Say the secret code


I’m in a convenience store in a small town south of Chennai and I meet this guy, Kannan, who runs it.  Never seen this guy in my life.  He’s a congenial kind of fellow: Big smile, straight-talking, laid-back.  I had bought a bottle of water from him a few hours back and he mentioned he could help me rent a moped if I wanted one.  So I had thought about it and came back to ask about it… can you help me find a moped?  “Everything is possible,” he says.  Little did he know, these are the code words into my secret society.  On hearing this, I extend my hand to shake his and ask if I can sit a spell.  Forget about the moped ride – this is the kind of person I want to spend more time with.  Turns out, he’s 25.  He makes 2000 rupees a month ($50) working 30 days out of 31.  He grew up living on the streets of Madurai in Tamil Nadu.  He has apparently mastered the English language with no formal training.  His father is dead and was only good for drinking and making babies anyway.  His mother doesn’t work and needs to go to the hospital for a nerve problem every few days.  They have no assets, no way to save and no insurance.  His sister who lives in a big house in Kerala won’t help out.  His uncle who gave a damn is now in the sky.  And yet, after all this, Kannan still has the optimism to smile and say “everything is possible”.

He previously had his own shop (a sculpture gallery) but some Kashmiris came and offered his landlord an irresistible sum of money for the space.  I guess that’s what’s happening all around – The price of real estate is skyrocketing and forcing people out of prime areas. 

The boss man comes into the store, needing drinks for his upcoming card game.  He points out a few things with the inventory, gives his daughters some candy and leaves.  Meanwhile, Kannan is stuck in the store everyday, treading water, waiting for the day when he can re-open his own store.  He’s clearly a highly capable person.  But can he make the leap with only one day a month to think about it and a mother to care for at home?


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