He is usually to be found inside a small shack on the uneven pavement opposite the Pandiyan pastry shop from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. His frail and malnourished body is often hidden behind the piles of coconuts .
He holds a tender coconut in his left hand and the sharp aruval in his right. With a deft flick of his wrist, he slices off the top of the coconut, makes a slit and in less than 10 seconds, hands over the summer drink to the customer.
“When you keep doing something for this long, it becomes a knack,” he smiles. Raja lost vision in both the eyes in an accident 12 years ago. But he decided he would not allow his visual impairment to come in the way of his work.
“Selling tender coconut water was the only work I knew and trained myself to carry out the same job in the dark,” says the middle school drop-out. Negative talk and misplaced kindness is something Raja is unable to grapple with. “If you are blind, you are constantly made to feel deficient by the sighted people,” he complains.
So Raja continues his business uninterrupted, come rain or sunshine. He buys 600-odd coconuts once in four or five days from Pollachi-based wholesale dealers, and sells 100 to 150 coconuts each day. He says with pride, “Why should I or the other blind people, be treated as a lost cause?”
Alert and sensitive to every sound, smell and touch, Raja tells time by the heat and direction of the sun. There are no walls to hold on to but he counts his steps each time he walks out for something. He runs his thumb across the coins and currency to know whether a customer has paid him the correct amount. “People normally do not cheat me,” he says.
For someone who lost eyesight later in life, it is not easy to navigate independently. But Raja has shown his determination even though there are moments, he confesses, when he is in a dark mood and he feels helpless. “Sometimes I cry too. But at the end of the day,” he says, “I see possibilities.”
Raja carries a lunch box from home and most of the time sits alone in his shop. Nearby shopkeepers and few regular customers sometimes give him company. Usually neighbours from Oomachikulam drop him and pick him up from work.
But Raja has a grouse against the Madurai Corporation. Two years ago, he approached the district administration for a housing patta and a permanent shelter for his shop. His patience is running thin and he says, “I have self-esteem and I am not sitting at home doing nothing. And, I do not think of myself as a disabled person.”