Are these all your friends?
They all stay in Panskura.
Do they all sell flowers?
All those who eat muri for tiffin, all of them sell flowers; and all of them carry a jhola [propylene bags]. Not everyone is from the same village, their villages are nearby. We go up and down together, we leave together, at 3. We go in comfort, come back in comfort; we go sleeping, and come sleeping. When we come at 3am, then we sleep and come, and when we return we sleep and go. Now there are problems with the train line, so the train is empty. In Sealdah division there are big jams, big jams. Each sells different flowers, according to whatever they are cultivating. In Kolaghat there is a market, right in front of the station there is a flower market. Many people sell there; there is a market also at our place, that opens from 6am. From 6 to 8am.
You don’t sell there? There is no profit?
For those who can get there it is good.
You did not sleep all night, right?
Yes we go to sleep at 10-11, and I wake up at 2.
So you slept only for four hours?
Four hours, three hours. Our home is in the train. While going sleep, while coming sleep.
You always try to will leave the flower market by 9-9.30am, but there the market is on all day. Why do you only go in the morning?
We go in the morning hours. People go at whatever time suits them and accordingly they’ll have to stay for that much time. I hardly stay till around 11, maybe when the market is bad 11-11.30, that’s it. I will not stay longer, even if I can’t sell off the flowers. I keep them there, with someone I know, where I was sitting, I keep them under that shop, put ice and leave them there. I don’t stay longer: because I again have to come home, eat, take rest, take care of the flower fields. If I stay here all day, then I will feel tired. All those who come in the morning, we all leave at dawn. People go at anytime to that market, there are always people going for 12 hours starting from the morning. People will take flowers till 9 at night. And the market stays till 7-8pm, sometimes all night, during Saraswati puja, Kali puja, Durga puja – then, the market stays open for 24 hours.
Why did you not, like your father, sell in your village’s market?
My family, everyone, wants to climb higher. Going there [Kolkata], I get a big market. First I used to sell flowers at this market only; there was a market called Teula market, I used to go there too; there was some more money there. Then I started to sell in Kolaghat, when my brothers said, ‘come let’s go to Kolkata’. That’s how we reached Kolkata.
Has there been progress regarding the trains in these 20 years?
Yes, there has been progress. Earlier the first train was at 4, now it is at 3-3:20 and another comes at 4. Now there are many more trains, and this is benefitting us. The Mecheda trains, whose stop is before ours, start with a 10 minutes difference. The first train reaches there from Howrah.
The 700 rupees that you pay to carry your goods on the train – do you give that money to the railway or someone else?
To the rail.
How does it work if you carry more than the agreed quantity?
Like, if I have cut a ticket and I have three-four goods, the ticket collector will have to be paid a bribe. If the TT gets on the train to check, then he’ll make a receipt, what is called a fine. After getting off, the people at the station will be bribed. But there is no need to pay if you are carrying less than 60 kilos. If it is even slightly more than one kilo above that, there will be a fine to pay. Now if there was a company [instead of the government’s administration], then one could not carry anything extra at all; they would keep a TT in the compartment of every train. But how carefully will a government TT look? He would be sleeping or with his wife. He just comes, signs the receipts and then leaves.
And the police…?
The RPF [railway police force] in Howrah take money, sometimes, at the station. They did not know earlier, now they have become clever. Now they have come to know that the TT takes money and they also take money; they have become clever.
Sometimes, you told me that because the train was delayed your business had gone bad. What happens when you arrive late?
I reach at around 5 and my customers come at 5, the ones who know me. They take the flowers and go away. So if I reach on time they will take the flowers from me, if I am not there, they’ll take flowers from someone else and go. In the morning, I have everyday almost the same customers: say, ten or five.