Madhavan Pillai a.k.a. Murugan is not just a flower merchant, he is a pookkalam designer as well

Madhavan Pillai is all smiles. After all, it is Onam season, and business is burgeoning for flower merchants. Madhavan, popularly known as Murugan, doubles up as a floral designer during the season. In addition to supplying flowers for weddings and events, Murugan designs and weaves pookkalams for companies in Technopark, banks, residents’ associations, automobile showrooms, and so on in the capital city, all of which conduct Onam celebrations and pookkalam contests.

A fourth generation member of a family that is in the flower business, Murugan, along with his father, Sivanandan, and uncle Vairavan Pillai run Vairam Stores, a flower and perfumery shop in Chalai market, which is nearly 115-years-old. A commerce graduate, Murugan says: “I always had an aptitude for drawing and that really helped when I started designing pookkalams. Usually a team of five of us make the pookkalams. We always try to come up with innovative designs – personalities, dance forms, landscapes…”

“We don’t use oleander in pookkalams because they wilt fast. For shades of white, we use Bangalore pichi; Cyprus leaves give the colour green. If kozhippoo isn’t available to give a red hue, we dry ixora flowers, powder them and use in the pookkalams,” Murugan says.

His association with Technopark is over a decade old, thanks to UST Global. Each time there is a high profile client visit to the company, Murugan is called upon to create a pookkalam. As such he gets to design some 60 to 70 floral carpets on an average every year. Nowadays many other companies also depend on him for pookkalams, he says. “The rate starts from Rs. 2,500 and goes up to Rs. 8,000 for a pookkalam. We take close to four hours to create big pookkalams,” he says.

Murugan was credited with having made the world’s largest pookkalam eight years ago at Police Grounds, Thycaud. It measured 10,500 sq ft (for Brooke Bond). The record was broken a while ago in Kozhikode.

Besides supplying flowers daily to at least 15 temples in the city, which include the temples at Attukal, Karikkakom, Pachallur, and Kadappathala, the father-son duo does decoration for weddings and events. “Earlier we just had to make the thumbikkaimaala and kattamaala for the weddings. Now, people are willing to spend more on stage decorations and separate mandapams. We are now experimenting with fibre and brass structures,” says Sivanandan. Customers often raise a hue and cry over the escalating price of flowers during the Onam season. “Those who supply flowers sell them to us at a high rate and so we have to go for a price hike. Don’t be surprised if jasmine, which was priced at Rs.100 per kilo during Karkkidakam, goes up to Rs. 2,000 per kilo during Chingam! There has been a decline in jasmine production. Constant power cuts, non-availability of labour and high labour charges are forcing many to stop cultivation,” Sivanandan says. Meanwhile, business is in full bloom…