Phoolwalo ki Sair from a Florists' viewpoint by Renu Deshwal, a Civil Services aspirant (2016)
Renu Deshwal has been a Delhi University student and is currently preparing for Civil Services Examination.
Her objective behind doing this internship was to work for her interests and make her experiences available for all.
Festival of Phoolwalon Ki Sair or Sair-e-gul-faroshan, as it is called, holds a great significance in the times when a diverse country like ours, is embroiled in a long drawn battle with the religious fanaticism. At the backdrop of this, festival of Phoolwalon Ki Sair draws attention to the great pillars of strength, combined together with unity and brotherhood of our fellow beings, setting aside the differences of all sorts for once.
DURATION OF THE FESTIVAL: END OF OCTOBER TO FIRST WEEK OF NOVEMBER
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE FESTIVAL: SYMBOLISES UNITY OF TWO RELIGIONS
BACKGROUND AND CELEBRATION OF THE FESTIVAL
Every year,in the end of October,this festival starts continuing with fervor till the first week of November. Signifying communal harmony, this seven-day affair is organized by Anjuman Sair-e-gul-faroshan,is held annually. During the festival both Hindus and Muslims offer “Pankhas” and “Chadars” made of flowers, in the Yogmaya Temple and Dargah of Bhaktiyar Kaki,respectively. The procession of “flower-sellers” begins from the famous market of Mehrauli, making its way through the lanes, accompanied by shehnai players and dancers, offers “floral Pankhas” at the Yogmaya Temple before proceeding to Dargah of Bhaktiyar Kaki, through the winding lanes of Mehrauli Bazaar, as it fondly called, for laying the “floral chadar”, signifying equal participation from both the Hindus and Muslims. For the audience delight, various qawwallis by renowned qawwals from as far as Mumbai come down to participate in this fervor, apart from this shows by fire dancers and blaze and glaze of lights are equally a delight to the eyes of the audience.
The start of this festival traces its roots to Mughal period. What started as a paying of respects to a saint by a Muslim woman, continues to be celebrated till today, with great message to convey. According to a legend, Queen Mumtaz Begum Mahal, wife of Mughal emperor Akbar Shah II, vowed to offer “chadar of flowers”, in the Dargah of Bhaktiyar Kaki,if her wish to conceive a son was fulfilled. Subsequently, when her wish was fulfilled she went to offer the chadar in the Dargah, situated in Mehrauli. The Emperor decided to offer the chadar in the nearby ancient shrine of Yogmaya Temple, as well, hence, kick-starting the tradition of the festival. In contemporary terms, the festival its revival to India’s first Prime Minister Nehru, in 1961.
Role of flower sellers in the festival of flower sellers
As the name goes, flower sellers hold a very special place in the entire festival. Their “Pankhas”, are a symbol of communal harmony and national integration, holding together the country’s diverse fabric.
ROLE OF FLOWER SELLERS:
Flowers sourced from as far as Japan and Mediterranean shores,apart from the indigenous hinterland, hold together the sanctity of the floral “Pankhas” and “Chadars” prepared by the flower sellers.
A pankha originally was prepared by mounting two frames, each with a picture of Hindu God/Goddesses and Kaba or the verses from The Holy Koran, on the silk drapery covered bamboo sticks. However, in contemporary times the flowers and other plastic made stuffs are embedded in the bamboo mounted frames.
The fact that the flower sellers play a very prominent throughout the festival, we can subtly sum up, that the entire festival literally rests on the shoulder on the flower sellers.
A day in the life of a flower seller
We reached Ghazipur flower market by 7 in the morning. The light had barely set in, in the chilly winter morning, but the business in the market was in full swing with sellers busy selling their fares to the prospective buyers. The influx of customers was nonstop, ranging from hotel managers, households, caterers, designers and so was the booty that had set the loot in motion, the beautiful flowers.
A day in the life of a flower seller is not as easy as one might think, you see. A flower seller begins his day as early as 3 a.m., when the trucks carrying the treasure load of flowers start coming in from places for in the hinterland, like Kolkata, TamilNadu, Assam, Kashmir, Madhya Pradesh etc.
There were three flower markets in Delhi, before the govt. thought of bundling them up in one place, with the lure of infrastructure and facilities, in Ghazipur. I may seem cynical by saying the word 'lure', but there is a reason behind it too, which we'll unravel later. So, there were markets in Mehrauli, Connaught place and Gazipur. But the market of Mehruli and Connaught place has been shifted to Gazipur by the government. Still few years back, 15-20 sellers get permission to sell their flowers for the festivals. Flowers for the festival has been supplied by them. Flowers come from different countries and states like Thailand, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. There are lots of variety of flowers like different colours of roses, tulips, lily, birds of paradise, calla, ornamental cabbage (look like head of cabbage), gladiolus, bouvardia and amaryllis.
