“India’s Auspicious Flowers”

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The Story

“India’s Auspicious Flowers”
by Kamala Thiagarajan
BBC Travel, February 10, 2017

The Pitch

Thavamani (69), has been selling fragrant, pearly white jasmines outside my home for months. A typical day for her begins at 5 am. She purchases her stock from Madurai’s famed mid-night markets and in the early hours of dawn, Thavamani strings these buds into freshly layered bouquets that sell quickly. As those who live in Madurai know, the jasmine is not just a flower, it’s a way of life. This part of the world is full of its beauty and inimitable scent.

Growing over 900 acres of land, the jasmine received its GI status in 2013. The buds are exported around the world and are even employed as raw materials in the perfumeries of Chanel and Dior. And yet, despite its prominence, for many of its female workers, little has changed. A deep gender disparity that is seldom talked about exists in this industry. The labourers who pick and string jasmine flowers are women but those that sell in larger quantities (cornering a lion’s share of the profits) are men.

Jasmine production is beset by woes, not the least of which is ebbing popularity for these flowers among the younger folk. I would love to have an opportunity to trace the evolution of the jasmine flower, to document its journey as it touches people’s lives, changing hands from the heart of the plantations where its grown, from vendor to seller and chart its role in adorning the gods and braids. Jasmine is not just cultivated here, it’s an art form that is inseparable with worship, local lore and ancient and popular culture.

I hope this is of interest and look forward to hearing from you!

Kamala Thiagarajan

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