Selling soups at Coimbatore Racecourse since 1997

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Meet K Sivanandan who started selling soup on Race Course Road 24 years ago, inspiring a wave of vendors

It’s a voice that easily drowns out the din of vehicles on Race Course Road. But K Sivanandan’s regular customers don’t need a conversation: just a smile, a nod and a cup of his hot vegetable soup.

Dressed in a white dhoti and shawl, the soft-spoken 55-year-old stands behind a 10-litre steel thermos that sits on a stone bench. He sells a fragrant soup with a good dose of black pepper throughout the day, sundal in the evenings; and juice in the morning for walkers and joggers on Race Course. Although soup sellers are not lacking along this 2.25 kilometer stretch: it was he who launched the fashion, as early as 1997.

“March 18, 1997,” says Sivanandan, between serving a steady stream of customers. “It was the first day I went to this place with a thermos full of soup for sale.” His photocopying business fell on hard times, so he decided to try his hand at healthy eating since his father practiced natural medicine. “My wife and I came up with a recipe incorporating eight varieties of vegetables and greens,” he says. It was an instant hit.

Since that day, Sivanandan has been selling from the same location, continuously for 24 years. COVID-19 lockdowns have slowed him down, but now he’s back beside his stone bench, armed with his thermos. “I arrive here with gooseberry, bitter gourd, bottle gourd and lime and ginger juice at 6:15 a.m. from my house in Nallampalayam,” he says, adding, “In the evening, I sell from 6 p.m. at 8:30 p.m.”.

To make the juices, Sivanandan starts the prep work at 3 a.m., and for the soup, at 11 a.m. This leaves him little time for anything else, but he thrives in the comfort of this routine. “I like it. I’m happy to be able to offer something healthy to people,” he says.

He started the trend in 1997

He started the trend in 1997 | Photo credit: PÉRIASAMY M

Over the years, he has seen plants grow into tall trees in the neighborhood; has heard of his clients’ marriages, marriages, births and even deaths of their children. “A few of my regular customers have passed away due to the pandemic,” he says, his weak voice sinking even deeper.

In its early days, Sivanandan remembers being greeted by mynahs and sparrows in the morning and evening. “I barely hear them these days,” he says. The walker trail, he said, was busier. “Maybe because it was the only place of its kind at the time,” he adds. The only thing that stands out from the past for him is the amount of interaction between people since there was no cell phone in the photo. “Most walkers and joggers have headphones plugged in when they hit the trail today,” he says. “The lack of gadgets made life more interesting back then.”

For example, clients exchanged notes and letters through him. “Friends would drop envelopes with me,” he says. He remembers the different “gangs” marching together. “Each of them had a distinct character,” says Sivanandan. He fondly remembers one group in particular. “They were all in the food business,” he laughs, “They laughed nonstop. Their laughter would herald their arrival to any walkers around.

Sivanandan sells from a bench on Zone 1 from 6:15 a.m. and later from 6 p.m.

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