I have taken this story from the Hindu Newspaper Magazine
Padmavathy's day starts at an unearthly 3 a.m. MADHUMITHA SRINIVASAN accompanies her on her daily grind...
IT'S ONE LONG DAY: Padmavathy at the flower market.
Padmavathy has been selling flowers for 23 years; she helped her mother while still in school. She inherited the business after her mother's death a few years back and the routine she follows has remained quite unchanged…
One chilly morning, I join Padma and her four ‘shopping buddies' to the market. Thankfully, she took me along for the 4 a.m. trip rather than the first one at 3 a.m.. While the rest of the city sleeps, the ladies speculate about the prices of flowers that day and other sundry gossip.
At the flower market, men and women walk in and out, carrying big bags of flowers and garlands. The market resembles a huge fort with pathways and corridors running along the four sides. More astounding was the variety of flowers being sold.
Being a regular, Padma deftly manoeuvred her way among eager bargain hunters, while I tried to keep close. After a quick tea break, she started buying. After an hour, we walked out. Padma had bought flowers worth Rs. 500: Chrysanthemums, Firecracker Flowers, locally known as kanakambaram, wild jasmine, red rose and Artemisia pallens ( Dhavanam). On festive days, she buys for larger amounts. On the way back home, their chat reviews prices, purchases and people. A bit of economics and politics also features while they start stringing the flowers.
But Padma has other things to do. First, she drops off roses to her regular buyers. But before that, the kids have to be packed off to school. Then it's time for household chores. After lunch she begins stringing her flowers. Padma also employs three people to string flowers for her at 50p per mozham (length calculated from the tip of the middle finger to the elbow). Now it's time for the afternoon trip to buy the popular jasmine varieties available only then. But today, she has chosen to take a nap; her friend will fetch some for her.
Around three, Padma begins her evening round that lasts up to 8 p.m. If it's the first week of the month, she collects monthly dues from her regular buyers. Apart from that, she makes Rs. 100 for every Rs. 500 she invests daily. The money she makes from her monthly collections are again pooled in as investment. Then she heads back home to hit the bed at 10.30 p.m. Then it's another day of market trips, selling and catching up with friends.
If you thought that Rs. 100 a day was not bad for a flower seller, you would change your mind if you saw how that amount has to be fractioned — to pay for her two children's education at a good private school (Padma herself has studied only up to Std X while her older sister is a graduate); support her unsupportive, unemployed husband and his indulgences; a sister who just lost her job and her two children; and pay off her housing loan. It is indeed quite a strain on the low-margin profit she makes, but she manages and quite contently at that, though the tears that swell in her eyes when talking about the family seems to have a different story to tell…