Lockdown in India has bought the multi-tasking ability of people into fame. Those working from home tend to put in more hours of work ( with the cell-phone ringing dawn to dusk) while for the home. Meanwhile, we can’t help but wonder how the days of those non-essential service road side seller wade their time. Today is Ugadi, the new year for more than half the country. An auspicious day for which the garland seller would have been waiting and expecting just a week and half back. Hoping for more sale, higher profit and happy festival at their home!
After months of passing by them, coincidentally, of the efforts these people put for their daily earnings. The curiosity went about with me sitting and speaking to them while they missed a customer or two trying to answer me. I kept dodging to ink their words, here it goes now.
The day starts in the city flower market at dawn to which they travel by the first city bus tending that route. The known conductor and driver wait if they go late by a few minutes for, the cities like Bangalore would be hardly awake! They purchase the un-tied buds of flowers. Given these flowers are mostly sold outside the temples and are meant for worship, while tying the garland, these ladies concentrate only on work and not tend to move around. Tying the garland itself is a way of earning for many. To make a garland out of 1/2 a kilo of flowers, it takes approximately 3hours. The older ladies who lack the clear vision pay the garland makers about 60Rs for half a kilo of flowers tied. These when done safely packed in wet cotton cloths and baskets and bought to the place where they will be sold to the customers. Here is the start for the long tedious day.
I saw really old lady run around pleading people to buy flowers. When asked why is she at this age running around, her answer was clear, I need to earn to eat. A week later, when her actually to have been rival (the one selling flower beside in the same stretch) was seen upset. Her friend had peacefully passed away the previous night and she now had no company while she sold her flowers.
The other flower vendor outside the temple who lends me a small length of garlanded jasmine to keep it in my head (free of cost) was in serious thoughts. Her eras old refrigerator at home had stopped working. She did not use it for anything else but to keep her flowers fresh if not completely sold out till the next day. She had to take a 15,000Rs loan to buy a new one.
With a characteristic spectacles showing me she too needed help to thread the flowers, she sat their telling me her life story. She worked from childhood, travelled to dubai with her brothers. Worked in mining sites, got older and older. Left the job and came back to her motherland, started working as domestic help. After years, she found a good man to accept her as a wife. With no children, he runs a xerox shop while she spends her day selling flowers in a few homes and then finally outside the temple.
None of these flower vendors had an umbrella to provide them shade. They sat in the shadow of buildings for that. With all these troubles cropping up causing a question mark on their daily earning, their face seems assured. Walking past them gets our mood fresh for we smell spring. A person sold a sack of lotus containing 130 flowers at a rate of 200Rs to a Engineering lecturer cum priest in the temple city of Kanchi. While the customer was half trodden with guilt, the seller had a smile. The lockdown would have not even got him such a price for his flowers the next day!
While flower vendors carry a story, there are those who sell earthen lamps on road. I frantically searched for a coconut shaped shaded earthen lamp which travelled with me to different hostels to finally break while returning home. While I brooded day in out to replace it, I finally found in a cart filled with old lamps. Beside it was an extremely old lady whose words were not clearly audible. I got the lamp home for a price below its value ( the lady was not ready to take more, she wanted to speak as less as she could), the happiness I had kept me spirited and positive whole through a function that followed the next two days. It created the image soo clear in my head, I went searching for her the last time I was in the city (Chennai). She still was there, with the same cart under the scorching sun. This time I got two shaded lamps which now keeps me engaged as I add colours to it.
India is a country filled with diversity which is celebrated in the form of festivals and rituals. Many of these have rules to follow that makes us purchase things from small vendors. A simple example of the change in our living style can be seen when we tend to buy bouquet for official events and tend to remember the roadside flower vendor ( a lady selling garlands of jasmine which switches on our senses of aroma even before seeing the flower) only during a function at home. We are so hypocritical that we bargain with these vendors on normal days but question the government for their living while we are made to stay home for safety! I am sure, with their perseverance and survival skills which we lack, they would get through. While we would go to the vegetable vendor selling his stock on a cart and continue bargaining even during this lockown.