When Sunderrajan, a flower seller near the Matunga post office, uses the word ‘range’, he doesn’t always mean price or variety. ‘‘Range” is essentially Tamil streetspeak for “status” and showing “range” refers to the homegrown instinct of flaunting your wealth in flamboyant ways such as ensuring booze and non-vegetarian counters at your daughter’s wedding. Of late, this gaudy impulse has been driving many people in Sunderrajan’s radius to hold weddings at liberal, taxfree farm grounds in Thane and Karjat rather than stiff, GST-laden banquet halls in the city. Over the last one year, this phenomenon, along with a range of other problems including those pesky, “everlasting, non-fragrant” plastic flowers from China—-have showered this 30-yearold father of two with existential-crisis-inducing losses.
“I should’ve done something safe like my friends who are drawing Rs 40,000 a month in salaried jobs with weekends off,” says Mahim-based Sunderrajan, whose round-the-year Matunga stall lost almost Rs 10 to Rs 15 lakh in 2019 and is now chiefly banking on the eight temples in the vicinity for sustenance. “If we are running,” says the salesman whose shop boasts a steady clientele of devout senior citizens, “it’s only because of god.”
For the vendors of Dadar and Matunga flower markets who typically make a killing during the wedding and festive season, business hasn’t been rosy so far. Not only are they still reeling from the lingering aftermath of last year’s floods in the floriculture capitals of Satara and Kolhapur but also a bouquet of problems such as the dearth of Hindu wedding mahurat dates in December, a sense of thriftiness caused by the economic slowdown, the availability of cheaper artificial flowers and increased competition from the flower markets that blossomed in Thane and Kalyan a few years ago.
For instance, instead of the typical seasonal bounty of Rs 20,000 a day between Christmas and New Year’s eve, Sunderrajan barely managed to make Rs 2000 a day this December. Given the labour charges of Rs 800 a day that he pays to the five migrant workers in his shop, this dip has meant that “I have to now take a loan from the bank to run my house,” says Sunderrajan, father to two toddlers who study in Englishmedium schools.
Recently, in fact, many flowers such as roses and carnations sold at double their worth. “At least, onion is only one vegetable. You can bear with the price rise. But many flowers have now become expensive, like gold,” says flower decor business owner Pramod Shinde, referring to carnations that travel by air from cities like Bangalore and—depending on their volume and other vagaries of the day—sell at Rs 220 instead of Rs 100 per bundle in Dadar at times. This is a consequence of last year’s floods, says Shinde, who had visited the affected areas of Satara and Sangli and seen the lives of farmers there recede by at least 15 years. “It’s a sorry state. And the administration is not helping,” says Shinde, adding that the dearth of local supply has caused high-end Mumbaikars to opt for desitination weddings outside Maharashtra in florid places such as Lucknow.
Wedding planner Dhawal Oza recalls how something “as basic as” the pinwheel-shaped crape jasmine which would cost Rs 60 per kg was sold at Rs 200 per kg recently due to shortage. While some of this uptick, like plastic Chinese flowers, is artificial and may be caused by what Oza calls “vendor nexus games”, the wedding planner forecasts a spike in demand for cheap, reusable plastic flowers if their real fragrant counterparts fail to arrive in bulk in the next few months.
Over at Dadar, Namdeo Vare, a gruff-voiced thin Badlapur resident who has been selling flowers here for
three decades, confesses that the mushrooming of flowers markets in the outskirts of the city and inflation have caused his business to deteriorate by almost 50 percent over the last 20 years. As his workmen rearrange baskets full of fragrant lilies and marigolds under the stinky Dadar flyover after a BMC vehicle scare caused them to scram, the tikkasporting father of four—who doesn’t want any of his kids including his ““pHd daughter” to do what he does—says: “Flowers are required for all occasions from birth to death. But people simply don’t value flowers like they used to.”
Unlike the pricey buds of jasmine that refuse to open up fully in winter months though, Namdeo is hopeful that his business will mature after January 15 when the festive flow of Makar Sankranti and Hindu wedding dates begins. Such optimism evades Saravanan Shamugasundaram, whose flower shop in Matunga is the result of his father, C Ulaganathan, arriving from Thirunelveli in 1968, sleeping on the streets and starting as a roadside flower hawker. “We started from zero and will probably end up there as there’s only a 24-hour guarantee on our products and people don’t have the money to spend on flowers,” says Shanmugasundaram, pointing out that only ten per cent of 50-odd shops in the Matunga flower market are doing well.
Among them is the iconic septuagenarian ‘South Indian Flower Shop’ whose latticed garlands have not only adorned major local deities including Lalbaugcha Raja but also foreign gods such as Michael Jackson when he had performed in Mumbai. Built by one Thanga Thevar, a migrant from Tirunelveli who was close to mafia don Vardarajan Mudaliar, this blue shop is thriving on its late founder’s enduring goodwill. “He was large-hearted. He would help out other migrants with shelter and food and was the first to supply flowers for all major poojas at famous temples here,” says Devika Thevar about her father-in-law whose sepia picture now hangs in the shop where not much has changed except wedding clients tend to bargain more, cops don’t come down seeking freebies as much and workmen hail from West Bengal, not Tamil Nadu.
Though the shop is now facing the axe of redevelopment, Devika is trying not to think of life after the demolition. Instead, she draws your focus to the wedding order of Rs 60,000 coming up on January 25, the giant garland made of fake dollars that she recently shipped to Canada, another garland made of Indian notes that drew a mob as it travelled to a theatre in Dadar, memories of celebrity patrons from Hema Malini to Kamal Haasan and other happy things that show range.





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