By Isha Fuletra
“In joy or sadness flowers are our constant friends. We eat, drink, sing, dance, and flirt with them. We wed and christen with flowers. We dare not die without them.
We have even attempted to speak in the language of flowers. ”
– Kakuzō Okakura
(The Book of Tea)
I couldn’t have agreed any more to these words. But sad as it is, that despite our long companionship with flowers we have known just a little about them! Not until very long, I, like many others, was aware that in the city of pearls, Hyderabad, the shiny bouquets of red and white roses sold at the little shack around the corner of street or the festoons of lilies decorated at the weddings have, perhaps, travelled miles much more than a diplomat. Even more so, that those which haven’t crossed the international borders are still not grown locally in the city or the state. But now, since that is known, every time I’ll see a bride tossing a bouquet, or my mother offering flowers at a temple, I would be probably wonder about where those flowers came from.
If in Hyderabad, the flowers are surely to be sourced from the Gudimalkpur flower market –
Telangana state’s largest wholesale market for flowers. Going further into the market supply chain one shall know that most of the flowers in this market have their origins in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and sometimes West Bengal. Also, while the commission agents are mainly locals, only a handful of the farmers, traders and labourers working share origin similar to the former. To add to the puzzle, there are hierarchies of work that are required to keep the market performing – agricultural market committee, commission agents, farmers, labourers, traders, cleaners, waste-pickers, canteen service providers, shops for allied products like garlands and plastic bags, transport service providers, retail buyers and so on. That being so, there emerges a complex web of interdependencies and a remarkable play of dynamics of social identities, spatial distributions and temporalities of the market.
The market, which came into existence during the last Nizam in 1935 as a part of Moazzam Jahi Fruit Market in Jambagh area of the Hyderabad city, attained its present day structure when in 2009 it was shifted to in Gudimalkpur. Analogically, a growing organism, which was then sustaining a large number of other organisms and relations, was uprooted from one ecosystem and placed back into another owing to the crisis of space and logistics. A process as critical as this, was thus kept as formal and lawful as it could have been.
With a priority given to those conducting the business of flowers in the Mozzam Jahi market, 65 shops were auctioned to the commission agents for a period of three years, followed by a renewal. Licenses were also issued to 50 Hamalies who would unload the crates of flowers off the trucks every day. Similarly, contracts were laid down with cleaning and canteen service providers. Those, whose shops had to be demolished, due to widening of roads for trucks and vans to enter the market, were allotted space inside the market as compensation. Analogous to a trade union, a welfare committee comprising of representatives of commission agents was also sanctioned. At none of these stages, preferences were given to people with a particular social identity i.e. gender, caste and religion. In all, there is present a set processes in an organised form. Indeed the market was on its way to get ‘formalised’!
But, as we have known, agriculture is a tricky business! Several policies have attempted to structure and formalise the agricultural chains- from the APMC Act of 2003 till the model APMC draft of 2018. But still sector continues to remain a convoluted plot, decorated intricately with the ‘formalities’ and the ‘informalities’, and the legal(s) and illegal(s). Gudimalkpur flower market was no different!
Along with a formalised establishment by Department of Agricultural Marketing, the market also holds in place an agricultural market committee (AMC), whose role is to manage and regulate the trade there. AMC makes arrangements for the basic amenities, like water, electricity etc., with the money collected as tax (read as market fees) from the commission agents.Also, the records of flowers that enter the market every day along with its number and origin, their prices across the day, the amount of flowers that go to the dump, daily sale of each shop etc. are also maintained by the committee. On the other hand, no records are maintained of the people who work in there, apart from the commission agents.
Canteen contracts signed by AMC with private service providers are formal in nature. But when the contractor, in turn, sublets various others to sells fruits in carts or dosa in a small shack, the contracts attains an informal look. For all these people underneath the top layer of contractors and agents – farmers, traders, garland makers, labourers, fruit seller and tea seller- employment is far from being permanent or event secure, as it depends heavily on the environment and market conditions. Moreover, the job security for all those who works under the commission agents becomes a subject of trust. In absence of a minimum level, their wages are highly sensitive to the market economy. Some receive a daily wage, while others get a monthly income- none of which are legitimised by a law. In yet another scenario, the narratives by women surrounding the prevalent harassment in the marketplace and the comments of those belonging to a particular caste about dignity of work and barriers to entry, provided evidence to the failure of the legal sanction to safeguards one’s right to work in the market irrespective of gender, caste & religion.
There’s much more to fuel the trickling down of this seemingly formal setup into an informal market. The parallel chain of flowers that has its starting point in the heaps of waste, is one such example. With no checks and records of price and amount of flowers sold, such an activity was perhaps, the most notable of all the ‘informalities’. But not so! The words of the lady gathering flowers from the heap of dumped ones, “Idi na vanthu” (It’s my turn), as she quarreled with the little boy who also wanted to pick flowers from the same place was evident of the fact that these women and kids generally coordinate among themselves to deicide their turn to pick flowers- how much time each person will spend picking, and at what time of the day.
In another such instance, the job security of workers’, which earlier seemed precarious, also attains a much more formalised nature when understood in consideration of the organised way of establishing trust between the two parties. In order to successfully climb the ladder, the flower market worker, like any other employee in a corporate structure, is expected to showcase values of honesty, perseverance and sincerity. In the case of the auto rickshaw pullers and retail buyers, verbal contracts are noted to follow the successful establishment of such a trust-based relationship. Clearly, the formality was woven deep into that which was perceived as informal. Making this claim of mine even stronger, are mechanisms of price regulation devised by the traders and agents. The role of Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ here is played by the mobile service providers, particularly the women sweeping the streets and the tea sellers who moves door-to-door. These along with their assigned roles also functions are carriers of information related to quality of flowers remaining at a particular shop, the price that a particular wholesaler is quoting and so on. With such a reliable mechanism, the market appears to be a self-regulating body in itself.
Having been exposed to such details of market, now I am beginning to rethink the boundaries around formalities and informalities of work. When boxed separately, ‘formal’ is perceived largely as organised, lawful and secure, while ‘informal’ is illegal, erratic and, unorganised. Notably,as in the case of Gudimalkpur flower market, the one-size-fits all definition of ‘formalities’ and ‘informalities’ does not hold true. For such misfits, the only way that remains is negotiating the boundaries of the world of the black and the white.
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