MK Stalin’s prized constituency is home to many sellers of ornamental fish, aquarium makers and breeders

In Kolathur while the colour fish businesses look ahead the floods haunt poorer citizensPictures by Divya Karthikeyan
news TN 2016 Monday, April 18, 2016 - 18:10

While most shop owners are retiring to their cots to sneak in quick siestas, 50-year-old Deendayal has just woken up from his, pacing up and down in front of his shop. “In IAS exams, they ask students these GK questions, and they always ask where the hub of “colour meen” in Asia is. And when they find out the answer is Kolathur, nobody knows where it is,” he says in a tone of exhaustion. 

Kolathur, MK Stalin’s prized constituency is home to many sellers of ornamental fish, aquarium makers and breeders. Business has boomed since the closure of Moore market in Chennai and the spread of information on breeding imported fish among people who were previously farmers. 



On School Road, shop after shop lines the stretch – some thriving, some uncomfortably sandwiched between makeshift tea shops, and a few on the verge of pulling down their shutters. “We really want a Sandhai (market) system here, considering this is the mainstay of business in Kolathur. Stalin should do something for us, and we are bringing up this issue soon,” Deendayal says, an older breeder echoing the sentiment.

“He has kept his promises on the new roads, but we want more entrepreneurs coming forward. If the government can provide assistance through schemes and concessions, a lot can change and we can be more organized,” he says.  

Carved out of the former Purasawalkam and Villivakkam assembly segments after the Delimitation of Constituencies, 2008, Kolathur constituency went to the assembly polls for the first time in 2011, when M. K. Stalin won against Saidai Sa Duraisamy of AIADMK. Many say Stalin had made his presence known with at least 5-7 visits a year in his constituency, while Duraisamy has not turned up once. 





Among the businessmen, the sentiment is largely pro-AIADMK for the many schemes of the government. “She actually does something for the fisheries, and more families are turning to fish breeding for sustenance. Loans, support, dialogue – she can foster it,” says Rajarajan, a local breeding expert who has begun coaching budding entrepreneurs in the business. Rajarajan holds quite a reach over the community and the age of those joining the business is dropping, he says.



 

Manickam, a 23-year old fresh out of college has been helping at the store every day to learn the ropes, and says his friends have had the election talk just recently. “What do we need? We need some issue in local businesses addressed. And we’re going to vote accordingly,” he says, quickly following it up with, “And that doesn’t mean I’ll tell you which party I support. But you should know, that we can make that decision ourselves.”

The prevalent sentiment, Manickam says, is one of the heads of the household dictating that the votes for parties should either be split evenly within the house, or of generations voting for one particular party that should be carried down, irrespective. “In fact, our generation should be telling them whom to vote for, and not go blindly by tradition.”

Behind School Road, a small lane leads into uneven terrain, with potholes progressively increasing in size and depth. The lane snakes into a maze of houses, the last row of tenements overlooking irregular patches of water and copious, stinking marshland.


Daily wagers and the staff working in the aquarium shops are settled in thatched huts and brick homes in the buzzing MGR colony. For the past 12 years, notices have been regularly served to approximately 70 households in the area.

“This land we are on, used to be a lake. They’ve filled it up, sold it and now, we’re the unlucky ones living on it,” says Shanti. 50-year-old Shanti is not thrilled by Stalin’s inaction, but she is not swayed either. “The roads he talks about that he has relaid, we have no roads here,” 26-year-old Prakash chimes in. 

Prakash, who discontinued his studies in the eighth grade, is often impeded in his job packaging aquarium equipment by regular bouts of sickness due to water stagnation. “The storm water drain is improperly constructed, there is no proper channel for the water to get out, and now they say they want our land also,” he laments. 



 

A bypass road connecting Retteri main road with the Ring road would require the piece of land. Threats of evacuation have been prompt, but no arrangements for alternative or even temporary housing have been made. 




December’s floods changed everything. A thatched makeshift protrudes into the marsh, sitting between two newly-built one-room brick houses. “A living nightmare,” is how Vijaya, a newlywed who recently moved into the colony, describes it. Children are back from school, and their mothers move pots of water in and out of the house seamlessly, well-accustomed to sinking their feet into muddy puddles dotting the path.

“Stalin came to see us at least three times during that week. He gave us food, clothes and water cans. Which other political leader will do that? Duraisamy does not care,” Vijaya says. “You know, we are some 400 people, and our votes may not matter because who cares about floods now. But we cannot forget how we were living in a hell. Monsoons will come now and we don’t know what new hell awaits us.”

Among the women in the area, AIADMK takes a hit, and no one is a fan of the freebies. “It works for 1 month or six months? Maximum? We send it for servicing and it’s never the same. You can’t run a government on free things that are actually junk. We are not stupid,” says Banu, a 63-year-old woman, who says she’s definitely rethinking her support.


 

“We like Durga more than Amma. An actual person visiting us is better than a face on a poster.” She’s referring to Stalin’s wife, his star campaigner the last time round – who, she says, made it a point to help during the floods and otherwise.

But she holds her tongue. “Stalin hasn’t however done much to rehabiliate us and that is worrying.” That doesn’t change things for her, however. “As per tradition, my mother, my grandmother, we’ve all voted DMK. So even if nothing is done for our rehabilitation, they have my support,” she says.


Bhuvaneshwari intervenes to try and simplify it, “We saw his face! And the colour TVs they gave us work. That’s enough.”

 

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