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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Marigolds of Mullickghat

Below the Hoogly River bridge, gold shines through Kolkata’s flower market.


At the busy Mullickghat flower market

Kolkata (Calcutta), India, Summer 2006

All photos: Sandy Ao

The authorities have authorized and planners planned before. Now, could it really be that Kolkata’s age-old flower market will come indoors?

Our friend photographer Sandy Ao sent a bounty of photographs from Mullickghat, as the wholesale market’s known. Since she took these shots last summer, there’s been yet another declaration of development

“The decaying wholesale flower market at Mullickghat, under Howrah bridge, is finally set to be replaced by a five-storeyed market complex, which will also be India’s first international flower auction centre.” As one would guess, expectations are pie-in-sky high: A piece in The Statesman predicted that with the new “flower mall…. Bengal can only expect the flower market to grow by leaps and bounds in the days to come.”

We’ve found similar stories in the Indian papers dating back to 2001 and 2002, when apparently the government took over the old market. (Meanwhile, chemical engineers at Jadavpur University are racing for ways to recycle the market’s loads of unsold flowers, turning them into soda pop, candles, and insect repellant.)

It all reminds us a bit of the fairy tale king who tried commanding the ocean waves. Our sense is that Mullickghat is a force of nature. Can it be corralled into a “five-story complex”?

Take a look at some of Sandy’s photos. And hear what she has to say.


“Mullickghat remains the same everyday - an ageless place! It is as if times stands still in the marketplace.

“Many types of flowers are sold here - during the Durga Puja period around end September - October, lotuses are the main variety, but the Marigold has a permanent place in the sales.

“You asked me about why people love Marigold. Well, I am fortunate to have a lawyer neighbour to enlighten me about your question. Firstly, the Marigold (its name in Hindi is “Genda”—pronouced “Kanda”) is loved for its colour. In India, the yellow colour signifies Joy and the season Spring. In other words, it represents happiness and life.

“The second reason is economics. Offering flowers is a must during Puja (the ritual paying homage to the Gods and Goddess). Every single flower offered to the deity gains a single value of blessing. For instance if one is to gain 10 blessings, one has to offer (and to buy) 10 single flowers. But if one offers a single Marigold flower during “Puja”, one can receive a blessing equivalent to 10 flowers. That’s because each Marigold flower contains more than 10 single complete flowers in itself! So, it becomes affordable to gain as much blessing with the cost of one single Marigold.

“Each long garland of Marigold has about forty or fifty flowers and sells here for Rs. 3-10 (approximately 7-23 cents, US currency). In the retail market, each string can cost from Rs.5 to Rs.20 (12-45 cents) or more, depending on the occasion or season. Smaller garlands of Marigold, with about ten flowers, may cost as little as 1 R. (2 cents).

image“These strings of Marigold are used for decorating the temple, garlanding the God /Goddess at home or in the temple, and blessing a marriage hall or home. The marigold strings also bless new places of business, shops, cars, buses, even bicycles. Family members put marigold garlands around the photos of their beloved dead (I do that on my late father’s picture too!)  When we see a garland put around any portrait, we know that person is no more.

“And not forgetting the most important thing…. the marigold garlands are used for welcoming the politicians too!! Some such garlands can be awfully huge! Sounds amazing isn’t it?! Everyone loves Marigold! 

“Marigold also thrives very well in this rich alluvial soil in Calcutta. Around this particular flower market, many farmers grow nothing else for their livelihood. It’s cultivated like any other crop.

“The market is located under the historical Howrah Bridge. It is on the banks of the Hoogly River, the supply point to all the flowers shops in Calcutta. Some merchants will collect the supplies here and wait in one big hall for the next ferry to take them to the other districts and states of India.

“It’s a very, very old market, so many people depend on it for their livelihood. Though it may be dirty and crowded, everyone loves to pay a visit here even if one does not buy a single flower.”


So what of the latest plan to demolish Mullickghat, what there is of it, and replace the vibrant outdoor market with a climate-controlled building?

Sandy writes, “The government was suggesting to move this market. That seems very unlikely as the location of this market is the ideal place for the farmers to deliver their harvest and also the right place for the merchants to transport the goods through boat or rail. We have an equally old train terminal—Howrah Railway Station—on the other side of the bridge.”

Something about the darkness and age of these surroundings intensifies the light inside the flowers. The marigolds especially are dazzling, tufts and ropes and hills of sweet electricity. Thank you so much for enlightening us, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)!

Posted by Julie on 04/05 at 04:14 PM
Culture & SocietyCut-Flower TradeReligious RitualsSecular CustomsPermalink

Don’t Eat That Azalea!


Heck! We thought we’d discovered a cure for azalea bigotry: a lovely Korean snack called hwajeon (rice pancakes with flowers on top). But Bill Miller, who as director of The Azalea Works has every reason to make us think kindly of these flowering shrubs, warns us to turn off the skillet!

“If you would check with your poison control center, you will see that all rhododendron (which includes azaleas) are toxic.  People shouldn’t be eating azaleas!” he writes.

Thank you, Bill!

Of course this makes us ever more curious about Korea’s spring culinary customs. But you know what curiosity accomplished. Please lay off the azalea blooms.

We’ll have to surmount our prejudice in some non-edible way.

Refrain: Heck!

Posted by Julie on 04/05 at 09:58 AM

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Competition and Malice “In Bloom”

On the eve of final judging for “Britain in Bloom,” one town’s daffodils are decapitated.


