Dadar, located centrally on the Western coast of Mumbai city, can be called a hub of life and energy. Amongst the jam-packed roads, jostling people, cows chewing on cud, the perpetual railway station crowd and endless city sounds, breathes this flower market, adding to but yet standing out of this chaotic scene. Part of Mumbai’s‘must visit’ list of places, it surely is a little world in itself.
Setting up shop at 4am in the morning, the market is alive till at least 9 pm in the night in two shifts. This is a daily grind and a source of livelihood for many.
Coming from the interiors of the state of Maharashtra, such as Kolhapur, Mangalore, Pune and Shewdi, the flowers reach the nearby Parel shed in orange, yellow and blue crates. Tied in bundles and packed to the top, these crates can weigh between 5 kg to 10 kgs eachExotic and delicate species like the lotus, marigold, sunflower, orchid, lilies and jasmine come in cloth wrapped bundles.
Each truck can carry several hundred crates of flowers. The off-loading of the crates is done in a scientific manner and is quite a sight to witness. Each crate has a unique color and number code to ensure it reaches the rightful owner/retail flower shop owner. Crates are arranged in neat rows, again as per a code. After being off-loaded at the Parel shed, the crates are taken to the Dadar market and beyond. Loose and fallen flowers are picked up by small-time road-side vendors.
Individual shop owners pick up their identified crates and carry it away to their respective shops much before sunrise. The early morning darkness reminds them of the pace they are expected to maintain for a peaceful, satisfactory evening.
Florists, wedding and event management companies, temples, burial grounds and hotels are their primary customers who buy in wholesale. For them, their separate sacks are created, tied together and are kept aside to be picked up.
The rest of the population of people are the secondary buyers. At an average, the Dadar flower market or Phoolgali as it is called, have 100,000 customers on a daily count. Wedding seasons and festivals like Ganpati, Diwali and Eid are high profit times where the sales increase to a double or triple, sometimes five-fold.
Being a full day market and located just outside the busiest railway station in Mumbai, Dadar, there is never a moment when this market has no customers. Women, children, men and even old people take time out, select their stall, pick up their best, bargain and leave with smiles. Having the vegetable and fruit markets adjoining this one, people plan their visits so as to pick up both in one go.
Each part of the day has its show-stopping element, which is distinct from the other. The mornings are a rush, a total ordered chaos, which demands full power, strength, pace and determination. It is here where maximum activity takes place, as it is a fight against time. The afternoons are slightly lazy, slow and dragging where the sellers take a breather and sit, relax and casually do their job of selling. Early evening is when the pace picks up again as the evening that follows is more hectic and demanding than the morning. By the time night approaches, the graph of energy is at its least where sluggishly they wind up the day; wrap up their goods, exhausted go back to their homes and families.
When asked about how they got into this flower selling profession, many answered with a similar background of having fathers or uncles in this profession. A few said they were migrants who came to Mumbai to get a job and ended up here through contacts or recommendations. A mere two said the loved the sight, feel and smell of flowers that they left their earlier careers to take this one up full time.The money transaction of money and exchange of flowers happens everyday. Each day though is a monotonous one, with a feel of a factory; they look forward to it as it is now conditioned into their systems. In this little fragrant world of flowers, trading and selling, they sleep, eat, socialize, work and dream big.
It is a market that never sleeps, from shifting of flowers to maintaining the stock for the day; there is always a hustle bustle around that stretch. Young children, take pride in selling flowers to passers-by using catchy tag-lines like “Roses are red Violets are blue, if you buy them, they will bloom and bloom”in their broken Hindi and English. Some of the sellers use their creativity to bind them into tiny garlands and gajaras, in a typical Maharashtrian fashion, which goes around a bun. A well-known and used flower known as ‘chapha’ is the one most seen in garlands and used for festivals and religious ceremonies.
One stall stands out in this ocean of flowers, the stall of Bhidebhau, who added the wedding touch to his marketing. He uses these flowers to make specific marriage materials and has put up a mock wedding album to show where and how these flowers can be used as jewelry or as a part of the design. It is not only an interesting sight but also a very fun and entertaining speck. It is guaranteed that no one can miss this stall as the décor is so catchy and colorful and well placed. Facing the stairs from the station, BhideBhau’s little corner just cannot be ignored.
The Dadar flower market is one place where typical Maharashtrian culture is at its peak. Every time you visit this place, there will be a new experience, a new story and a new feel. The same faces, with their usual cane baskets overflowing with colorful flowers, but their smiles brimming with joy, genuinely and humility.
They are simple people, with strenuous, laborious and monotonous lives. A sweet word, a compliment and a genuine thank you, makes their day.
They welcome every guest who walks through their market. When asked, they answer all possible questions about their profession and when faced in front of a camera, they confidently smile with no sign of consciousness or fear. There is so much to learn, observe and take back from the flower market, and a place one has to visit to experience; a little world that has a universe wrapped within it.