mapping the marigolds
After a twenty-minute drive from the Sangam out of the Kumbh’s main grounds, we reached the flower market I’d been hoping existed. A flower seller in Sector 4 thought her garlands came from Gau Ghat, and so our search began. Our driver remained visibly befuddled by our directions and objective throughout the morning, but following a few inquiries he was successfully directed by locals past a main market and ferris wheel lot toward the city of Naini. After passing a truck piled with orange buds traveling in the opposite direction, I knew we were going the right way. Pulling up to this market it was clear we’d reached something bigger and more established than the market we’d been to in Varanasi. Wooden booths stood in rows along the main road and each had a sizable stock. In addition to the 30 or so stands I saw lining each side of the road and a fork in between, men stood above piles of loose buds and garlands resting on scarves. I counted about 16 piles and 10 men standing above them. Women did not seem present in this method of sale but were rather perched inside stalls, stringing roses. My method was to approach each seller who reciprocated a smile and seemed receptive to my clasped hands. The first woman was helpful, friendly, and eager to talk. Our very kind driver decided we were struggling (or continued to think we were crazy) and came over after a couple of minutes. With his and Nicholas’ translation help, we were told that the market opens at 7am and closes at 10am, though it was then 11am and clearly open. The woman reported there were 100-150 vendors and she saw 200 buyers each morning, making roughly 1000 rupees per day. There wasn’t a typical sale- people bought both garlands in bulk and single strands. She’d been here for the last Kumbh and didn’t see a difference in demand based on this year’s sales. The marigolds and roses came from Allahabad and the chrysanthemums from Kanpur. Nearby, a motorcycle loaded with saffron-colored garlands took off in the direction from which we’d come, headed to a “store nearby.” From the next sellers we heard conflicting reports. Minivans came at 5am after collecting flowers from trucks. No, ten trucks came directly and everyone at the market bought from them. One-hundred-fifty sellers. No, 500. No, 1500. Two-thousand regular customers. The market didn’t close at 10am but rather noon. We only saw one actual customer, who was standing by as loose rose petals and four red and orange garlands were packed into a blue plastic bag a few meters from a “no polyethylene” sign. Overall, the market scene from 11-11:30am consisted of 30-40 booths with a woman or two in each, 20 men standing over twice as many flower piles, 5 motorcylces and a few more bikes, one customer, one cow, one goat, one baby single-handedly manning a stall, and three westerners with their perplexed driver.