Anil Kumar, flower merchant
Strings of pearly jasmine, garlands of pink oleander and sunny yellow chrysanthemum, lotus buds and small piles of tulsi leaves make Anil Kumar’s tiny makeshift stall a colourful and fragrant space at the busy Sasthamangalam Junction. His fingers are busy stringing flowers and spraying water to keep the flowers fresh and fragrant even while attending to customers and curious reporters.
Regular customers are greeted with a smile and pleasantries. As they talk about the weather and the news, Anil cuts a string of jasmine, adds a handful of oleander and tulsi, wraps it all in a lotus leaf, ties it with banana fibre and hands it over to the customer. “He gets it for his pooja at home. Some people also buy lotuses to give to temples as an offering to the gods,” says Anil.
A good conversationalist, 40-year-old Anil readily shares the story of his life with you without taking a break from his work. His father, a former military man, learnt to make garlands and string flowers from an uncle and then set up shop at Malayankeezhu, near the Sree Krishna Swamy temple there. Anil learnt the trade from him and then worked in several shops in Chalai before buying this stall three years ago. “I make enough for my family consisting of wife and two young school-going sons. I sell about Rs.1,000 worth of flowers, of which I get about Rs. 400 after all costs are met. My wife helps me in stringing the jasmine into long strands that customers buy for their pooja rooms or to keep in their cars,” says Anil.
His day begins early when he goes to Chalai to collect his order from Thovalai. Some of the jasmine and mogra buds are delivered to certain houses in Chalai where women turn them into beautifully strung jasmine strands that are used to adorn hair dos. Are there many customers who buy the fresh buds to adorn their hair? “Yes,” is the emphatic reply. “During the marriage season, I get bulk orders. It is difficult work to make these,” adds Anil showing the closely plaited jasmine buds. He says sales peak during festivals and the Onam season.
Is there a problem because his stall, unlike many other flower stalls, is not close to a place of worship? “No, I chose this spot because it is close to the junction. Most of my customers are regulars and I know what they want, so I order accordingly.”
He opens shop at 4 p.m. and closes by 10 p.m. Then he delivers flowers to certain temples on his way home to Peyad where the garlands and flowers are used for the morning worship. What sells the most? “Depends on the season. During Onam, there is a great demand for chrysanthemums and oleander but the all-time favourite is still jasmine,” he says.
“Call me if you need flowers, tied or ‘loose’,” he says handing me his card, which reads Anil Kumar, flower merchant.
(A weekly column on men and women who make Thiruvananthapuram what it is)