It was my first visit to India and I was thrilled to be in T. Nagar in Chennai from work in school.
Suddenly, I woke up in the hotel. Although it was still dark, may be the day was about to break in. I heard the tinkling of the temple bells. Clanging of vessels, rustling of passing vehicles and screams and shouts from below.
I opened the window and looked out. I was amazed to see so many people on the street. Some were rushing, some were spreading their products on the pavement and women were literally running. T. Nagar was awake, such a busy commercial area was bathed in all walks of life. It was a rare sight indeed!
I stood at the entrance of the hotel and saw rows of elderly and young women carrying woven baskets on their heads- the fragrance of the jasmine flowers filled the atmosphere. The whole area was bustling with life!
Actually, jasmine flower is my favorite flower. I love it for its purity and scent. But I have never seen them in such huge quantity in my life.
Many passing by stopped to buy a yard or two for their hair at five or 10 rupees per yard, for their children and garland for their prayer rooms. The flowers are used for many occasions. In the morning, business is high but as time goes, the sale slacks. Every day, especially in the month of April to June, jasmine flowers bloom in abundance and it has a market because of the festive seasons.
Hundreds of women from far away villages in the outskirts of T. Nagar make a beeline to the retail flower market in Bunder Street in Parrys Corner. They fill their baskets and hurry down to vantage points- their usual places where they sit to sell.
Some women stay up to 9 pm to sell off their flowers. It’s a sad story when I spoke to some of the women sitting near the temple, hotels and shops- longing to sell their flowers. When the jasmine flowers bloom, its fragrance spread all over, literally inviting passersby to stop and buy.
Velamma’s husband is an invalid. She has three children and she is the breadwinner of the family. She had left the village with her husband looking for jobs in Chennai; but failed due to her husband’s sickness. So she stayed on and began this business.
She proudly says that she will not go back to her village; but educate her children.
Saroja Ummal is 60 years old- still looking smart and has been in flower business for the last 30 years. Soon after her marriage, her husband died in an accident, leaving her with two children.
She is a pleasant woman proudly telling everyone that under any circumstances she will educate her sons up to college level.
She also said, if they fail to sell their flowers, she undersells as they cannot be kept for the next day.
Although the jasmine sellers are poor, they never sell or invest in inferior quality. Some flowers may have worms in it and they are usually small in size. Most of the flowers brought to Bunder Street are sold to bulk buyers. These buyers sent them by van to Vellore to the perfume factories.
Women wait till late in the evening to finish their baskets. They are poverty stricken, they have borrowed money on interest, but still they are not heartbroken. They have will power to work and earn. They must take home what they have earned to feed their family.
Selling jasmine flowers isn’t an easy joke. It’s hard work and tiring, but the women do it without any complaints. They are friendly, courteous and full of smile. I was shocked to see them keeping happy amidst misery. They are capable, sincere and responsible.
After all women in any field will always do their best for their families. Their only aim is to lift their families and what a price they pay for their sacrifice.
I salute thee!