The market was not good this year. I mean, the trade of fresh flowers. Say the demand on the market is 10 bundles; this year, 20 bundles have arrived there. This is not dry stuff that we will keep and sell later. Like, for instance, fish: those who come to sell fish have to sell the fish, and if too much fish arrives then they sell less. That is the matter. There was over-cultivation, since the market went well last year. Farmers have to take many risks, this is the matter. Last year, their produce had taken a hit; this year, everyone has taken a loss. Today the market was slightly good, otherwise there has been great loss, most people haven’t been able to recover the money they have invested in their fields. These days the cost of labour has gone up from before…
There is profit in cultivation, though this year is a down period. If this cultivation doesn’t have success, another one will. Cultivation has to carry on. And one has to keep one’s goals in mind, one cannot fall behind. There was profit in January/February, then in May/June… till tomorrow it’s marriage time, but then the demand for fresh flowers will go decreasing day by day. Did you see those paper flowers? They sell them by packet. Because of those flowers… You see them in big shops, Salt Lake and all that, there are baskets of dry flowers. From far, one can’t understand if they are fake or original flowers! Because of this, people use less fresh flowers. In big halls, they use more of such flowers now. Once bought, they can be used four times, whereas fresh flowers can be used only once – though in December, they can be used three-four times too.
Then for you, winter is the best time…
Yes, winter. And the market is full of people. There are flowers upon flowers, and there are four times the people. Now because of the heat, there are fewer people. There are less celebrations because of the heat; and since the rainy season is coming, it will become even less. During monsoon, there will be bigger crowds in our countryside, people sell at the village markets. The cultivators find space in their villages and relief from the [city’s] heat. Marriages are celebrated in July/August – then till October/November, there are no marriages for Bengalis; they are celebrated again in November/December and again not permitted in the next month. The next season is again in mid January till mid March.
I have occupied three different places in Kolkata’s flower market, my place used to be on the other side. But there is so much politics playing there.. you see, where I sit currently, that is not the market area, that is a road. Did you see the Bihari behind me? Do you know how much his income is? He takes money from the cultivators: coming from Bihar, he takes money from West Bengal and goes. He’s a Bihari. He gets minimum 8,-10,000Rs from people. I don’t pay since I am an old hand there, but he takes 30Rs from each of those near me, otherwise he won’t let them sit there. If they don’t pay, he won’t give them space. Political games. He pays the police. He will also take support from the police. He will also take 60Rs from other sellers; every day 60 rupees. Those inside the market, they don’t have to pay. The market is inside: the road has become a second market. Such a large number of cultivators have arrived there that there is no space in the inner market. Our Atal Vajpayee [Indian PM from 1999-2004], he had allotted money for the market, but due to political wiles, nothing has happened. You would have heard that once the market caught fire. That time they had said they would rebuilt it, but that has not happened. CPIM say they will do it, Trinamool say the will do it, and in this way, nothing’s happening. This are political games.
This Bihari, why does the police support him?
They get money. Money is everything. He gives police money, monthly. The business that he is running… the police gets money from every hut, from one end of the bridge to the other. They’ll get a minimum of 70,000Rs a month. 70,000Rs.
Why this system?
It is unofficial. The market would like to have things official, but whenever steps are done, there are murder cases. Suppose someone is killed, then the people near him will be scared for their lives. What need, the flowers are just for income, sell for 20Rs and go from there, just stay for two hours.
Here, in the village, there is nothing like this, right?
No all this is not there, in the village the system functions like an auction. Say, I have taken the flowers to you: now you will call ‘the cost of these flowers is 10Rs’; the retailers standing there say ‘I will buy for 20’, someone else says 30, someone says 50. Whatever the highest bid is, the buyer will pay that money to you. And you, the middleman, will give me the money. I won’t interact with the retailer. There is no issue with the police, this is all a marketing matter. In Kolaghat and Deula there is nothing like that, all bidding. Here, the markets start at 9pm and go on till 12. It is a market that is based on bidding. The retailer will buy from here and sell there, or send it somewhere else. In Panskura there is a government market, an open market. There, there is an open bidding between the cultivator and the retailer, as happens in Kolaghat.
But this system, the police and the Bihari…
That Bihari didn’t do anything, he’s just rented a house and he is there now, selling kachori [snacks] there, there is a bumper sale of kachori also. What they call ravan-rajan: survival of the fittest.
Have you ever thought to return to sell in the village?
No, I don’t have no fear. If you have fear you will not be able to reach your goal. Death will come to us all one day, what is the need to fear. But that old man [intending the Bihari] likes me very much, he has nothing against me. We have our system of giving and taking.
Last Sunday, when I was there with you, you said ‘we are cultivators, and they, on the other side, are hawkers’. What does it mean?
These hawkers are trying to start something, they are demanding cards [intending the official permission to sell on the pavement]. Those who do trade on Kolkata footpaths, they are called hawkers; they are placing their demands before the government. Those are not footpaths, those are roads that should serve Calcutta’s transport: so, they are placing a demand.
But you don’t join them.
No there are no cultivators among them.
They stay there, they live there, 24 hours. We come and go. All the huts you see beyond there, they stay there for 24 hours.
…the flower market is the best place and the worst place. The most honest people come there, and the biggest cheaters come there. It is the best and the worst place, the business of fresh flowers is itself like this. I will behave in a good manner with good people; if I behave well with a bad person, he will not pay me. With bad people, one will have to behave badly, without abusing them or calling them names, they will not pay; they’ll take everything and go. They come and say ‘give me flowers I don’t have money’; then they say they’ll pay me on this date, but they won’t. They can take a loan and go, saying they will pay me later; then they come again and say, ‘oh I forgot the money’. Now, if one doesn’t abuse them, they will not pay. There was a man, it has been 8 days, he still hasn’t paid. Everyone’s intention is not the same. If it were so, then this earth would be a golden heaven. This happens all over the world. How to put someone else down, like ragging in colleges: it is the same in the field of flower cultivation too. Say, I am growing a flower and it is doing well – behind me, someone will be thinking how to take me down. All I think is: I believe in god, I think if I am on the right path, I may have to go through some trouble, but my troubles will be less.
The flower business is mainly practiced by men, right?
In Calcutta, there are women who who have small flower shops inside Calcutta. Many women are also doing business nowadays. On our side, there are fewer women, but there are many women who set up shops in various places and sell. There are few cultivators like us though. Many girls reach Calcutta in the morning and set up a shop in the neighbourhood. In Calcutta, many flowers are needed daily: there are that many gods as people in Calcutta, and they will not leave their homes without having offered their puja. Ten people have ten gods and they get up and bathe and do their own puja – only then do they leave for work.