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With a lot of questions in mind, Russian born Svetlana Bakshi, landed in India for the first time ten years ago, exploring the country with her friend. She has been living in India for four years now and is the artist behind the Secret Garden Flora, an artisanal floral shop based in Delhi.
Tell us something about yourself?
As a person, I’m a perfectionist, and this is both good and bad because a lot of people get irritated by me, but this is how I am, I like it perfect. I feel satisfaction when I see perfect things, and that is what my bouquets are all about. I want to be around good people as you always learn something new from them, along with getting positive vibes. I like to observe things, and I think that’s why I came to India. There are always a lot of questions in my head about life, how? What? Where? So many questions and no answers. And while thinking about all those, I wondered, why India? Why not Europe which is very close to my culture, why not Africa, why not South America? But I found my answers. I found them here, and when I did, it was like a puzzle that made sense.
…I wondered, why India? Why not Europe which is very close to my culture, why not Africa, why not South America? But I found my answers. I found them here, and when I did, it was like a puzzle that made sense.
You said that you asked yourself a lot of questions and you found your answer, what were they and what were the answers?
My questions were about life in general. Like how everything works, about the relationship, partnership. When you turn a certain age, you begin asking yourself what you’ve achieved in your life and what to do in the future also. When I shifted here, I realized so much go around in life, that too, simultaneously. Sometimes I like to sit in the car when my husband is out and about buying stuff; I just observe things in general all around. Someone is sleeping, someone is standing there, and someone is riding a bicycle. So many things are happening at the same time, it’s so beautiful. So, in this way, I came here and found so many answers to my personal questions, but I still have so many questions like how to be happy? How to find balance? How to be patient? I believe India teaches us to be patient. Everything is so slow compared to Moscow, as I feel everything was fast there.
What did you think of India on your first visit, and has it changed at all after four years?
It was almost ten years back when I came to India! And of course, I was impressed. At that time, we (my friend and I) were 20 years old, and it was my first trip abroad with friends. It was a dream to come true for her; I was just tagging along. When we arrived here, it was a shock. We could already breathe in a different smell just by exiting the plane— I loved it. I still love coming out of my house to smell it. My husband doesn’t understand. He is like, “what smell?”
We reached late in the night at our hotel, we tried to sleep, but the constant noise from outside kept us awake. We came as backpackers, without tour package, and were by ourselves. There were so many things going on all at once; it was both fascinating and overwhelming. But I can’t judge; it’s a different place, people here have their own life, culture, mentality, and traditions. And of course, it impresses me because it’s so different! There are so many different nationalities together, in one small place.
What was a culture shock that got you, and how did you get over it?
I think the lack of manners and basic etiquettes really shocked me, and I’m still not used to it. The worst is men peeing and people spitting on roads. The other thing that annoys me is when people organize a free-food service to feed, but when everyone leaves, the place is full of garbage. It’s such a mess already and then all those cows, rats and dogs eating it. It’s crazy.
How did Secret Garden Flora come to life?
Everything was done by Vidur, my husband, and me. I was always passionate about flowers. My parents grow them in their garden, so my love of flowers has always been there since childhood. In Moscow, I worked for a corporate company, and right next to our office was a massive market of flowers. Whenever my colleagues and I went to a party or a birthday occasion, we would go to this market, pick up flowers, and made our bouquets. I never bought readymade bouquets from the shops because they were never perfect. I always prefer getting custom bouquets. The 8th of March is the International woman’s day, and a holiday in Russia. On this day, you will find tulips everywhere. I went to the market to pick up flowers for my mother and sisters and made bouquets for them. Everyone wanted to know where I bought them from and how much it was. I told them the price, but they started complaining that it was too expensive. I make artful bouquets, and they might be quite expensive, but they are worth it.
I was always passionate about flowers. My parents grow them in their garden, so my love of flowers has always been there since childhood.
For two years, after getting married and moving here, I thought about what to do. I was still adapting, so I didn’t really think about flowers, but it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. And you know, ever since I was a teenager, I’ve always dreamt of having a supportive husband. Vidur understands when I don’t like how something looks; he gets it; I don’t even know how, but he just does. We are talented in different ways; however, when we put our talents together, we become a strong team.
We noticed you use a lot of flowers that aren’t available in the local floral shops, and flowers we didn’t know we could find in India! How do you find them?
When we were building our business, we also developed a relationship with suppliers who work in flower export and import industry from around the world. The situation of the flower industry in India right now is like how it used to be in the ’90s, in Russia. The choice here is mostly lilac, roses, carnations, and chrysanthemums. However, since I like flowers, and I saw so many beautiful flowers, unique and colorful shades in just one flower, I wanted more than what was offered. This was when we started researching on how to import flowers. I also went to floristry school, where I learned what flowers exist in different parts of the world and which one you can use for making bouquets. When we built a strong relationship with suppliers, we were able to purchase everything in quantity because you can buy these kinds of flowers only as a business or if you have a shop. Sometimes if you want a unique flower, a particular color, the suppliers will let you. However, they will also demand that you 50 pieces of them, so we have to the minimum they ask for. When we started, there were maybe five companies that sold flower bouquets online. Now, it’s growing. This is why I say it’s like the ’90s in Moscow when this business had just started.
I respect everyone who is in this business because I know the massive work behind creating a bouquet. Suppliers throw tons of flowers. For me, it’s very personal, and I try to reduce any wastage if any.
Can you walk us through the thought process before designing a bouquet, to putting them together?
It’s an interesting question because I think it comes naturally; you don’t have to observe much. For example, in the market, when I choose flowers, I do not follow a recipe, because it’s a little different. You just have to see the color combination and what shades would be in harmony with each other. However, there are techniques to make bouquets, so you have to decide which one to follow.
In terms of putting them together, I get inspiration from nature itself. I take pictures for me to remember the shades of a tree, or a specific location and note it down. I think people like the bouquets when they look more natural; they don’t appreciate artificial bouquets. Of course, everyone is different, but I’m talking mostly about our audience. They understand the beauty of these things that how everything is put together.
Now it’s all online, so every morning, I take my inspiration from Instagram, Pinterest, and other websites. I follow different pages. In the beginning, it was hard because I didn’t get visual inspiration, but day by day, when you search for more and more visual art, you start getting ideas, and then when you start doing, you already know what to do. Nevertheless, while making a bouquet, it’s better to see and feel things in person. Sometimes when you see a flower, it’ll look beautiful, but when added to a bunch of flowers, it doesn’t look great. And there is a reason behind. You have to know the technics of floristry. If you take it lightly and bind a bunch of flowers, you get anything but a bouquet.
If you could describe India through a bouquet, what would it look like?
I think it will be something in bright orange or bright pink and red. It will definitely be very colorful, with many textures, like India is for me. It’s an excellent question because, in some way, you are guiding me, and I will now research about this!
Being a florist in India, what do you think about your industry, the work culture in India, and then in general?
Floristry is growing, but it’s still like in the ’90s. So, there is a lot of room for growth. Competitors are also increasing day by day. Nonetheless, I think it will be interesting to make a community of florists. Currently, the florists here are not a community but are competitors, but abroad the florists are also a community. Sometimes, all the competitors come together, and it’s wonderful. I would like to do this here, so let’s see, we have big plans for the future. Let’s see how it goes.
Do you ever get homesick, and if yes, what do you miss the most?
Honestly, I think no. Sometimes, it’s just those emotional moments with my family that I miss. I don’t miss the food, clothes, or even winters. I am very comfortable with what I have today, and I love India. I love butter chicken—it took my heart away.