Badrian Street or “Budirian Street” as it is painted on the street sign, is the site of Chennai’s old wholesale flower market.
While technically, the vendors in what is commonly known as “poo-k-kadai,” sell “wholesale”, their typical clients are ladies who buy less than a kilogram of flowers, typically to be woven into garlands using banana plant fibers. It’s a fascinating area for photography, but economically quite fragile, as the businesses operating on the street have nearly been evicted several times because the authorities feel that wholesale fruit and vegetable sales should be limited to Koyambedu, a huge market in western Chennai.
A typical flower vendor here earns around 250 rupees per day (just over four U.S. dollars), after paying employees and fees to bicycle rickshaw drivers and the workers who carry huge sacks of flowers on their heads, with wide trays made of wicker and held together with bits of plastic.
The owners claim they would never be able to pay the rent required at Koyambedu. And their clients, who often earn even less than they do, can’t afford to make the trip to the outskirts of town to buy a few plastic bags of flowers. So the market fills a niche in an economically vulnerable area, where it can be easy to fall between the economic cracks.
There are over 50 flower sellers sprawled along the edges of Badrian Street, which runs about 250 meters at the most. In the morning, it can appear chaotic as three-wheel cargo vehicles, customers, and the occasional photographer all pile through the streets. The street itself is typically covered with the debris of flowers: cut stems, leaves, and bits of flowers, along with the usual trash generated by high volumes of people. A garbage truck makes its daily rounds backing down the street, which makes a hard right angle at its north end, impossible for a truck to negotiate.
All of the vendors will gladly offer you a printed cardboard “business card” – typically two-by-three inches or larger – because Badrian street is also home to numerous small printing companies. And there are also other businesses, such as the occasional knife-sharpeners, who carry around what is essentially a bicycle wheel mounted in a metal frame/stand, which uses a belt to spin a sharpening stone.
Badrian Street is an interesting place to visit, and its shopkeepers are universally friendly and happy to pose for the photos which, early mornings or late afternoons when the light is no longer harsh, almost universally turn out great because the lights used to illuminate the flowers and help open the buds really to a lot to create and emphasize highlights. If you’d like to see more photos from Badrian Street, be sure and check out this set on Flickr.