Resilience and equality in labour
Mokokchung | March 13
For more than forty years, N Alemla’s days have started before the sun.
In some ways, it is harder to get up now than it used to be—she is older, and has spent most of her life doing the kind of hard work that wears a body down.
Alemla comes from Chuchuyimlang village. A few years back, everyone knew her as the woman who sold wild animals and birds that she bought from hunters. “Now I know that killing of wild animals and birds is a crime, so I no longer sell them,” she says.
These days, Alemla usually sits in the same place, in front of the Mascot Bakery in Mokokchung town where foot traffic is constant for most of the day. She has sold there for years, long enough that people passing by expect her, know her by name.
“Whether it’s raining, whether it’s cold, whether it’s hot. However it is that day,” she says, gesturing up at the sky and then down at her feet. “I’m always sitting here.”
In the beginning, Alemla and her equally hardworking husband managed all kinds of odd jobs ranging from managing small hotels to butcher shops in order to raise their nine children. “For such a big family to survive, we had to do all kinds of job. We sold poultry, pork, we even tried to run a hotel,” she says, adding that work was a partnership to which they both contributed equally.
Alemla came to street vending as most people do—out of necessity and a certain measure of desperation after her husband’s death.
Sourcing vegetables and indigenous food items from farmers from nearby villagers and the Lotha and Sumi wholesalers, Alemla continues to sell her wares for a small income. “On a normal day like today I earn 300–500 rupees. On Saturdays and Wednesdays, my earnings go up to 500- 1000,” she says.
However, the 75 year old shows no signs of stopping.
Starting her day at 5:30 in the morning with a glass of warm water and a paratha, she ends her day at 5 in the evening.
“It has been twenty five years since he is gone and yet I am still resolved to work. It has become a habit that I cannot sit idle at home though my children ask me to stop.”
At 75, her eyes and ears are no longer as sharp as it used to be. “My eyes and ears are failing me because of old age but I still feel very healthy. The only ailment I suffer from is pneumonia. I had caught it many years ago when I was a young girl because of inhaling the smoke when our house burnt down. Without proper knowledge, it was only after so many years that I came to know it was pneumonia and therefore I am now taking medication for it,” she explains.
On when she plans to retire, she is adamant, “Until my body gives up on me and I cannot do it any longer."