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They've come from afar to sell honey

By Divya Sreedharan


BANGALORE, MARCH 2. As the summer sun shines relentlessly, Neelam tries to comfort her baby. It is difficult. She has nothing more than her sari to use as a shade. Besides, she looks no more than a child herself.

She has come to Bangalore with her "man". "His name is Bunesar," she says shyly. He is a beekeeper. And they are both part of a community that has been camping near the slaughterhouse on Tannery Road for the past few days.

At the head of the tribe is Joginder. "My full name is Joginder Prasad Mandal," he says.

These people hail from North and Northeast India. "We come here every summer and usually stay for two months," he says. They have been making this trip for the past five years. Some 50 to 100 of them are camping together. "We are here for the same purpose; so, we may as well live together," Mr. Mandal reasons. But they live in unhygienic surroundings. Since there are big containers of honey with them, flies from the slaughterhouse and an open sewer buzz around all the time.

Every girl in the group is like Ms. Neelam — pretty, young, and mother of at least one child. Chandni, for example, looks 18 and has two children. "All of us get married early," she says. They defy the incredible hardship they face with colourful clothes, huge silver-coloured jewellery, and artfully braided hair.

Every day, the men fan out selling honey, while the women stay back to cook and look after the children. When a passer-by takes an interest in their stock of honey, they might take a break from cooking. "Often, we are forced to sell at a third of what would be a reasonable price," rues Ms. Chandni.

Armed with a cellular phone, Mr. Mandal is also a honeycomb remover for hire. He can be useful to inmates of high-rise apartments. For the time being, their love of colours grips them. "Holi (March 6 and 7) is a big celebration for us," they say.

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