Photowalk: Odd Jobs in Georgetown (Chennai, India!)

This will be the first in a multi-post series on a Sunday morning photowalk in Georgetown – a part of Chennai, India.  This part of the city , just inland from Chennai’s port, includes some of the city’s most crowded areas – notably Parry’s Corner – as well as a flower market with bulk flower sellers.

Today’s post is about some of the difficult jobs people do in Chennai to make a living.  There are people in Chennai who daily clean up waste from around rubbish bins, people who crawl into sewers to unblock them, and there are the ever-present street sweepers – virtually all women – who work around the clock to keep dirt and waste off Chennai’s streets.  But there are loads of other, less obvious jobs that help keep things running smoothly as well.

Let’s start with these guys.  They can be seen going back and forth to the various flower sellers with these things on their heads.  Generally, one sees women carrying loads on their heads, but at the flower market, I only saw men with these wide trays, loaded with 60-70 cm tall bags of loose flowers being brought for sale.

Flower Transport

Then there are construction workers – both men and women – who carry all sorts of items on their heads – bricks, stones, cement, and in this case, huge buckets of sand. And one rarely sees a construction worker wearing shoes beyond simple sandals – even when they’re using shovels to dig ditches.

Construction Worker

There are all kinds of rickshaws – mainly the three-wheel mopeds with a roof and passenger enclosure one sees in large cities all over the world. But there is also the non-motorized kind – with a cargo area in front, or in the rear of the bicycle, or a passenger compartment. The passenger rickshaw bicycles can be seen ferrying people from the bus stops to their homes.

Keeping Cool II

All sorts of agricultural products get bought in bulk and sold in smaller quantities. For example, this family has spread out a giant burlap sack of peanuts, which are now being inspected and weighed on a scale, presumably to be sold in smaller bags.

Peanut Family

Peanut Family

Then there are these folks selling chikoos. Also known as zapotas. Never heard of them either? How about sapodillas? They are grown in this part of the world in huge quantities, but are actually native to the Americas. The Spanish apparently liked them, and introduced them to the Philippines, and then they spread from there. A bit like a plum.

Fruit Seller

Then there is this guy, who owns a tea shop. It’s literally a “hole in the wall” – he rolls down the shades and has a cutout spot where he stands to do his work. But it comes with a television (see top right)!

Tea Shop

And I posted some time back about the local tradition of eating one’s meal on a section of banana leaf. Those banana leaves have to come from somewhere! This guy receives bulk banana leaves, and tears them into “plate-sized” pieces, discarding the unusable parts.


Finally, what must be one of the most difficult jobs I came across – another “hole in the wall” – i.e. a small room, loaded with coal. I found this guy sitting there, picking up one cantaloupe-sized lump of coal, hammering it into little pieces and then dumping the pieces into a bucket. Presumably the “bulk” coal gets delivered there, and he breaks it down for the retail customer? I’ve included a photo as well as a short video.

Coal Vendor

I may be completely outside the loop as a cultural outsider – but what struck me about all of these people was the sense that they were comfortable/acceptable with their roles/jobs, and all seemed to be doing their best. Something for us to consider when we feel tempted to complain about our job.

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