Spreading sweetness, smile for 50 years
By Ancie Wilfred and Lissy Maruthanakuzhy
Nagpur: Lakshmibhai Kotpalliwar is a familiar sight at the gate of St Francis School in Nagpur. The 75-year-old woman has been selling sweets from the same spot for the past 50 years, whether sun or rain, winter or summer.
Her admirers include thousands of children as well as visitors to the school managed by the Archdiocese of Nagpur, central India.
“When I started one priest told me that if I did not sell addictive items, nobody would ever chase me from here. In case it happens we can fight for our rights,” she recalled her beginning.
Her kiosk is on the edge of a footpath and she sits there, sometimes dangling her legs, or just squatting. A plastic sheet tied with a string to a pole protects her from the sun. While others move around heads covered to escape the scorching sun, the sari-clad woman sits with only God as her protection.
“When you work hard and have a clean heart, there is nothing to worry. God will take care of the rest,” she told Matters India with her characteristic smile that brightens her tanned and wrinkled face.
“As long as good words are on your lips, the world is with you,” Lakshmi added.
She came to the footpath after a few tragedies in life.
She lost her mother when she was just 3 and her grandparents brought her up. “They loved me a lot,” she said. Although unschooled, Lakshmi learned the intricacies of life as well as certain crafts that came handy.
Asked what made her so happy, the native of Secunderabad said: “I have a good and loving husband.”
She moved to Nagpur, after her marriage when she was just 13. She became a mother in a year. By the time she turned 25, the woman had seven children.
Her husband, Usanna, owned a shoe shop but he lost it because of some friends. This found relief in drinking.
To maintain the family she chose to sell sweets, stickers and other such small items to school children near the school gate. The husband took care of the home.
“Earlier there was a boarding and many students,” she recalled her first days at work. “The sisters who managed the boarding were also helpful to me. I could do it all because of my husband. He was very cooperating. He looked after the house while I was away,” she added.
Her flexible albeit bulky body does not hamper her movements. She come to the gate by 7 am before children begin to arrive and remains there until the last student leaves the around 2:30 pm. Then she packs everything into the sacks and wait for her grandson.
She has stocked her shop with practically everything a student needs: various types of sweets, sour fruits, stickers, marbles. A stationery shop near her display guards her little shop when she moves out for some need. Such is the friendship she has established with her surroundings.
Her eldest grandson buys the items from the local wholesale markets. Some items are hung on strings near her while the rest are displayed on a plastic sheet on the footpath.
Lakshmi says many students – old and present — are her friends.
The past half century has seen her seven children settling down in various strata of life. She is happy that they do not depend on her, not even the daughter who is abandoned by her husband.
Lakshmi want to work as long as she can. “Sitting at home, I waste my time; here I can do something,” she said while adding another tiny bead to the plastic thread for a cellphone cover.
She is industrious as well as resourceful. In her hands waste materials get transformed into usable items.
She said she had sold several cellphone covers. “I can also make lace for petticoats,” she claimed while displaying the lace she is working on. “My grandmother taught me this,” she said.
They couldn’t provide her with an education but they knew that she would need certain skills to be counted among those eligible for marriage. She still gets orders for crochet laces that can be used to beautify table covers or petticoats, for instance.
Lakshmi says she can smile mainly because she has a positive attitude to life and gratitude for God and society. She says she tries to do her best and believes that God is doing the rest for her.