Rebuilding Trust with Trade
Weekly Friendship Fair at Kattankudi
This may be a story that makes many people wonder because the picture painted around Kathankudi is an entirely different one. A fair in which any person from anywhere in the country can come and trade is a rare phenomenon anywhere in the island, but to host one in a location that has been gaining much negative propaganda after the Easter Sunday attacks is even more significant. The Catamaran investigated.
“People are rich here. Therefore, they spend lavishly and we can sell anything to them,” said Thilina Madhusanka of Welikanda, Polonnaruwa. He had brought 300, 400 pineapples to the Kattankudy fair.
Kattankudy is the town with Sri Lanka’s highest population density. Thilina Madhusanka started business there on the invitation of the Chairman of Kattankudy Urban Council.
“My father saw a handbill distributed at Welikanda town. He brought it home and handed to me. The notice said that the fair was to be held in Kathankudi to traders from anywhere around the island. When I called the numbers in the notice, they replied me that priority would be given to local products. I visited the fair and this is the third time I am selling goods here,” said Thilina who started his pineapple trade recently. A major problem he was facing was lack of permanent market. The opportunity opened in Kattankudy was invaluable to him.
“I am 27 years old. I started this business two months ago. I buy pineapple stocks from Kirindiwela in Gampaha district and supply them to the fruit stalls in Welikanda and Sevanapitiya at wholesale price. It was not so profitable. Those who sold pineapple at Welikanda and Sevanapitiya fairs were my buyers. Therefore, I had no opportunity to engage in retail sale there. This opportunity in Kattankudy is wonderful. I can sell all I bring and earn a good profit. I hope to buy fish and dried fish from Kattankudy fair and take them to Polonnaruwa” Thilina added.
“People look at Kattankudy suspiciously because the town is the birthplace of Saharan, the Easter Sunday attacks mastermind. Further, the town is Muslim dominated. Trade is very competitive. We must encourage traders from diverse areas to come here,” Chairman of Kattankudy Urban Council S.H.M. Asfar said joining a discussion with us.
“Kattankudy is the birthplace of many well-known businessmen of Sri Lanka. About 2000 businessmen born here and live here are engaged in businesses around the country. The reason for our success is the quality of products and competitive prices. There was plan to destroy our business after Easter Sunday terrorist attacks. Traders were labelled terrorists. Some accused Kattankudy of being closed to trade. Amidst all this false propaganda, I thought of inviting people to come and see for themselves. I also created a situation in which anyone can engage in trade here. That’s why we opened Kattankudy weekly town fair three weeks ago. The traders have named it the Friendship Fair,” described the chairman.
Low prices are remarkable at Kattankudy fair. Goods are sold much lower prices than the marked price. The competition is advantageous both to the trader and the customer.
Mohammed Anwar is a businessman from Pugoda. His business collapsed due to false propaganda. “I produce bags and wallets etc. The majority of my workers were Sinhalese. The collapse of my trade affected them too. We faced a problem of finding a fair to sell our products. When I came to know about this fair, I was happy. The Kattankudy fair will be one of the major fairs in the country soon. The population is dense here. People from other areas will also visit the fair because of the low prices. We can sell more goods and gain profits,” Anwar expressed his hopes.
We also spoke with sixty-six year-old Sothi Mani is a village woman who had brought small fish and dried fish from Kotta Kallar village. “I don’t weigh fish and dried fish. I sell them measured as volumes. One bowlful is Rs. 100. Rich people also buy small fish. I sell goods for about Rs. 5000 per day. That income is sufficient for me. After the Easter Sunday attacks, Muslim traders don’t visit the fairs in Tamil dominated areas. But they welcomed us to this fair,” she said.
We observed a number of products similar to the mass factory products. The same quality is guaranteed in these local products too. However, the prices are lower. Aliyar Mohammed Ansar is a small businessman who produces 16 merchandises. His brands are popular. One of his popular products is the cleaning liquid.
“This is a commode cleanser. The price in the market is Rs. 265 but I sell it at Rs. 100. All my 16 products are sold at half price. We used to sell them door to door. But we could not do it for the past three months because of the security concerns in the country. We lost our business and now we are restarting. This fair is good for our business. Not only because of the customers, but the traders also bought my products. I guarantee that we use quality chemicals to manufacture a product that is better than the output of the mass scale factories,” Ansar stated.
A broad range of local products like shoes, sandals, soap, washing liquids, bags and leather products are sold in this fair. Some of such items are normally not sold in weekly fairs.
Many of the customers we met in Kattankudy fair were people of the town. However, the majority of the traders were from outside the town. Traders of Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim and other communities engaged in trade eagerly and in a friendly manner.
“The Easter Sunday attacks opened our eyes,” said Sithy Fatima, a customer we met at the fair. “We only live a short life and we must live it happily. Our community has begun to think deeply after the Easter Sunday attacks. Everyone has understood that we cannot live alone. A rumour spread in other parts of the island that non-Muslims are not allowed to do business here. But the actual reason was the competitiveness and the difficulty to profit by bringing goods from far away areas. However, this fair has opened space for all. Come and see,” she invited.
Chairman, traders as well as customers said the same words.
“Come and see!”