UNDER the brightness of a white fluorescent bulb, Shankar’s eyes are focused on his hands as they wind fresh jasmines around a thread with practised precision. “This will take just 10 minutes,” says Shankar, with an air of confidence that comes with years of experience. Pointing at a pair of garlands woven with multiple varieties of flowers, he says, “That will take an hour. It costs Rs 200.”
Shankar works in the Manikandan flower shop located in Matunga, a suburb characterised by the smells of filter coffee and freshly plucked flowers. Shankar’s tiny shop is one among the many hole-in-the-wall flower stalls in an L-formation at the intersection of Bhandarkar and Telang roads.
Despite the changes in Matunga’s topography over the years, “Matunga phool market” is still the reference point for those driving to this part of the city; a nod to its existence that has spanned decades.
“This shop has been here for over 30 years now,” says Shankar, himself working in the shop for six years. His daily routine begins at 7 am and goes on till 9 pm. Hailing from Kolkata, Shankar visits his hometown twice a year. “Sales peak during festivals like Diwali,” he says, adding that there are other workers to share the load.
The flower market was once exclusively occupied by migrants from Tamil Nadu. At present, although the workers are from West Bengal, the ownership continues to be rooted in the southern state. Snippets of Tamil fall within earshot of passersby as they negotiate a safe crossing on the busy road.
The staff in all the shops along the road are bustling by 4 am to get business going. “The flowers come from places such as Pune and Nashik. In Mumbai, roses are the most in demand,” says another vendor. There were even more stores along the road, some now lost to redevelopment of buildings.
In a stretch where stalls are curtained by huge garlands, a lone woman sits at a stall with a humble collection of gajras, champas and floral hairbands. “I have two sons. They come and help me in shifts,” she says.
The women of Matunga and nearby localities are a loyal clientele, preferring the fragrant variety of strings of flowers or gajras. The extraordinary size of the garlands elicits curiosity about its purchasing base.
“It is bought for all kinds of occasions, from birthdays to funerals,” said Murugesh, owner of the South Indian Flower Shop, whose staff of eight belongs to West Bengal.
Like many others on the road, this store remains open for 365 days. “This is the oldest shop here, started by my father,” he says gesturing at a framed picture of Tanga Thevar who established the shop in 1942. “In my shop, garlands are made only after the order is placed. Otherwise, we face losses due to bargaining,” says Murugesh.
His two sons have careers in mechanical and civil engineering. “But I am sure they will look after the business even after I go,” he signs off.