Friday, February 5, 2010

Flower Vendor: Jasmine of Madurai

Special suppliments from Hindu

Jasmine from Madurai has, over the years, created a legendary name for itself in the popular imagination.
Walk the streets of Madurai and you'll hear the flowers tell their story, what makes them “Madurai malli”, a brand with no rivals.

In Madurai and its surrounding taluks of Perungudi, Nilakottai, Uthappanaickanur and Ammainaickanur, jasmine farms gear up for the season that lasts from February to November when the flower is cultivated on vast stretches of land. Ten days equal one yield which means the entire process of manuring, watering and plucking is done in a 10-day phase. So, it works to three yields a month.

Seasonal fluctuations

When floods or incessant rains upset this fine rhythm of cultivation, buds appear faster than “planned”, and it results in a surplus supply to the market. Godowns fill up and the price of the commodity comes down, much to the joy of the consumer. But then, for the farmer and the merchant, another weather change would ensure good profits again.

Mr. N. Jegatheesan, President, Tamil Nadu Chamber of Commerce and Industry, says the “uniqueness of Madurai malli” can be attributed to the topography. “The speciality of Madurai is its climatic condition favourable to jasmine cultivation. Within a 40 to 60 km radius of Madurai are places like Dindigul and Aruppukottai from where also flowers are supplied to procurement centres all over the district. A farmer, on three acres of land, collects 60 to 70 kg of jasmine a day,” he says highlighting the massive turnover.

International demand

From the retailers who buy the produce from the centres, the famed “Madurai malli” reaches the consumer through shops and street vendors. Every day, these fresh flowers find their way to international markets also. It's a fast race at break-neck speed. The malli is sent from Madurai to Chennai before eight in the morning. Flowers are tied into garlands or strands, packed into specially made thermacol boxes and air-lifted. London, France, Kuala Lumpur and Dubai are the top four destinations for this perishable, yet significantly precious, commodity.

“When the price of jasmine falls as low as Rs.30 per kg, the perfume industry makes the best of it,” says Mr. Jegatheesan, a flower merchant himself, whose family has been in the trade for three generations now.

Tamil litterateurs note that the fragrance of the flower has got much to do with the soil of the place. Ancient literary works refer to mallias a flower of unparalleled beauty, however, with no special mention of place. But Malli does sound sweeter with Madurai in it.

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