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The fascinating journey of the jasmine

Saraswathy Srinivasan
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An adornment:A vendor stringing jasmine flowers in a shop at Parry's Corner market.Photo: S. Abishek
An adornment:A vendor stringing jasmine flowers in a shop at Parry's Corner market.Photo: S. Abishek

It is boom time for vendors of the jasmine flower in the city during the summer season. The life and tale of the scented flower span just 24 hours. From the time it is plucked early in the morning and brought to the market by the farmers, it is one swift journey. Supply and demand determine the price of the commodity and traders are quick to assess the situation, fix the price and sell it to vendors who span across the city to string it and make garlands that have to be sold before night fall.

Narayanasamy, vice-president of the Chennai Koyambedu Malar Mottha Vyabarigal Sangam, says the period between March and May is the peak season for jasmine. “The flowers start blooming from mid-January and the yield gradually increases to reach its full crop in summer. From June, there is a decline and it is off season during November –December as the yield is minimal.”

He says jasmine is grown in several areas surrounding Chennai. While Koyembedu is the primary market for the flowers, a parallel market functions in Parry's Corner. Transport facilities determine where the primary producers take the commodity to. While jasmine farmers from places such as Periapalayam, Oothukottai, Arni, Vengal, Chengalpattu, Madurantakam, Tiruvannamalai etc bring their produce to the Koyembedu market in buses, those in Gummudipoondi, Tirutani, Arakkonam etc use the train facilities to reach Parry's quickly.

On pricing, Mr. Narayanasamy says it fluctuates every day and also several times during the day, depending on the arrivals. “On Wednesday last, the price was Rs. 30 a Kg, but on Thursday and Friday it was around Rs. 100 a Kg. During festival days and Muhurtham dates, the rates are heavy.” Traders offer advance to the farmers in December-January itself after assessing the probable yield of the crop in summer. “If we do not pay, someone else will; it is highly competitive,” he adds.

The flowers start arriving from 4 a.m., but the rates are high around this time. As the day wears on they fluctuate. “Between 10.30 a.m. and 2 p.m. the rate is almost steady in Koyembedu. After 2 p.m., the price goes down as the vendors who come to purchase have to return to their neighbourhoods to sell the flowers. Due to lack of bus facility, they don't linger and we are keen to dispose of the flowers before they go waste.” But at Parry's Corner, the business goes on till about 9 p.m. as the vendors have train services. “Because of the transport problem, the rate is almost half compared to Parry's after 2 p.m.,” the trader laments.

J.R. Manoharan, a member of the wholesale traders' body, says that there is an abundance of the jasmine crop this year due to good rains. “Since last year, scent factories have started buying the flowers in bulk after 3 p.m. so the waste is minimal now. The farmers are also benefiting from this,” he adds.

Most of the vendors who come to buy the flowers from the markets are women who string them and sell them in street corners. Jyothi, who vends jasmine strings in front of a sweet shop near the Adyar Signal on Lattice Bridge Road from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. has been in the business for the last 10 years to supplement her husband's income. “If the business is good, I make a profit of Rs. 100-150 per day,” she says. Jyothi, who pays 50 paise per ‘mozham' to professional stringers, also door delivers flowers to some households and shops in the neighbourhood.

K. Sumathi has been selling flowers near the Thiruvanmiyur signal on ECR for the last 20 years. Her husband Kumar, a painting contractor, fetches flowers from the Parry's market in the morning which Sumathi and other family members string into garlands. Kumar says that one can buy a variety of flowers used for pujas, functions etc from Koyembedu. “Flowers such asMalliandMullaiwhich women wear in their hair are best bought at Parry's,” he reasons. According to him, regular customers buy flowers irrespective of whether the price is high or cheap.

Saraswathy Srinivasan

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