Humans of Insti: Tender Coconuts, With Love


They are the inconspicuous cogs that keep the IIT-M machine well-oiled and running. Without them, insti would be a much poorer place. Yet, too often, we don’t notice them, or acknowledge their role in insti life. Given their unique vantage point, they have stories to tell – stories that give us a different perspective. We believe those are stories worth hearing and worth telling. Because, after all, stories are what make us human.

(All the articles in this series can be found here.)

Sarala Raman and her son Varun
Sarala Raman and her son Varun

My name is Sarala Raman. My mother used to sell vegetables and fruits from a very young age, maybe from when she was around 12 years old. She used to sell in the faculty quarters area here in the campus. I would come in the morning to help my mother, and only then go to school, which was in Adyar.

My father was a retired army man. He was a part of the security staff at Raj Bhavan, here in Chennai. When he died, they gave that job to my brother.

This is my son Varun, nine years old and studying in the 4th standard here in the Vanavani School. He is my only child. My husband works as a chauffeur.

I come here daily to sell elaneer (tender coconut) at around 9 am and leave only at 5 pm. I sell only inside the IIT campus, nowhere else. In a typical day, I have maybe 60 or 70 customers. Sometimes all of what I had brought is sold out, sometimes not. But in the summer, everyone goes home on vacation, so there is no one to buy my elaneer. So in the summer, I engage myself full-time with taking care of my son’s needs. Varun has summer coaching classes  reading class, swimming class. He goes to swim in the swimming pool here. He also goes to a cricket coaching camp in the Central Leather Research Institute (CLRI) campus. He is a good batsman, left-handed.

I am happy that my son gets to study inside the IIT campus. It is the best place for him. All my income goes towards taking care of my son’s needs  school fees, fees for the extra coaching classes, textbooks, notebooks.

I used to sell vegetables from when I was 18 years old, and I have been here selling elaneer for the last four years. They require a permit to set up a business here in the campus. Thankfully, it’s not very difficult to get one. But they did cause some problems initially. It helped that I had safely kept my mother’s old license, which she had obtained in 1984. So I showed that to them and they gave me my license. It has to be renewed yearly, and they charge 600 rupees or so. Other than that, they do not cause any problems. Because this is my own business, I am not answerable to anyone. If I’m working for someone outside, then I will not get a leave when I need. So I am happy here.

Sometimes, there is another old man who sells elaneer here opposite the library. If he is here, I sell near the OAT. But this location is better  I get more customers. When he is here, he takes advantage of the location to get more sales.

The students here are all very friendly  all are very nice people. Some people forget to pay after having elaneer. Maybe they are in a hurry. But they come back after a few days, or even weeks, to pay me. They do make it a point to come back and pay. More girls come than boys, maybe because of this location. I am also friends with some students who come regularly. I have studied till 10th standard, so I manage with the little English I know. The students’ behaviour is good. You are all good people.

– As told to Nithyanand Rao

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