Flower sellers play very important role in this festival. They are the ones who make pankha by flowers. And in some families this business pass on to generation to generation. In some families their children join them after school or early in the morning before the school. One can find kids working alongside their parents in the tents making flower garlands.
By the time sun is overhead, the best bunch of flowers have already made their way to the customers. One can find piling up petals from the broken or wilting flowers.
Sellers complain of the fact that the structure govt. promised has not been enough to protect them from rains, storms, dirt and garbage. Huge piles of garbage and wasted flowers emanate strong rotting smell. Water logging is a very common vice during the rainy season, where no protection in the form of sheds and roofs have been provided. Another peculiar problem arises from the location of the market itself. Ghazipur is situated in the eastern end of Delhi, making it difficult to reach from other end of the city. The nearest metro too is 4km. Away from the market. Subsequently, the dislocation of market from central market of Connaught Place and Mehrauli has led to reduced number of customers and buyers too.
INTERVIEW WITH RAMJIVAN, A FLOWER SELLER
Ramjivan has been into this business since last 25-30 yrs. This business is his family business, which was passed onto him by his father himself. He is a daily wage earner here, by selling his flowers and related wares.
1.How long have you been in this business?
My grandfather used to work in Mehrauli flower market then my father continued this business. During his time government shifted the entire market to Ghazipur, then I was 6 year old and I used to come here to help my father after my school. After finishing my school I joined this traditional business as my father had earlier done.
2.Is the profession passed on from your family? If not, then is this your daily bread and butter profession?
Surely. My family has been in this business for the past 30yrs continuing from my grandfather to my father and now me. Hope so, it is also taken up by my son to, no pressure although. If not this, then he has full freedom to pursue whatsoever ho likes. And yes, the earnings from flower selling, fends my family of five.
3.So, how does a typical day start for you?
Trucks come at 3am here then we all start our business before that me and my father freshen up the flowers by sprinkling water on them. Then people start coming for their orders which they placed a day before and new customers. All day we sell these flowers but as soon as possible we try to sell all our flowers because flowers starts to wilt so to make them look fresh we have to spread water again and again so that customers find them attractive and fresh.
4.What all flowers do you sell? Do you also sell other flower related wares, like garlands etc.?
We sell all common flowers in India as well as from other countries also like genda, lotus, galgota, palash, lily, roses, brahma kamal, chameli (jasmine), gurhal, ornamental flower, mogra, tulips, kaner, surajmukhi( sunflower). Yes we sell wares which we make from roses and genda for marriages and pooja.
5.Do you weave them yourselves and how?
Yes we do and sometime we hire more people to make them if we get big orders like for marriage stuff. We use cotton threads to weave the garlands.
6.What are the changes in the use of traditional methods for making and weaving garlands?
We sell gajras and garlands here too. Earlier we used to use pseudo stem of soft plants or banana to make natural thread and weave the flowers. Nowadays, we suffice with the cotton threads, dipped in colored water, to weave the garlands and gajras.
7.Where do the flowers come from? The problems in procuring them?
They come from different states as well as from different countries like Himachal Pradesh, Jammu, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, west Bengal, Calcutta, China, Japan, Malaysia, and Norway. We face many problems like if we get delivery of flowers late then firstly some flowers are like brahma kamal, this flower stays fresh for one day only and it wilts away by night, you see it blooms just for a day in the entire year. Secondly, Water flowers like water lily and lotus flower remain fresh in water only so they start to wilt before they even reach here. Because of these problems we face loss in our business.
8.What is the basic requirement for starting a flower business like this?
Knowledge of flowers and their upkeep is a must for a person wishing to go into this business.
9.Few years back the flower market shifted from Mehrauli to Ghazipur, far end of East Delhi. Are you comfortable here? What all problems do you face in shifting?
Of course we are not comfortable here. In Ghazipur market government does not provide us basic facilities like proper shade from the rain, no storage, no refrigerator facility and no proper houses. We have to travel so far to come here.
10.The govt. has provided infrastructure for the market. Are these of help to you?
Government hardly provides us any facilities we don’t have proper shades from rains, no proper storage and no proper houses here. Whatever sheds it has provided do not stand the wrath of heavy rain.
11.Do you put up your shop somewhere else too?
No because we hardly get time from here and all the flowers started wilt at the end of the day plus government centralized us here.
12.How much is normal for you to make in a day? In what seasons do the demand soar up?
It depends on the orders or customers. Marriage season and festivals are the best time to increase our earnings.
13.Is the income from flower selling enough for you to fend for yourself and your family?
In marriage seasons we earn enough for myself and for my family but off season we barely earn for one time meal, sometimes. Off season we hardly get enough money for three meals.
14.Are there any other jobs you pursue for extra income?
I work as a rickshaw puller, on a rented rickshaw, in off seasons, to make some extra money.
