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The flower people

They are up before the streets come alive, and forage for the blossoms they can reach

The story is not about the flower children of the 1950s and 1960s; they have all gone into the history books. This story is about people who go about flowers in right earnest. Again not about the people who buy, make garlands and sell in flower bazaar or elsewhere. This is about the people active from 5 a.m. till 7 a.m. or thereabouts with a plastic bag. When the movement picks up in the streets, these people get back home with their booty. They go from house to house but stay around the gate or wall in search of flowers. I must admit they do not scale the gate but make a neat search and finish with no trace of flowers in the plant, including the fallen and the trodden ones.

We came to settle down in Chennai after many years in northern India. These flower people are not to be seen in New Delhi or Kolkata. We were surprised to see them go about their activity nonchalantly, some even humming a morning raga. I decided to probe. The timing was not difficult for me as I was an early bird. My task was to catch the early worms. Here are some episodes.

This one is a simpleton. He comes without any aid. His reach is small. But since he is the first he gets his haul. He is satisfied with the returns. He goes home perhaps before his people get up. They have never bothered to ask where he bought these beautiful flowers or wherefrom he brought.

I picked up a conversation with him. When I complimented him on his haul, he smiled and said, ‘Sir, in these days of double digit inflation, can we afford to buy flowers?’ I told him to forget about inflation. ‘Don’t you think this amounts to stealing?’ Pat came the reply, ‘What will they do with so much flowers? I took very little, just sufficient for my gods’.

If the last one was walking and plucking flowers, this one comes riding a bicycle and with a long stick with a hook. If he is followed he can vanish in no time. The child in me tempted me one day to move his bicycle away while he was getting his flowers, and then watch from my vantage balcony. He could raise an alarm in the locality shouting ‘thief, thief’, although he was himself one. One thing was certain, he would have been wise not to report the incident to the police. He had switched to plain walking and plucking with his tool.

There is a proverb on the fence that ate the grain stalks. In this category falls our third episode. I have seen him in broad daylight as a security guard in a bungalow. For a moment I was aghast. I gathered sufficient pluck to accost him. Caught red(flower)-handed, he gave an explanation that was striking. ‘Sir, what can I do? I have the orders of madam to get some flowers for her prayers’. For a moment I thought of cross-examining him in the presence of his madam. But I was wise not to do so. He may decide to charge me with the crime. And I would be defenceless.

The seven-year-old child of my neighbour asked me a simple question. ‘Uncle, we have many flower plants along the wall. But there are no flowers at all.’ I told the child, ‘Tomorrow you get up at 4 a.m. Come out with your mother or father. You will see the flowers.’ She did and with gusto told me, ‘Uncle, there were so many flowers. But where did they all vanish by 7 a.m.’? The next day I encountered the regular flower-picker in the neighbour’s garden and asked him, ‘If your daughter asks this question, what will be your reply?’ I have not seen him after this episode. I can’t say whether he has quit or only changed his beat.

I had thought this pre-dawn activity was the exclusive preserve of the males of the species. One day I sighted a woman on the job. Naturally, I have to show the grace reserved for ladies, right?

I have heard wise people say: the gods are pleased with flowers grown in one’s own garden/pots or bought for a consideration or brought from others’ gardens with their consent. The gods will be angry with flowers deftly taken from others’ gardens.

Will the flower people please make a note?

lakshmibashyam@yahoo.com

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Printable version | Jul 16, 2020 3:06:49 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/the-flower-people/article23936785.ece

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