Peter Dungworth and slaughtered daffodil flowers

Harthill, England

Photo: Ross Parry, via This Is London

Fortune should have smiled on a gardener named Peter Dungworth. And perhaps it had. But several human faces were evidently scowling when the 5000 daffodil bulbs Dungworth planted along Thorpe Road in tiny Harthill, England (pop. 1728) sprouted and opened up this spring.

On the night of March 24th, someone came through and snipped off every flower head. Harthill was preparing for the next round of judging in Britain in Bloom, the Royal Horticultural Society’s national landscaping contest. The RHS touts the event as “non-competitive” but what a crock!  We have found that just as most roses prickle, most gardeners are intensely competitive, and when there are several fiery hoops of judging to jump through and community pride on the line (as well as substantial investments of money and stoop-work), rivalries can become nuclear.

At first I thought it was vandals having a bit of fun on their way home from the pub but that is definitely not the case,” Dungworth told the Telegraph. “It has taken somebody or several people a few hours to carry out the work. The flowers weren’t just pulled up. They were carefully snipped off - you could say almost professionally done - with secateurs.  There is no doubt this was a professional job.”

imageCut but not for sale

Photo: Ross Parry

via This Is London

Some mild-mannered folks told Dungworth that the culprits were more than likely overweening entrepreneurs, who intended to sell the blooms door-to-door for Easter decorations.

That’s nonsense,” Dungworth replied, “because the yellow flower heads were left where they were cut. I haven’t moved them.”

He suspects residents from the nearby village of Thorpe Salvin (pop. 402), which has been awarded by Britain in Bloom three times. Wouldn’t you know it? People there deny having anything to do with sabotage.

Let those who think flowers unadulterable or at least benign take a deep whiff. This is the finest little show of malice we’ve seen in months. It got us thinking about competitiveness more generally, so we snooped through some recent research on the topic. Frederick Gordon makes the case for competition. One example: “Shakespeare and Marlowe were rival playwrights. Early in his career, Shakespeare wrote comedies, while Marlowe was writing tragedies. Shakespeare was appalled to discover that people considered Marlowe to be more important because tragedy was thought to be a more profound form of drama. So, Shakespeare sought to demonstrate that he could indeed write tragedies, and better ones than Marlowe. This competitive effort drove his career.”

And in fact, this kind of friendly rivalry is what the RHS had in mind with “Britain in Bloom”—a contest that could enhance the nation’s overall beauty.

“The moral value of competition,” Gordon writes, “depends on whether it is an effort to win by doing better than others vs. to win by making the other do worse.” Chopping off 5000 daffodil heads falls with a klud on the dark side of that line. And, from Gordon’s summary, it appears that most research has emphasized the malicious and destructive aspect.

Gordon writes that competition is good when it displaces mediocrity from power, when it teaches how to manage success and failure, and (to use a gardening metaphor)  “when it plants a grain of discontent in the self-satisfied and self-involved.” We found especially interesting his spur to explore the nature of competition itself.


Photo: via wiki

“Does competition eliminate corruption, create a social order which is legitimate and rational. Does it increase productivity? Does it tend to protect human rights? ...We might also ask not just what value comes from competition, but what of value is in competition: Why is it so important to people to know where they stand relative to others? Why does equaling or exceeding a standard or achievement set by others so engage motivation? In short: how do we value the drama of competition relative to other forms of social interaction?”

We think gardening, gardeners, and such potential malice-fests as “Britain in Bloom,” would be excellent places for social psychologists to plunge in. (Scholars, please checking all secateurs at the door.)

Posted by Julie on 04/03 at 01:03 PM
Culture & SocietyGardening & LandscapeSecular CustomsPermalink

Monday, April 02, 2007

Hailing 13,000 Flower Cabs

New York City marks the centennial of its taxi fleet with a rolling floral painting project.

imageGarden in Transit

coming soon to NYC

Image: Portraits of Hope

William Nichols of Syosset, NY, told Daily News reporter John Lauinger, “anything that brings color to New York City is a good thing.” A retired gravedigger, Nichols did his part yesterday by painting a blue flower decal that this fall will be affixed to a city cab.

The bustlingest place in the US will memorialize 9/11 this year with a honking tribute called Garden in Transit. From September 1 through New Year’s Eve, 12,760 yellow cabs in the city will sport flowers on their trunks or hoods. This production of floral art on wheels is the brainchild of California-based Portraits of Hope. Founded in 1995 by brothers Ed and Bernie Massey,  the organization involves handicapped children and adults in civic art projects. Bold flowers have been the emblem and transportation the medium of most Portraits of Hope efforts (including a gorgeous blimp, some NASCAR buggies, and a plane that flew over Kitty Hawk, NC). “The brothers chose flowers because they noticed they were one of the most common things drawn by children ... ‘a universally recognized symbol of hope, beauty, healing and joy.’ And the shapes lend themselves easily to metaphors.” Right you are, guys.

imagePaul Schutzman of East Midtown

plunges in with red paint

Photo: Jefferson Siegel, for AM New York

2007 is also the 100th anniversary of New York City’s metered taxis, so it’s only right that the cabs should sport a bit of flash. And “because of the elevation of the city, the taxi top is the perfect canvas,” Ed Massey said.

The painting project itself is ongoing—at the Hotel Pennsylvania, 149 W. 32nd St. Many of the volunteer painters are family members and friends of those who died at the World Trade Center, September 11, 2001. More painters are needed. If, like William Nichols, you’d like to do your part, check out the Garden in Transit site, pick up a brush, and “seed” this garden on wheels.

Posted by Julie on 04/02 at 11:11 AM
Art & MediaTravelPermalink
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