Friday, January 18

What keeps Kolkata’s fresh flower business blooming in all seasons?

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The wedding season is upon us. And this means loads of shopping and planning. And when the big day arrives, one of the major challenges will be to get the decorations right. Okay, we know even the food and rituals are important, but we are concerned with the decorations here. More specifically, the flowers, which sustain a multi-billion-dollar global industry. Hundreds of tonnes of flowers change hands every day in the city for a variety of purposes — from the quintessential Bengali’s daily quota of pujor phool, bouquets for gifting to wedding and event decorations. And we are not just talking about the home-grown varieties like hibiscus, rose, marigold, mogra or shiuli. Thousands of tonnes of foreign varieties are imported from other Asian countries including China and Thailand.
CT dug a bit deeper to understand how this billion-dollar industry of a highly perishable commodity functions. Here’s what we unearthed.

Sourcing the flowers
Most city vendors and boutique owners told us that they procure flowers from dealers in Bangalore. After all, Bangalore is called the Garden City for a reason. Sunil Kumar, a wholesaler from Bangalore, told us that they get two types of orders. “Our customers either order flowers directly from other cities and we arrange and parcel them or wholesalers buy directly from us in bulk. Gerberas, carnations, roses, chrysanthemums and oriental lilies are high on everyone’s list,” he said, adding that very few people in India have flower import licenses. “Some Kolkata dealers also have licenses and they import directly from China or Thailand. Oriental lilies, Asiatic lilies, carnation, chrysanthemum and anthodium are some of the most popular imported varieties,” he added. He went on to inform us that the import process can take anything between 24 hours to two days or more, depending on whether the consignment comes on a direct flight or not.

Banking on Bangalore and Bangkok
The flowers in Kolkata markets come mostly from either Bangalore, Thailand or China. “It’s mostly Bangalore. Many a time, it so happens that flowers from Bangkok are routed through Bangalore,” said Dilip Das, a flower shop employee in New Market. “Gerberas, roses of different hues, carnations, Thailand orchids, China lilies and pink, white, yellow, orange and red lilies are most in demand at our shops,” he added. Mrityunjoy Maity, a vendor at Lake Market, had a different take. “It’s the bouquet that’s important; individual flowers hardly matter. If the arrangement looks good, people buy,” he said.

Keeping the flowers fresh
Flowers can be sold only till they are fresh. So, that’s effectively the biggest challenge for dealers and vendors. “The secret behind keeping flowers fresh is to change the water thrice every day. As they are transported by air and kept in air-conditioned shops, the rest is not much of a hassle,” said Rishabh Gutgutia of Alipore-based Papillon House of Flowers. It is, however, a different story for wholesalers. “The flowers we procure remain fresh for around a week. But heat and humidity play havoc with their freshness, so we must take care of that,” said Sunil.

Making Bengal blooms special
Not all markets in Kolkata are dependent on imported flowers. Districts like Nadia, Howrah, East Midnapur, West Midnapur and South 24 Parganas serve as the local sources for flowers. “Apart from some roses, cut flowers and orchids, which come from Bangalore, we mostly keep flowers grown in and around Bengal. Tuberoses, marigolds, roses, jui, bel, hibiscus, dopati — you’ll find all these at our market,” said Swapan Burman, vice-chairman-cum-secretary of the organising committee of the government-run Mallick Ghat Flower Market. “This is Asia’s biggest flower market,” Swapan said, adding, “We have around 244 stalls. Some vendors also bring flowers from their respective districts and sell them here. They work in three shifts every day. The farmers often sell directly to customers, who are mostly flower shop owners from in and around Kolkata.” He added that the farmers are given complete freedom to decide on the prices. Boutiques, however, depend on prices charged by Bangalore wholesalers and rely heavily on weddings and other events for business. “Most of the bouquets we make comprise assorted flowers. The months between November and February and then again from April to July are good for business because of weddings,” said Ritu Jasani, owner of Ritu’s Flowers at Jodhpur Park.

Online competition
E-commerce sites are fast becoming another sales point for flowers, but most boutiques are not feeling threatened. “WhatsApp serves our purpose, so we don’t need a full-blown portal. Walk-in customers and phone orders are equally good,” said Ritika Kedia, owner of Fresh Petals in Salt Lake. But the trend has certainly created problems for market-based vendors. “There’s always competition when there’s a cluster of shops. Now, online sites are luring away customers. But thankfully, their rates are much higher than ours,” said Dilip.

Flowers that fuel the creativity of these poets…
Chatims remind of my vagabond days: Srijato
Chatim is my favourite flower and it’s been a long association. This autumn flower reminds me of my vagabond days in between leaving college and getting a job. Its strong fragrance would draw me towards all the chatim trees in south Kolkata. Locating them would be my every day adventure then. It also reminds me of my former colleague, who loved these flowers equally.

I love black roses, jasmines and shiulis: Buddhadeb Dasgupta
I have a great liking for flowers since my mother would do a lot of gardening. Black roses, jasmines and shiuli are my favourites. I’m not fond of marigold at all. One vivid memory of flowers is when my mother would use them to adorn her bun. But I don’t like to see flowers being wasted after an occasion is over. People usually throw away the gifted bouquets.

Shiuli brings back childhood memories: Subodh Sarkar
I have two favourites among flowers — rose and shiuli. Shiuli brings back childhood memories of Durga Puja and also stories of how my mother would pick these flowers early in the morning. She ran away from Pabna zila, now Bangladesh. And while running away, she bought a handful of shiuli flowers with her. These stories still haunt me. So, many of my poems mention shiuli.

Chnapa is my favourite flower: Joy Goswam

Chnapa is my favourite flower but in general, flowers have an everyday intrinsic relationship with my home. This is because my wife loves flowers and tends to the flower pots at home. We offer these flowers to the deities at home. Besides, my wife also keeps the flower bouquets I receive at every event I attend. As we are speaking, I can see her collecting flowers.

Source: Times of India

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