When an accident caused her husband to lose his life 17 years ago, Vasanta was - as was the custom – given the opportunity of taking her husband's place working on the plantation. Since then,
this widowed lady has been working on the New Ambadi rubber estate. As a widow and a single wage-earner, it is a particularly welcome reassurance for her that, thanks to Fair Trade premiums, she
already holds two saving certificates which will provide some extra income when she retires. The official pension alone would be quite insufficient to cover even her basic needs. As a single
mother, Vasanta raised three children. Meryn, the older of her two daughters, is living with her husband (who works as a lab technician in a hospital) in Chennai. Once a year Vasanti visits them
and her granddaughter for a week. Her son, Manu Stephen, took a two-year course in hotel management after his high school graduation - which cost his mother Rs. 30,000. The younger daughter,
Subi, is still attending school, which is government-run, so they only need to pay for exercise books etc. since there are no fees.
Vasanta, Manu and Subi are living in a tiny house, about five km away from New Ambadi. It comprises four very small rooms, a kitchen and bathroom - the toilet is a separate hut behind the main
building. The house is connected to the main grid, and a possession of some pride is their television. But the public water supply in the street outside only provides water for an hour and a half
each day, so this is only used for drinking and cooking. For all other purposes there is an open well, which the family shares with their neighbours.
Every morning, when it is still dark, Vasanti takes a bus to work. The fare is Rs. 7 each way. A rubber tapper does two rounds of tapping per day, which usually yield some two buckets of raw
'latex milk'. Most tappers have a bicycle, or even a motorcycle, which they can use to transport this harvest to the collection point. Vasanta has to carry her buckets using a shoulder pole: 45
kg of liquid, containing some 18 kg of rubber. For this amount she earns Rs. 126 as basic pay, and Rs 40 as volume bonus. The second round of tapping brings in an additional Rs. 72. Officially,
tappers work six days per week; but like most of the others, Vasanta usually works on Sundays too. There is a much higher bonus paid for Sunday labour, and if all goes well, she can earn 2-3
times as much as on a normal weekday. Fortunately, a colleague by the name of Nagappan helps quite regularly with transporting Vasanta's buckets on his bicycle.