WORDS BY MILI SEMLANI AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY SURUCHI MAIRA
Battling the crowds at busy railway stations is a microcosm of life in Mumbai, and Dadar station is the most dreaded of all. It’s the intersection of two major railway lines, and there are close to 1000 people passing through every day. But taking the local train is the fastest way to get around the city, and for the likes of me, who live close to the “war-zone” that is Dadar station, train travel is inevitable. It only gets worse during festivals and – who are we kidding – going by Indian standards, there is some festival almost every day.
The road to the station holds everything from hawkers selling clothes, shoes and bags to vegetables and fruits and is more a cacophony than a marketplace. The foot over-bridges have more Chinese goods and daily utility items than a dollar shop equivalent. As if the commuter crowd and peak-hour rush are not enough, the vendors, numerous shoppers, perpetually honking taxis, two-wheelers, freight carriers, bargaining consumers and shop owners shouting out discounts brings you a chaotic carnival right there.
These flowers bedeck everything from weddings, religious ceremonies and lovers to vases in hotels and homes.
But in the middle of this pandemonium one day, as I dodged the million people, I found myself walking on a Bollywood-esque rose petal trail and followed it to the largest and only flower market of its kind in Mumbai: The Dadar Flower Market. It was an asymmetrical arrangement of flower vendors, florists and garland weavers, quite literally on the Dadar railway station. This less-than-a-kilometre stretch under the bridge stocked everything from genda, mogra and lotus to tulips, orchids and imported carnations.
Dadar Flower Market opens at 4 a.m. and sells over 500kgs of flowers everyday. These flowers bedeck everything from weddings, religious ceremonies and lovers to vases in hotels and homes. There are fixed shops, and flower dealers trade mostly in bulk quantities. But the flower market has evolved so beautifully that many people from the outskirts of Mumbai set up shop with fresh flowers, leaves and even types of grass. All they have is one basket full of fresh inventory and a sharp business sense. Once they’re sold out, they pack their belongings and head home to come back with fresh stock next day.
The prices here are extremely competitive, so bargaining is a must. The vendors told me that most of the fresh stock is sold out by 9 a.m. every day. Time is money, and they know exactly how to make the most of it. Most of them keep bundles of threads handy and continue making garlands and small bouquets as they wait for their customers. Each one weaves a different garland, depending on the flowers they have and their own aesthetic sense.
The mad rush for the trains through the day nearly competes with the rush for flowers at this wholesale market in the wee hours of the morning. When I was abroad, the clean subway stations, even cleaner trains that arrived and left on time and the underground shopping arcades abroad always impressed me. I wondered when Mumbai would get there. Maybe never. But the Dadar Flower Market gives the station character in the chaos, and I don’t think we would have it any other way.
Dadar Flower Market, 302, Senapati Bapat Marg, Dadar (w), Mumbai 400 028