It is still 10 minutes to 5. Visibility, as is usual for cold January mornings, has made everything beyond a few kilometres invisible as a thick fog has blanketed the area with temperatures plummeting below 10 degrees. In a corner, sitting around a fire with a few other women, Dumbi, a 60-year-old tribal woman, rubs her palms together. She then puts one palm to her face hoping to warm up the freezing cheeks as her eyes go gazing around leisurely. Still shivering, Dumbi moves both hands away from the fire, pulls out a tiny purse tucked into the petticoat, counts the notes before slipping the purse back.
Dumbi has already sold her two jhudis (bamboo containers) with about 40 kg of radish at the haat (open-air market). She has also picked up essentials for home. “I want to go back now,” says Dumbi, as she waits for the rest to wrap up for the day and head home. She, along with a group of villagers, had left for work at 3 am on an autorickshaw.
Metres away, unmindful of the biting chill, about 2,000 women and men are busy selling and buying heaps of fresh-from-the-field spinach, coriander leaves, green chillies, bananas, cauliflowers, cabbages, brinjals, radish, green peas, French beans, carrots, pumpkin and almost every other vegetable. It’s business hour and only a few like Dumbi can afford to relax.
The market is also flocked by those trying to sell forest goods, pottery, livestock and poultry, displaying their belongings on the ground. A few shops – run from permanent structures dealing in food items, groceries and fertilisers – are also crowded. By the roadside, hundreds of autorickshaws and pick-up vans are being loaded mostly with vegetables.
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