Every time I walked past the deserted lane that once housed the Mehrauli phool mandi, I’d remember regretfully the fragrant mornings I’d spent there. The 15-year-old wholesale flower market was relocated by the Delhi Agricultural Marketing Board last year to what they optimistically called “an ultra-modern flower market” in Ghazipur. There were complaints galore from the flower-sellers, but sadly, no one in power listened. And so it came to pass that one of the most colourful places to visit on Sunday mornings faded into eternity.
Or, so I thought. Last week, when I took the metro to Qutab, the smell of marigolds, lilies and roses led me to a small, informal phool mandi operating under the overhead metro track, not far from where the original market once stood. I walked around, admiring the buckets of long stemmed lilies and beautiful displays of chrysanthemums. Though it wasn’t a patch on the old mandi, tempos were carrying away large quantities of flowers for weddings and parties. The odd beady-eyed customer haggled over roses, while wholesalers, vendors and event planners filled the boots of their big cars with blooms of different varieties. That was when I met Indrajit, who worked in one of the shops there.
“The phool mandi had been a well known Mehrauli landmark for a long time. It’s said during the wedding season, thousands of kgs of flowers were sold here daily,” he said. “We were all totally shocked when the government arbitrarily decided to shift it across the Yamuna.” The move, he said, had been tough for vendors who were members of the mandi: “Clients from South Delhi and Gurgaon were finding it tough to travel so far for their flowers. As business started going down, flower prices rose, adding to vendors’ woes.” But these woes were nothing compared to the woes of the many unregistered vendors who sold flowers on the pavements outside the mandi.
“I was one of them,” said Indrajit soberly. When the mandi was relocated, Indrajit and others like him received neither compensation nor space in Ghazipur. “Deprived of the presence of the mandi, we tried to continue our temporary displays on the site. But the police didn’t let us. If they caught us, they’d beat us up mercilessly...” he said. So, he became an itinerant flower vendor. “This wasn’t successful either as most residential areas now have guards who don’t easily allow people like me in. Sometimes they’d demand commission for letting me in,” he said. Indrajit ended up in an exhausting routine, walking all day with a small basket of flowers on his head. “I never dared carry too many, not just because they were heavy but also because I could never tell if I’d be lucky enough to sell all of them,” he said.
Eventually, a group of flower vendors decided to jointly lease some land and set up their own little flower market near the Qutab Minar metro station. When they did so about two months ago, business was initially slow. But the flower-sellers in that little market hoped that people would learn about them through word of mouth. “I’d lost too much money to set up my own shop, so I’m temporarily working as a flower salesman here,” he said. The festive season has brought some cheer, and things are finally looking up. “The tough times I’ve had are hopefully behind me now. But when I look back, I feel our government’s policies are definitely anti-poor, and I’m a walking-talking example of that,” he said, as he walked away to entice some new customers to buy some blooms.