Jaadhi, malli, arali, marugu, javandhi… my life revolves around fragrant flowers and leaves. For 45 of my 70 years, I have been selling flowers.

My late husband taught me everything I know about the business. We would go to the flower market every day, bargain, buy flowers and bring them home by bus. Then, I would sit with my neighbours, and tie flowers as we chatted.

Once a week, I would buy vaazhai mattai, soak it in water, and separate it with a safety pin to get fine silky strands. When tied with this naaru, the flowers smell good and stay fresh longer. Sadly, today, we use white cotton thread or coloured thread.

These days, I get up at 4.30 a.m. and leave home at about 5. I come to my ‘spot’ near Pazhamudir Nilayam on Government Arts College Road by 6. I have a tea and bun and am ready to face the day. For the first hour, I mostly sell saami poo. Morning walkers and the local shops buy kadhambam from me. Once, I sell all my flowers, I go to the flower market and buy udhiri poo (jaadhi, malli). Some women there tie it for a fee. I board a bus back to my stand — it’s just a stool and a koodai, but it is all mine! I keep shifting around so that I get to sit in the shade of the puliyamaram above me.

Most days, I pick up small quantities of arali, thulasi, sampangi, thamarai, marugu and javandhi. This, I tie myself. I like to sell kadhambam that has been tied, nerukama. I love choosing the colour combinations. It reminds me of my husband and our days together.

I bring old rice from home for lunch. One of the hotels nearby gives me some sambar to eat it with. They also provide water. At about five p.m., some people from a temple nearby give us pavement sellers a packet of food. Either sambar saadham or puli saadham. That takes care of dinner.

Once I pack up, I go home. On rainy days, I make no money. On a good day, I make enough to eat and pay the local moneylender. The interest is steep, but where else can we go?

What makes me happiest is when people keep returning to me to buy flowers. I once sold flowers to little girls. Today, they come with their grandchildren and buy flowers from me! And, everyone calls me paati. They are my family. I’ve led a fulfilled life. I lost my husband some years ago and my son lives elsewhere. I would like to work till I can. My only addiction is vethala paaku. There’s a reason for it, you know? When you bend constantly to tie flowers, your eyes water. Vethalai takes care of that watering.

Years ago, I used to pluck flowers for a living. We would go to a big bungalow and pluck jasmine flowers from the kodi. That was the first time I saw a lady tying flowers. I used to stand in a corner and watch her fingers as they deftly moved, fusing the flowers and naaru into a seamless whole. Who knew then that the same flowers would be my lifelong companion?