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80-YO Wheelchair-Bound Entrepreneur Runs a Successful Business Through the Pandemic

80-YO Wheelchair-Bound Entrepreneur Runs a Successful Business Through the Pandemic

“Having moved to Gurugram, I would often crib about not finding good flowers here when compared to Delhi. I thought why not change,” she explains.

At The Better India (TBI), we bring you stories of entrepreneurs who push boundaries and break barriers with their ventures and innovations, from a cross-section of generations.

The protagonist of my story is one such entrepreneur.

Swadesh Chadha runs from her home, a subscription-based weekly flower curation and delivery service called ‘Phoolon ki Rani’.

The lady behind – Phoolon ki Rani.

I found it inspiring to interact with an entrepreneur who is an octogenarian and is wheelchair enabled due to her advanced age. But the feisty, sharp-as-a-tack and energetic lady does not let such small details dampen her entrepreneurial spirit one bit.

Known to all her friends and family as Rani, hence ‘Pholon ki Rani’ – she curates beautiful flowers week after week that adorn various homes across Delhi/NCR.

“Why flowers?” I ask her and she quips, “For that, I have to take you back to where it all started.”

Intrigued, I dove right into her story.

Rawalpindi to Jhansi

A bunch of fragrant Oriental Lilies.

A refugee family from Rawalpindi, Pakistan, Rani’s family moved to India during the partition and set up home in Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh. She went on to graduate from St. Joseph’s College in Agra and subsequently got married in 1965 when she was 25.

Being married to an army officer meant she got to travel across the length and breadth of India and the one constant she saw everywhere were flowers.

“In Dehradun where my husband was posted, we had a typical fauji house, which was spread across a one-acre plot and I started gardening there. Before I knew it, people started referring to it as the ‘Gladioli house’ and we would often have people come by to just look at the flowers blooming,” she reminisces.

Puneeta, Rani’s daughter adds, “She has a green thumb. Anything that she touches flourishes, and this I say having seen it time and again.”

Inspired by the daughter

Rani with her daughter, Puneeta.

Rani moved to Gurugram to be with Puneeta in 2019 from Noida, where she resided with her husband.

The genesis of Phoolon ki Rani began when Puneeta started curating a weekend market in Gurugram called Artisanal market. Rani insisted on being of some help to her and accompanied her to the market.

Puneeta says, “While mom [Rani] is a great cook, it would have been unfair to expect her to cook for a large crowd, especially given that she is wheelchair enabled.”

In thinking of ways in which she could also be a part of the weekend market, Rani stumbled upon the idea of curating flowers.

“After moving here, I would often crib about not finding good flowers as compared to Delhi. I thought why not change that, and it was that desire which led to the birth of Phoolon ki Rani,” she explains.

Phoolon ki Rani adorning homes.

Her first flower stall was set up in Gurugram’s weekend Horizon Plaza Artisanal Market in October 2019, where Rani sat with her little moneybox, interacting with all the customers and passing on little nuggets to help them maintain the flowers for a longer period.

Puneeta says, “It was like she suddenly came alive. There was a sense of purpose as I saw her going about talking to her customers.”

While the few months that the market stayed open were great, soon COVID-19 struck and Rani had to wrap up her work. She thought that brief fleeting time was it for her business, but she perks up and adds, “A month into the lockdown I started getting calls from some of my regulars asking me whether I could restart sending them flowers. Some of them mentioned how this was their only source of joy in these bleak times. Those calls pulled me up, and I started a subscription and delivery service to serve my clients.”

How are the flowers procured?

Have you ever had a whiff of Nargis?

Explaining the process, Puneeta says, “Mom is a stickler for getting only the best. We have a network of farmers and wholesalers from whom we source these flowers. Sometimes we get great flowers and sometimes they wilt by the time they reach us, and then we are just unable to send  those flowers out that week.”

Rani checks each order that goes for delivery and a detailed set of instructions on how to care for the flowers is also sent via a Whatsapp message. “The idea is not to have the customers buy flowers week on week, but to make sure that whatever they buy from me lasts long and makes them happy,” says Rani.

From Dramatic Halconias to delicate Alestomarias, Rani only curates and sends out flowers that are not easily available in the regular flowers markets, and that perhaps is her biggest USP.

Sapna Khajuria, a customer who has been ordering her flowers weekly from Phoolon ki Rani, says, “The flowers are truly one of a kind – Rani aunty orders a selected, limited stock every week but it’s top-notch. The flowers are fresh and stay that way for a week, if not longer. I met aunty at the organic market and noticed her attention to detail towards the flowers in her stall.”

Rani’s passion for flowers

What would you pick?

Narrating an incident that is etched in her mind, Puneeta says, “Years ago, when I was a little girl, we had gone to visit Srinagar and were enjoying a boat ride on the Dal lake, when my mother saw a beautiful purple lotus that she decided she must bring back to Dehradun.” Before anyone realised what was happening, Rani was knee-deep in the water trying to pull out one entire stem with the root.

“I remember I kept telling her to stop it because I was worried she would fall into the water. Not one to give up, she struggled with it, but ultimately managed to get one stem along with the root and believe me for years after that we had those lotuses bloom in our house in Dehradun,” she says.

Collecting plants and nurturing them is almost second nature to Rani, says her daughter.

Rani Chadha with her daughter and grandchildren.

Rani is filled with resilience and grace. Despite having been diagnosed with arthritis at the age of 34 and subsequently undergoing a hip-replacement surgery in the 90’s, Rani has dabbled in various passions and has always strived to stay positive. “She has always taught us to face our adversities with a smile, and not just I, but even my kids have learnt it from her,” concludes Puneeta.

Rani misses the physical interactions that Phoolon ki Rani allowed her to experience, now she spends a lot of time replying to messages on Whatsapp and even Facebook, says Puneeta.

Money matters

Rani with her husband, Late Col Khem Raj Chadha.

When the flower stall was set up in the artisanal market, there would be days when Rani would make about Rs 6,000 on some days and on others, not even that. “Now, with no infrastructural costs, we seem to be making slightly more money, still early to say how much of a profit,” says Puneeta.

All the money that Rani makes is being set aside in her account and she says it will come in handy for her grandchildren. Each order is hand-delivered by Puneeta’s staff and this is to ensure that they reach in good condition.

Week-on-week, Rani sends out about 100 bunches of flowers to various homes across Delhi/NCR and the number is steadily increasing.

Just as we are nearing the end of our conversation, I ask Rani about her favourite flower, and she immediately says, “I love all flowers, especially Rajnigandha, Galdioli, Nargis…” and the list goes on and on. She laughs heartily telling me that it would be impossible to pick just one or two.

Click here to access the Instagram page of Phoolon ki Rani.

(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)

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