In this fast paced modern day life, one often forgets to stop and smell the roses. But, as we walk along the streets of Delhi, we come across people who’ve build their lives around these blossoms, defying the brisk pace of society.
Flower vendors do not simply sell a thing of beauty; they sell dreams and happiness, one bunch at a time. While their own lives may not be all flowers and sunshine, they choose toiling under the weight of these blooms, much heavier than what meets the eye, over any other activity each day.
Delving into this blooming trade, thestatesman.com spoke to a few flower sellers in the city, asking them about their lives, hopes, flowery interests and the capital&’s budding love.
Mantu owns a small flower stall below a huge tree, guarding its own borne creations, in the residential area in Dwarka. His son has been working in the flower business since he was 12, with a passion for flowers which led him to build this makeshift shop for his parents after he finally stood on his feet.
“My son, Akash, worked in flower shops around Rohini when he was young. It&’s been eight years since he started this business, and five since we shifted from Basirhat, a small town near Kolkata, to this big city,” said the proud father.
Sales aren’t always promising, and the extreme cold and heat typical of the Delhi weather has been a struggle for the family. But Mantu has no complaints. He believes Delhi is the best city for this trade.
His dream is to see Akash own a big florist shop some day. Flowers are all the family has known all their life, and he doesn’t wish to change that.
Living in Delhi throughout his life, Manoj, who manages a big florist shop in the midst of the hip and happening Khan Market, does not have the same desire for his kids, though. “I started this business in 1990, simply because it was profitable. I used to work with vegetables and fruits before. This trade means nothing but livelihood to my family and me.”
With a daughter in Japan, another working as an airhostess, and a son in school, Manoj, who never studied beyond primary school, has worked hard to make sure his kids get the right education, to avoid the struggles he has faced.
Ram, who owns the famous ‘Gillu Florist’ in Pallika Bazaar, recalls how he started this business in 1970s. “NDMC told me there should be a flower shop in Connaught Place and so, here I am. In my time, there were only three other shops in Delhi which sold flowers. You could say I have seen the industry bloom with my own eyes."
And he is firm that his sons will follow his path once he retires. “Whether they like it or not, even with a heavy heart, they have to continue this legacy.” Luckily for the old world florist, unlike Manoj, the sons love flowers as well.
But, then, why is there such bitterness in Manoj, who has lucrative contracts with top government offices in Central Delhi for formal occasions, regarding his work and legacy?
“When my dad passed away, I couldn’t attend his funeral because I had to look after the shop. What good are flowers if I can’t even honour my own parent with them? I’d never want this life for my kids,” said the Khan Market florist.
While Manoj still beams with pride over the kind of customers he entertains because of his location, the Dwarka stall does not have the same luck. Rashida, Mantu&’s wife, says the residents always prefer buying from big markets. So, they wait for the cars passing by to stop over for a haste purchase. And one can hardly help being reminded of Robert Frost&’s ‘Roadside Stand’.
Price is always a factor when it comes to customers. Mantu says there can’t be any standard rates in this trade. Manoj adds, “There are customers who demand the same price for flowers of one kind from all shops. But the truth is that the imported ones will always cost more because they last longer. ‘Khan Market is costly’ is a joke. Customers, who are knowledgeable, don’t even ask the price, they simply buy. I live for them.”
Ram, the most experienced of them, not simply because of his years in the trade but also the variety of consumers he caters to in the heart of Delhi, CP, believes the ‘bargaining’ bug has bitten everyone. So, he plays along with the increasing competition. “You won’t buy a Rs.600 phone cover from me, when you get it at half the price online, will you?” he says. But, he believes flowers are the most economical gifts. "A good gift costs almost Rs.3,000 nowadays, but you can get a good bouquet of flowers for 10 per cent of that price."
So, what do the customers like to buy?
For Mantu, roses sell the most. His favourite, however, are the violet carnations.
Manoj says Delhi has gone beyond roses. He personally prefers Lilies, and cheekily adds that his favourite changes according to what sells more.
Ram is a little more poetic with his choice. He proclaims his love for Gypsophila, as he likes how united the flowers are together and believes the startling white colour represents peace. To his customers, who prefer roses, he always suggests the beautiful and fragrant Nargis, which pairs nicely with these winter flowers.
Even though flowers are synonymous with spring, all these vendors swear by winter as the best season. “Flowers last much longer in winters, and most of the beautiful breeds like gypsophila only grow then,” explains Ram.
Another season which makes Delhi a hot spot for flowers is the wedding season. All three claim that weddings contribute the most to their sales.
Of course, that isn’t the only reason Delhi rules the flower trade. “I believe Delhi has the best phool mandi of India, in the form of the Ghazipur market,” claims Manoj.
Ram further calls Ghazipur and Delhi ‘the best in Asia’ for flowers. However, the city is special because of its customers as well, he adds. “Aakhir dilli sheher hai dilwalo ki,” says Ram with a smile, quoting the famous phrase which loosely translates to ‘After all, Delhi is a city of romantics’.