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The life of a Nattami Carrying the burden of their lives There seems to be no silver lining behind

4 December 2013 07:17 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Pettah is a city which is famous for bazaars and open air markets. It is one of the busiest cities in the Island with many commercial establishments. It is a common site to anyone who would walk in to Pettah, to see people carrying humongous parcels or pulling carts with a heavy load of parcels. In ordinary language they are called “Nattamis”.





Nattamis have engaged in this trade for years, but their lives are heavy with sorrow than the heavy loads of goods they carry each day. For them it is not merely carrying goods, but also winning the battle of life




These Nattamis have engaged in this trade for years, but their lives are heavier with sorrow than the heavy loads of goods they carry each day. For them it is not merely carrying goods, but also winning the battle of life.

Suresh Munisamy (38), a Nattami who engaged in carrying goods for around two decades told us that in the early days, life was not as difficult as it is today.
“I engaged in this profession for about twenty years. But in earlier days life was not as difficult as now. For one parcel we carry those days we got around one to two rupees. But we were able to manage to live with what we got as the cost of living was not as high as today. Now we get around twenty rupees for a parcel we carry,” he said.

According to him life was “sundar” or blissful in early days. Now he can earn around eight hundred rupees per day but that is also not a stable income. Some days, especially rainy days they do not have much work.  Also they have other expenses which are tangled to the profession itself.

“I earn around eight hundred rupees per day approximately. But that does not mean I get to take home all that money. Sometimes we have to borrow a cart on a daily rental which is around seventy rupees. If there is even a minor damage, we will have to pay around two hundred rupees. After settling all these I have a very small amount which is not even enough for food,” he said.

He said his only wish was to give a good education to his children. “I had no choice but to do this job because I did not have a good education. But I want my children to have a better life. I do not want them to engage in the same profession,” he said.

But Suresh has worries about the children. He said even if the children got qualified there would be an issue with regard to social status. As there is always a gap between the upper and the lower classes in society, he is doubtful whether his children will be able to climb the social ladder.

Then we met young  N. Ranjan who has engaged in the profession for ten years. Refusing to tell us how old he is he also said he had to engage in this profession due to lack of education.

“I studied up to grade seven. But I had many siblings and my parents could not afford to pay for my education. Hence I took up this job. If I work hard I can somehow earn a thousand five hundred rupees to two thousand rupees. With a little bit of saving I can manage the daily expenses. But there are days I do not have work. There is no constant income. Every month I have to borrow money. We struggle a lot as the cost of living is very high and our income has not increased parallel to that,” he said.
Ranjan said smiling, but shyly that he has a girlfriend and has plans to get married. “I want to save some money before getting married. She is also employed abroad so we both can have a good life,” he said.

There are many youngsters like Ranjan who had got in to the profession as they had no choice because they failed to get a good education due to their family issues. All they have is the strong physique and hope for tomorrow, for it will be better than today.

K. Subramaniam, who is in his sixties is one of the seniors in the clique or “bajaar” as they call it, said he has engaged in the profession for more than three decades. He still remembers the day he joined as a “Nattami”.

“I joined as a ‘Nattami’ on 22nd of May 1970. And I am still a ‘Nattami’. Those days life was not impossible as the income was sufficient to meet our daily expenses. But now it is difficult with the sky rocketing cost of living,” he said.

According to him, about twenty years back a packet of rice was seventy five cents. Now it is priced at a hundred rupees. A plain tea was priced five cents and today it is fifteen rupees. He said travelling was another burden.

“In the early days bus fare was ten cents from here to Thotalanga. But now it is twenty six rupees. Some used to walk all the way from here to their homes after work if they did not have enough money for the bus fare. But now that is also a problem. It is around ten in the night by the time we finish work and there are instances some of the workers get arrested by the police when they walk to their houses, for loitering. They are released on the next day. This happens quite often. So even though people do not earn enough they are forced to take an “Aata” (trishaw) to go home. From Pettah market to Thotalanga an “Aata” charges two hundred rupees,” Subramaniam said.

He complained that maintenance of the premises was unsatisfactory. He stated that previous governments listened to their problems and always gave them solutions. But now politicians come only during the election period after which they disappear.

“We do not have proper sanitary facilities here. The toilets we use are those which were built more than twenty years ago.  During the previous government, these roads were cleaned daily after work. After all what is stored here is what people eat. You should come here on a rainy day. You can see the hell with your own eyes,” he said.
Subramaniam said their lives had not improved and was the same old life thinking how to live each day without a hope for tomorrow. He said he did not want his children to get in to this profession.

“I made sure my children did not get in to this profession. My son works as a tailor and my daughter is married. I do not have savings, all I have is some money to meet the daily needs. If I get sick it is my children who take me to the doctor,” he said.

He said he had to go through an eye surgery which cost fifty thousand rupees. It was his son who paid the hospital fee, which he has raised by borrowing.
When I asked some of them about the habit of using drugs and liquor, some of the “Nattamis” said some people get in to such habits as they do not have hope for tomorrow, especially young “Nattamis”. They do not have much marriage prospects due to their social status and low income.

“We do not earn money to meet our daily needs. And the girls expect us to make gold jewellery for them. And when we fail to earn, the marriages are called off,” one said.

I met Weerasena (74) who has been in the Pettah market for forty years. He said his family lived in Dehiowita and he went there once a week. Although he is not physically fit like the good old days he manages to earn a few bucks.

“With the help of others I manage to earn a small amount of money.  I cannot do anything else but this,” he said.

All the people I spoke to said although the world has moved and Colombo has developed, at least a trace of development has not reached their lives. Their social status, income and everything else is the same, and they are still at the place where they started life.  

To them everyday is the same and there is no new dawn.
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