Published: 07th March 2020
Everyday Sheroes: 70-year-old Vilasini Dasappan goes door-to-door hawking some of the freshest fish in Kochi
In our run-up to Int'l Women's Day 2020, we have curated this series of stories of women who aren't extraordinary — but our world may just stop going around smoothly if they decided to call it a d
More than three decades ago, her mother-in-law handed over a large aluminum vessel to Vilasini Dasappan and asked her to be a fishmonger. Though she was quite apprehensive, the 70-year-old remembers nodding her head. "It was a necessity back then. I had to earn my bread," she recalls. "My husband worked in a shrimp factory and he would be unemployed for days. My mother-in-law, who used to be a fishmonger, had fallen ill and I had three children to feed. This was my only option to earn money," she narrates. Right from that day, every morning, she woke up at 5:00 am, before the crack of dawn. She made breakfast, freshened up, took the vessel and went down to the local fishermen in North Paravur in Kerala to buy the freshest catch, straight from the sea. She then carried it from house to house and sold it to the womenfolk in the neighbourhood.
There are a lot of difficulties in this job. But I am not privileged enough to let them bother me. This helps me earn my bread every day
Vilasini has been doing this routinely and religiously for all these years, without taking even a day off. "By around 9 in the morning, I'd have finished selling all the fish. I go home and make lunch. Again, at 2 pm, I go to the vendor in the town to buy some more fish which I sell at a tiny stall near my house, until 6:00 pm," Vilasini explains her daily routine. "I walk around 3-4 kilometres these days. That's the maximum that I can do. But that wasn't the case twenty years ago. I have walked through all the major streets of this town," she recalls. Vilasini wore a checkered mundu, a turquoise blouse and crumbled cotton white shawl with a golden and blue border. "This is a new addition," she says, touching the shawl. "Previously, I only wore a mundu and a blouse. It feels embarrassing, to think about it now," she says with a shy smile.
At 9 am, the sun is scorching hot. She wipes her sweat several times with the shawl's end. "The heat is unbearable these days. Thank God I get to go home by 10 am. I escape the noon sun," she says and adds, "But at 2 pm, I don't bother to walk. It is almost impossible. So, I take a bus to town and come back to my stall in an auto-rickshaw." Vilasini's stall is a small one, with no chair next to it. "I stand there until 6:00 pm on most days, despite walking this distance every morning. It is certainly taking a toll on my health," she says. Her knees are no longer strong. "The pain gets really bad at times. I mostly massage my legs with an Ayurvedic oil and keep moving forward," she says.
In the midst of her routine, Vilasini could not get the time to learn how to read and write. "I went to school until Grade III but that was a futile exercise. I don't know the alphabet," she says. "My mother was a household help and I had to take care of my younger siblings when she was away. I joined the literacy mission's classes recently, but where is the time to attend it?" she asks poignantly.
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