Truly Self-reliant Female Dry Fruit Vendors of Empress Market

Dressed in a bright orange chiffon saree with colorful embroidered lace border, an ethnic nose pin and the signature red Bindi, Tulsi sits at the forefront of the Empress Tower – a Victorian era 19th century building in the heart of Saddar.

Gothic styled windows and green steel gates makeup the regal exterior of this building rendering a distinguished feel to this hustling marketplace.

She is one of the many female dry fruit vendors going about this trade since decades, passed onto her by generations. The adornments of these women reflect the richness of Hindu culture, which is reminiscent of the metropolis’ diversity.

Majority of these women live in Bhimpura and take a morning bus to reach the market at 11 am. They spend their day till dusk and wrap up their stalls around 8pm.

At a distance,  sat another woman with messy hair donning a lilac purple saree. As she arranged coconuts in a transparent bag, her toddler in a red and white striped sweater cried to get his mother’s attention. 28-year-old Raboo, mother of five children leave three of them home for her mother-in-law to look after while she brings two with her.

Raboo has been coming here since the age of 9 with her mother and carried on the business of dry fruit selling even after marriage. “I don’t have a choice as I have to provide for my kids”, she said. It’s difficult to feed her children and bear the household expenses in her husband’s meager income of Rs.300 per day hence Raboo supports him. The dry fruit she sells is provided by her owner and she gets her share of Rs.500 per day of selling it.

Almost a dozen of these women vendors can be found here belonging to different age groups. Neeru, with her wrinkled brown skin and grey hair waited for customers amidst a rather quiet day. A lady of her age who must be in her 60’s spotted in a vibrant red floral saree with velvet Kothi was quite a contrast to witness. Her bangles jingled as she filled a blue plastic bag with dry fruits for a customer after having weighed it. “I have been doing this business since 40 years. Our men are in the same trade but they roam around in the city rather than sitting at one place like us”, shared Neeru.

Many of these women were even mothering their infants while managing work at the same time. These women of substance are an inspiration that despite being from a minority and belonging to the lower strata of the society, they are making their ends meet. Nothing can deter them be it the KMC or Police officials who from time to time ask them to leave the area, the scorching sun or the cold winter breeze.