Human Flower Project
Wednesday, October 20, 2004
Floods Cause Flower Shortage in India
Flower growers in Midnapore protest corruption in government supports; prices triple before big community festival.
Photo: Sword of Truth
Heavy rains over the past three months have washed out the crops of flower farmers in Midnapore.
The flower shortage coincides with one of India’s busiest flower-buying seasons. According to today’s edition of the Statesman (Kollata, India), the Durga puja, a four-day celebration of Devi Durga began yesterday. Durga is one of Hinduism’s supreme Mother Goddesses, whose purity inspires humanity to shed its egoism and follow a life of sacrifice.
In the Ramayana, Lord Rama takes an army of monkeys to rescue his abducted wife from a ten-headed demon. Before his final battle, he seeks Devi Durga’s blessing.
“He was given to understand that the Goddess would be pleased only if she was worshipped with one hundred Blue Lotuses. After travelling and searching the whole world, Lord ‘Rama’ gathered only ninety-nine Blue Lotuses. So he finally decided to offer one of his eyes, which resembled Blue Lotuses. Durga, being pleased with the devotion of ‘Rama’, appeared and blessed him ....
“The fierce and decisive battle started on the day of ‘Saptami’ and Ravana was finally defeated and killed.’”
Saptami is being observed today, with community celebrations and home pujas (rituals). Both types of rites involves large quantities of flowers.
The Statesman reports, “Today 100 single pieces of lotuses sell at Rs 300 against Rs 100 last year,” and most other flower prices have at least doubled.
Many devastated flower farmers in the region have been unable to get the loans they need to recover. This is the second natural disaster for Midnapore farmers in 12 months. The Indian government released emergency funds to help after last year’s calamity but, the Statesman reports, most of those funds were diverted to “fictitious floriculturists.” Leaders in the agricultural region have taken charges of corruption and demands for compensation to the state horticulture minister.
Tuesday, September 14, 2004
In Lieu of Flowers—Democracy
The florists’ bete noir—“in lieu of flowers”—takes a political twist in Michigan.
Flowers, especially in predominantly Protestant cultures like the U.S., have always been tinged with negativity. For their association with earlier pantheistic religions, they were considered supect—the emblems of licentious nature gods. Thought of as luxury items, flowers implied decadence—Puritan church appointments were spare and plain; put the Bible on the altar, but God forbid an urn of striped peonies!
In our time, this prudish attitude toward flowers takes many forms, most bluntly the prescription added to funeral notices: “in lieu of flowers donations may be made to Such and Such Charity.” The Society of American Florists has been battling this trend since the turn of the twentieth century. Its campaigns to encourage funeral flowers won national PR awards in the 1950s and again in the late ‘80s for putting money and muscle into the effort. Even so, the trend toward “in lieu of” requests keeps increasing.
To turn from the floral expression of mourning to fund-raising in the name of the deceased signals a major discord in our society’s attitudes toward death and remembrance. A heart shaped wreath of roses, as perishable as the beloved, is a tribute that publically mimicks personal loss. A donation to the Heart Association or the American Cancer Society is something altogether different—a memorial to progress that would seem to say, “We’re working on this death thing. A few more scientific breakthroughs, and we can dispense with it altogether!”
Flowers bespeak our vulnerability and transience, memorial donations our largesse and power.
As for today’s twist. Pete Petoskey of Peshawbestown, Michigan, died September 2 at age 89. A retired Army mapmaker, lifelong Democrat, and sports buff, Petoskey had donated money to many Indian tribes through the years. In his father’s waning days, Petoskey’s son asked if, at his death, he’d like donations to go to Guatemalan Indians, in lieu of flowers.
Susan Ager of the Detroit Free Press interviewed Petoskey’s son.
“I remember saying, ‘Dad, do you want people to send money to the Guatemalan Indians in your memory?’ He said: ‘That’s expensive. Many of the Indians that we know are families who don’t have that kind of money.’ He said, ‘Better for them to do something more tangible, like vote for John Kerry.’ “
Culture & Society • Florists • Politics • Religious Rituals • Permalink