15.Do you see after the business yourselves or have you employed people?
When the orders are big and require more hands, I ask my relatives to join me. In other days, I am enough for the day.
16.Is the flower business, just one person’s job or creates jobs for others too?
It depends on your level of business like if you are big flower seller then he employ more people to help them to take care. We are small flower seller so I just employed more people in the on season because we get many orders for the flowers.
17.Who all buy your flowers here? Who are the buyers?
All the customers like small flowers sellers, marriage hall managers, party organizers.
18.Do you sell flowers in bulk or single pieces?
We sell flowers in bulk as well as single pieces but mostly in bulks. Mostly customers buy flowers for parties or marriages and for poojas.
19.Do you grow the flowers yourselves too?
No we just import them from different states and from different countries.
20.What all goes into preserving and preventing the flowers from wilting in a days’s work?
The flowers come sprinkled in bits of ice in the containers. Thereafter we keep them in shade and sprinkle water to prevent them from wilting and keep them fresh.
21.Are you planning to expand your business further? Like passing them onto to your family members for its continuation.
I am a middle aged man and my sons from now itself have dreams of taking paths onto serviced jobs. They are not willing to continue in this business of mine. So,any plans to further expand do not matter at all.
INTERVIEW WITH OMPRAKASH CHAUDHARY, A FLOWER SUPPLIER
He is into business for past 18yrs. And has been setting up his stall every 3 days in the market. Other days he is involved in online retailing with online portals.
1.Where is your supplying business based in Delhi? Do you operate elsewhere too?
I used to operate from ChandniChowk area. However,I have shifted to Ghazipur flower market,where the hub of flower market is based.
2.From where do you procure these flowers?
I procure these flowers from either directly from farmers,who are based in and around Delhi or suppliers from Kolkata,Andhra Pradesh etc.
3.Do you directly sell the flowers or further sell them off to small retailers?
Part flowers are sold off to online retailers,who I have contract with and rest is managed by me.
4.Do you employ people from around here?
I do employ people to help me with selling business and in collecting flowers and picking them up different places.
5.How do the flowers come here? How are they transported?
Flowers come in lorries or trains here. From where we unload them or get them transported to the market in trucks.
6.How do you manage the flowers? Like looking after them,keeping them from wilting etc.
I usually have some space rented in the cold storage facility for storing the flowers for a bit longer time. In the market we usually keep ice and water to keep them fresh.
7.What all problems do you face here?
Storage is a big problem here. I have to rent a place far from here to store my flowers which are precious in terms of their value,like tulips etc. Apart from that this place is far from the main city,which makes commuting and transporting supply very difficult. Water logging is yet another problem here.
8.Since the shifting what all facilities have been provided in this centralized flower hub?
Shades have been provided although they are not enough. Apart from this space for setting up stalls,nothing significant has been provided.
FLOWER MARKETS IN DELHI
Sometime back the flower markets of Delhi,located in Mehrauli,Connaught Place and Near Fatehpuri Masjid were shifted to Ghazipur,an area located near Uttar Pradesh border.
Ghazipur Flower Market
Situated near Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border, Ghazipur flower market is basically a merger of three erstwhile flower markets of Connaught Place, Fatehpuri, Mehrauli. One can find various flowers imported from places far and wide, apart from local flowers.
Two years it shifted here, sellers and buyers have mixed responses to the new abode of flower market. One being centralized place, facilities and most importantly being able to sell the wares throughout the day, against earlier when they had to sell off their wares during market closing hours at cheap rates. However, these are just few voices in the favor of the shift, many rue this shift, citing power shortages, water logging, no provision of garbage disposal among other factors. Apart from that dipping sales is yet another problems, adding to the sellers woes.
Located in the Rajiv Gandhi Handicraft Bhawan, this erstwhile flower market was among the largest flowers markets of Asia, fondly called, Phool Mandi. Popular flowers here included, roses, iris, lilies, orchids, imported from places like Thailand, Netherlands etc. Apart from these, various types of ornamental leaves and pseudo branches are also sold, especially sought after by the florists, who use them to make bouquets. Problems here included, lack of infrastructure and facilities, broken roads, unmetelled roads etc.
Genda Phool Market, Fatehpuri Masjid
Famous for its marigold or genda flower, this market is situated in Old Delhi, in the by lanes of Chandni Chowk. This market sells genda phool in its loose form, starting early in the morning till 9a.m. after another spice market takes form in place of it. Quite congested area for commuting and buying flowers.
Mehrauli Flower Market
Located in the ancient lanes of Mehrauli, near Hanuman Temple, this used to be quite a popular and famous flower markets among Delhiite. This market too specializes in marigold flowers in their loose and garland forms, but also for some cut flowers. Open throughout the day it’s quite a spectacle of flowers to one’s eyes.