” This is not a flower market, it is a garbage dump “says Venkateshwara mournfully in Kannada while sitting cross legged with his friends on an elevated wooden platform outside his flower stall. ” When it rains, it is difficult to sweep up the flowers, so the BBMP vans do only sections of the market each week. ” His friends nod.
Till then, we sit here in this mess. ” His friends nod in unison. They list all that ails the market. ” People won’t come here to shop even though it is cheaper. They will go to their local markets and pay double the price. ” We will lose business. ” They agree vehemently.
Indeed, the Krishna Rajendra Flower Market seems to contain the ghosts of flowers past and present this morning – exotic white, red, gold, turmeric hued marigolds, chrysanthemums, roses, dahlias, asters, jasmine buds and tuberoses have all turned to mulch under our feet. Free compost is available for the asking !
But no one sees any value in recycling it back to the flower fields in Anekal, Hosur, Tiruvanmalai, Nelamangala, Doddabballapur, Chikkaballapur and Salem or any of the 25,000 hectares of land under floriculture in Karnataka from where many of these flowers arrive in trucks and are unloaded before the light of dawn.
Most other times that I have visited, the market has been fairly well swept. But the mulch doesn’t seem to bother the crowds that mill around buying flowers feverishly. Flowers are sold in buckets and baskets, strung by hand into long coils and assembled into mammoth garlands interwoven with oranges wrapped in silver foil that aim to engulf, not enhance the by now unhappy couple to-be.
KR Market ( 1928 ) or City Market as this historic area was originally called is over a hundred and fifty years old and apparently where the first light bulb in Bangalore was lit in 1905. Extra floors above the existing market were added by the BBMP a decade or so ago. Every day, this vibrant hoovina mandi (apart from the intoxicating fragrance and colours of the mallige, kanakambara, chendu hoo, and sevanthige ) builds a complex network of inter-connectivity across the city as flowers disperse from here through a series of flower laden pathways that connect the gardens where they grow to KR Market and then on to the smaller markets of Gandhi Bazaar, Jayanagar, Ulsoor, Malleswaram and Russell Market amongst others. They will leave here hand held, in bags and baskets or be transported in vans or cycles and scooters. They will travel across Bangalore entwined in our hair.They will find their way to temple complexes and religious shrines, be carried to ceremonial occasions as bouquets, be distilled into ittr, decorate wedding mantaps, participate in sacred rituals, hide a bride and groom within a sehra, be offered up to the Gods in a pooja thali and scent sacred spaces with their pure fragrance.
Then they will finally waft us up to a heavenly paradise, creating a beautiful transition from this world to the next. The garden is everywhere.
In India, flowers play a significant role in our lives. While they have have always been known to possess mystical, spiritual and healing properties, in India specific flowers are closely associated with specific communities, Gods, festivals, rites and special rituals at specific times of the year. In Bangalore, the city’s socio-religious and horticultural heritage are deeply entwined.This relationship is reinforced publicly at the flower shows in Lalbagh, the citywide Car Festivals, the dramatic Ulsoor Poo Pallakki and the mystical Karaga in the Pete area.
Individual buds were endowed with deep symbolism in our films ( remember the two roses knocking against each other ? ) and buying strands of fragrant flowers for the beloved was a much favoured romantic gesture right up till the latter half of the 20th century, after which courtly love began to do a fast fade out. Formal floral arrangements and bouquet toting young men came into their own only recently as cosmopolitan tokens of love. This Valentine’s Day, over 5 million roses were flown from the country to destinations around the world. About 3 million of them were from Bangalore.When the flower vendor hands me a dahlia after I photograph him, I realise what a powerful mood elevator flowers can be.
KR Market draws many visitors through the day. They invariably stand around gawking at this impressive performance whose sets constantly change colour, form and fragrance. The principal actors cluster around popular stalls, bargain furiously and buy/sell flowers by the kilo. It is admittedly quite a bit to take in at one go. As people rush from stall to stall, the market seems to take on an alternate persona – a garden, where layouts are determined by commerce rather than traditional horticultural design as flowers, fruits and vegetables occupy their own clearly demarcated spaces.
” Come back in September ” the flower sellers tell me ” there is a huge festival dedicated to the Goddess in the market and there will be so many flowers that you will have no place to stand. “I feel the problem is an ongoing one however, as even right now I cannot find any place..to stand…still. I am constantly flattened against a wall as people rush by bent over with sacks of flowers on their backs, shouting “Side ! Side !”.
I sip tea out of a tiny plastic cup and watch Aijaz delicately threading jasmine buds into `tughras’ ( above ) the sceptres that Muslim bridegrooms hold onto nervously at weddings. He tells me sadly that `modern couples’ seem to wear less flower ornaments these days.They all want greater visibility in their wedding videos.
But Bangalore is accustomed to flowers. Haider Ali laid down the Mughal Gardens at Sira and Lalbagh in Bangalore, while city visionaries lined our avenues with flowering species -Cassia, Tabebuia’s, Jacaranda, African tulips and planned flower filled public parks and circles at intersections. Gardens were not just part of the cityscape but were also established on the outskirts by Lalbagh’s eminent Directors of Horticulture.
In the Cantonment, they were tended to lovingly by proud bungalow owners and in the Pettah, they marked the great city divide. The garden was omnipresent – Palace Orchards, Wilson Gardens… But over time, neo- Bangalore crept through its flower beds, leaving behind a trail of concrete and steel. It licked its lips and devoured vineyards and farmland as it went along. It snacked on traditional horticultural communities like the Tigalas and Phuleras who scrambled to find other livelihoods. It grew corpulent, feasting on the time, space, patience and love of beauty required to nurture flowers. It ate slowly, till there was very little left. But at KR Market, the city is still a garden. Hopefully, neo-Bangalore will never find it.
This post was re-published in the DNA newspaper, Bangalore edition here.
The Flower Market is at its best from Feb – May and is located in the old Pete Area near the KR Market flyover. Take in the sights, sounds and smells of KR Flower Market on video http://vimeo.com/2u1831044