Humans of Insti: The Mobile Store


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.)


I am Mathiazhagan. I’ve been selling these Gramodyog items inside the IIT-M campus for 24 years now. Three days of the week, I set up shop near the girls’ hostel; three days here outside Himalaya. I used to do rounds of the staff quarters area too. But now I only come to the hostel areas.

I live in Porur, which is about 15 kilometres away from here. I come on my bike daily, and when I leave the campus, I leave this mobile shop parked near the in-gate. These items are all sourced from the Khadi Gramodyog Bhavan near Mount Road. All are fresh items, just packed one or two days ago at most, as you can see from the labels. No old stock.

During the day, I am engaged in the same business in Porur, or I’m busy sourcing these items. I come to the campus at around 6 pm. I stay here till about 11 pm. Or 10:30 pm, if I’m outside the Library. Sometimes I set up shop near HSB too — I stay open till 10 pm on those days. During the vacation I still come to the campus, although sales are low.

Near the girls’ hostel, they always come with multiples of 100 or 500 rupees. They have no change! Here outside Himalaya, the boys have change. I also get more sales here. They buy snacks worth, say, 15 or 20 rupees — those are the most in-demand items — and give me money in the correct denominations.

For things like cashew nuts, the sales go up and down. Maybe the students buy it only when they are suddenly health-conscious. Or maybe when they get their stipend at the beginning of the month. Otherwise, they eat only snacks! Sales peak somewhat during exam times. It could be because students don’t go outside so much when they have exams. They may like to munch on my biscuits or chips when they sit and study late into the night!

Certainly, there are many more students now than when I started coming here 24 years ago. Earlier, most of the students were not so outgoing — maybe they were too busy studying. Also, the student population was dominated by Telugus. Now, there are more people from other states — Karnataka, Orissa, Kerala, the North Indian states. There are more Tamilians too now, I think. In these 24 years, Chennai has also changed a lot, especially after the IT industry came here.

The students are all very nice. They pay me correctly, no problems. Maybe there are one or two people who are mischievous. But by and large, I can close my eyes and do business here — you are all trustworthy people.

Ten years from now, I may not be required here. I’ll have to retire. Because even my business will become automated! There will be an ATM-like machine. You put your money in, and get the item you want automatically. Open 24 hours, no human required. That is the direction the world is heading in. — As told to Nithyanand Rao.

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