When I told my family that I was going to Trichy for the fellowship, I was told by everyone that it’ll be an experience of a culture shock for me. Being born and brought up in a Tamil family settled in the North, I rarely came across the South-Indian Tamil traditions. But despite that, I had some idea about the traditions and customs followed here so I had enough confidence to come and deal with things here all alone.

I was excited to see what Trichy had in store for me! And BOOM! This happened as soon as I reached here…
The first day out in the city, sitting by a window seat in a local bus filled with people riding to different destinations, I was relishing the cool winds that blew across. It was 8 a.m. The shopkeepers began to set their tiny thatched street-side shops. Coming from Delhi, this scene was nothing new to me.

On the roadside, selling flower garlands

But what caught my attention was this small basket filled with colourful flowers kept on a bamboo tripod right in front of these thatched or tin-roofed shops. And sitting behind this flower basket was an old paati or पाटी  (Tamil for grandmother) who was selling these flowers to passers-by. Thinking that she might have a reason to earn money at this age, I moved ahead. That is when I noticed another paati, sitting with a similar basket of fruits. Seeing me taking pictures of these paatis, the woman sitting beside me said, “this is so common here”. Most of the street side stalls, especially the fruits, vegetables and flower stalls, are set and managed by the paatis here.

The other day, I got off at the Samayapuram Toll-Gate and started walking my way towards a famous village temple called Uttamarkoil (or Uttamar kovil). On my way I found this paati selling ‘idli tiffin’ on her cart at the roadside. It is a common place where all the workers, labourers, and even the shopkeepers buy their breakfasts. Being a curious foodie, I also asked for a plate of idlis packed for me. She looked at me asking, “One plate...? Two plate...?” in English, to which I smiled and answered, “Onnu kudunge paati!” (‘give me one, grandmother’). She looked at me with surprise and smilingly said, ‘you know Tamil? That is so nice!’ That’s how the conversation lead from one topic to the other, and now this stall has become my fixed lunch place.

The 'Idli-tiffin' stall pati

Another day while on my way to the Main-Guard market I saw all the paatis sitting and selling vegetables. The streets of the market are filled with these paatis gossiping with each other, teasing one another and praising their respective sons. Talking to them, I found out that many of them were working because they had no other choice, but many others just want to work because sitting at home and resting is boring for them. “I can’t sit and watch TV all day, it is too boring. I would rather come here, and gossip!”, said and laughed Rajalakshmi paati (one wearing yellow saree sitting beside a lemon stall).

Rajalakshmi pati, the picture-perfect smile!

One fine day, on my way to the GMF office, I met a group of paatis at the bus stop. They all worked as domestic help in different places. We had some exciting and interesting conversations, which I would never expect of having with someone at a place this traditional and religiously bound. And particularly not with someone that old. You can say I had my own stereotypes about the people here. ^_^

Women’s changing perceptions about work and marriage was their favourite topic, I must say. They asked me if I was married, and when I said, ‘not yet’, they appreciated me by saying “Don’t marry yet!” All the paatis told me to become independent and support my parents before I get married. The only regret in their lives was that they could not do anything for their own parents. They supported the current women empowerment movements and say that equality is what everyone is asking for. “If my husband can go to work, drink and eat all he wants, I can too”, said Mani paati (wearing purple saree) proudly.

Off to work patis, adios!

The zeal and enthusiasm that these women have, despite their age and the androcentric world they live in, gave me a boost of confidence to work better; to work for my dreams. "We work for ourselves and not for our families", said Ammutthu paati (in pink saree) before bidding me good-bye! Waving hands at me they all climbed onto a tractor that was passing by.