Yasmeen Richards on Meneka Premkumar
On the morning we meet, Meneka Premkumar greets me with a warm hug before scurrying back behind the till of The Common Good, the ethical grocery store she started three years ago with her husband, John and four-year-old daughter, Indi. She’s concerned about holding me up while she tends to customers’ last-minute holiday preparations. I’m pleased to have a few minutes to stroll the rooms of the store, each full with thoughtfully-sourced products. I make meal plans in my head, thumbing through packets of organic oats and curry pastes. I bookmark some cookies for later and admire the vibrant fresh vegetables on display. I don’t leave empty handed.
As we walk down leafy Church Street in Hawthorn, Meneka greets at least four people we pass, each by name. When we stop for coffee on the way to her house, she smiles and sits down as if she’s lived there all her life (funnily enough, she did live in the unit upstairs, years back). She’s in her element. Her business is a block away, and her home is around the corner.
Meneka is many things: a wife, a mother, a Sri Lankan, an Australian, a businesswoman, a friend, an activist, an everyday person. When she saw an opportunity for better access to ethical, organic food in her community—and to bring together what she stands for as a person and as a professional—she seized it. She and John manage the store together. They are present in every decision, and know their customers. It hasn’t come easily, but they’ve built it with the support of their community. Even in the face of exceptional trauma, which she and her family endured only very recently with the loss of their premature twins, she creates space to embrace others.
Meneka was one of very few people who knew I was pregnant when we sat together. She guided me through her experiences and the joys that came with them, and sent me home with something: her favourite, dog-eared, methodically underlined book on raising babies. When I too miscarried, her strength in our conversation helped me recover. It became clear in that moment that Meneka is the sort of person who never leaves you empty-handed. Each visit comes with a gift: be it her quick wit, her resilience, her belief that everyone can make the world a bit better if they try, or at the very least, the perfect cup of tea.