Anything you want - they've got it
Thiruni Kelegama and Ishani Ranasinghe encounter the street vendors who sell everything from sea shells to designer shoes

The police perspective

This may be the sole method of earning money for these street vendors, but how legal is it?

The Officer in Charge, Chief Inspector of the Pettah Police, Mr. S. L. Liyanarachchi had this to say.

"Yes, selling anything on the streets is certainly illegal. Everyday we file about ten cases, to get these vendors off the streets, but they keep coming back. It is illegal to sell things on the streets, because it a hassle for the public."

"However, there are so many people on the streets still, because it is their only means of survival. That is how they feed themselves and their families. Therefore, we try to let them be on the streets most of the time, and evict them only when necessary; that is when they cause some sort of problem."

Variety, they say, is the spice of life. In Sri Lanka, you can definitely count on the street vendors to provide you with it!

Walking along the streets of Colombo and its suburbs, there were strange surprises to be found; sea shells, when there was no sea in sight, headrests, stuffed toys, tents, fish, CFL light bulbs and even designer shoes, all on the pavement.

Jayantha Kumara can be found near the Balapokuna Junction with his collection of headrests and stuffed toys. "I have been making them for five months," he says, showing us the stuffed toys which resemble bunches of bananas and king coconuts. "People buy them to hang on their vehicles."

From the material he obtains at Kurunegala, he sews theheadrests and stuffed toys with the help of his family.

The flags of Sri Lanka, the United States of America and the U.K are printed on the material used for the headrests.

"The sales are generally good, but there are days when it is quite dismal. I earn an income from this. My family depends on me."

Rajitha and Duminda have a large collection of designer shoes on the High Level road, priced from Rs. 300 to Rs. 800. "We got these shoes from a shoe factory after it closed down." Though the sales are quite good, they admit to having problems with the police, but they are adept at avoiding unpleasant scenes. "We just pack up and leave. Anyway, we never stick around the same place for over five days because it is only then the police are made aware of our presence."

K. Premachandra sells fish in plastic bags with the 'right amount of oxygen' down Moratuwa Road.

White catfish, black catfish, Angels and Fighters are the main varieties he offers. "I breed the fish in Horawella.

"Every day after I go home, I release the fish back into the tanks and a new batch is brought in the morning." The response from the public has been good, he assures.

With electricity bills soaring, CFL bulbs were introduced into the market. Not surprisingly, these bulbs were on sale on the Colombo Road, Boralesgamuwa at a very convenient price of Rs 75. Mrs. H. Wijesinghe says they obtain the bulbs from a friend, who drops a stock off each morning to be displayed alongside the greens which they have been selling for a very long time. "So far, the sales aren't altogether that good." But they are hopeful that this will improve.

"Small children buy them. They are attracted by them," said Piyasiri when we asked him about the sale of the colourful tents he had with him. Seated near a by-road in Bataramulla, he has been selling them for the past year. "I get the tents from a factory in Ja-Ela."

Just when we thought there could be no other item which could surprise us, we came across a massive collection of seashells near the oldest Bellanvila temple.

The shells are brought all the way from Hambantota. Living there day in and day out, the vendor Peter also makes intricate designs on pots which were extremely attractive.

An assortment of shells in all sizes, shapes and designs were laid out beautifully. Were the passers attracted? Yes, judging from the number of vehicles that slowed down and stopped, they were.

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