened state of amusement albeit for different reasons. There were plastic plates in the shape of hearts and circles on which most of the produce was displayed. When I asked if the price included the plate,they laughed disbelievingly and said it was just for the ‘look’!
There were others who were almost poetic in their exuberance to sell their wares.One lady likened the green of her basket of lady’s finger to that of parrots and that of her gourds to wings in the air,all in Tamil of course. Another seller insisted that my drumstick tree at home could never yield fruit as tasty as the ones he sold and despite my indignation continued to yell at the top of his voice that the essence of spice was on the rise as his green chillies were selling out fast ! Yes,the shandy was also a place to be entertained by the many facets of human wit and candour.
As we continued walking,the seller at the very last seemed forlorn that no one visited his stall. Just as we were about to examine his produce, he spoke in a gush of English with good grammar, pronunciation and all. Of course I was intrigued. Ashok Kumar,he introduced himself ,had moved to these parts after having spent time battling the living standards and traffic in Bangalore’s most crowded streets.He had a million questions about us and what we were upto and at the end agreed that life down south though not always profitable was free from worry and most importantly vehicular crowding!!! He also went on to tell us that the reason behind the shandy’s popularity was because of our late Chief Minister amma who gave her permission for people to set up weekly trade as long as they paid a minimal token as tax to the local Panchayat.Most of these people were more than happy to pay the price that depended on the area that they used up .If lighting was required then it would cost more. We did in fact see a lady going by from vendor to vendor with a check list for tax collection.
Interestingly while most shandys have existed for decades or more ,this one is just over a year old. It started small with a few sellers before growing to it’s current size. From what we witnessed it was quite apparent that the locals from different strata of society were more than happy to encourage this evening shandy .Given the nominal rates and freshness of ingredients we weren’t the least surprised.
It also encouraged enterprising folk like Mahalakshmi who found the income from selling coffee at shandys so lucrative that she gave up her day job at house-keeping at an institution nearby. By paying her share of taxes she has won complete monopoly for her thriving trade.
Shandy visits were originally meant to be family outings.This one seemed no less different with the children at each counter also lending their voices to the bidding. The camaraderie between the neighbor-sellers be it with lending the weighing scales, offering gruel to the young ,or just respecting another’s space was so heartening to watch.The sandhai also affords the opportunity for playful exchanges and stolen glances among the adolescent lot and we were privy to one happening right before our eyes !
My wire koodai was filled with idli podi ,ripe red chillies, sweet potato tubers and tiny country lemons.As we watched dusk turn to night,the lights came on ,adding an altogether different charm to this happy 10 rupee market that stays open as late as 9pm. Our drive back was filled with gratitude for the vibes of positivity that enveloped us all the while during our fascinated exploration of the alluring Pulliampatti sandhai !