The 150-year-old Chor Bazaar was not always known as the thieves’ market; shopkeepers say it was actually known as ‘shor bazaar,’ but the British pronounced that ‘chor,’ and it stuck. “All shopkeepers are legal businessmen dealing in antiques or furniture,” says Mohammad Salim Khan, who has run Sun Time, an antique clock shop on Mutton Street, for 40 years. He says each by-lane has its own sub-market. “There is motor bazaar, kapda bazaar, shoe bazaar, but the antique bazaar is most popular.”
In this market, you can find working gramophones, antique wall clocks, handmade Bollywood posters, refurbished furniture, you name it. “From foreigners staying at the Taj to Mumbaikars from far-off suburbs, we have visitors from everywhere,” says a shopkeeper who sells antique radios, transistors, and telephones. “Because it is a tourist attraction, visitors come mostly to photograph, and experience the place. Only a few are buyers.” Mr. Khan says Chor Bazaar is popular with Bollywood too: “Aamir Khan, Rekha, Salman Khan, and others have shot here. Shootings happen almost every second day.”
On Fridays, though, the 350-odd shops remain closed, and the street turns flea market. Vendors from other parts of Mumbai — and out of town too — sell clothes, shoes, curios, and everything else. This, say shopkeepers, is where one may find stolen goods.
Traders of the South
Matunga has long been a South Indian hub, and aside from residents, migrants from the southern states who have moved to other parts of the city make the trek here to get their vegetables, fruits, spices, fresh-ground coffee powder, utensils, or puja items.
While all those can be bought elsewhere, if you know where to look, the Matunga market — officially the Lal Bahadur Shastri Municipal Market — does one thing better than anywhere else: bananas. Here, you’ll find every variety of banana, and also the leaves, flower and stem used in southern delicacies.
Business starts at 4.30 a.m. when tempos from Tamil Nadu and Kerala bring in fresh produce for wholesalers, who in turn supply the city its bananas. Dinesh Gopalan, a wholesale merchant, says, “Large unripe bananas, used for making chips, are the most sought after. The small ilaichi variety is becoming popular. You can only get it here. The demand for the red banana is also increasing as it is low in sugar.” While temples and caterers are the main clients, those looking for a bargain during family functions or festivals also come shopping here.
The market has been functioning for over half a century, and most shops have second- or third-generation proprietors. “Earlier there were many more stores specialising in South Indian items,” Mr. Gopalan says. “But over time many have shut shop. This is mainly because the core Tamil population of Matunga has been moving out.” Change is inevitable, he says, “In the early years it operated out of a chawl and was a vegetable market. Then it started specialising in fruits. Today it is bananas. Tomorrow it might be something else.”
Oshiwara Furniture Market
No wood like old wood
“Only people who do not understand the value of wood will think old furniture is not worth spending on,” says Khalid Khan, owner of one of the 150-odd shops in this famous furniture market on one side of SV Road. “One can’t compare furniture made of plywood to this. Good wood lasts several generations, and these are proof of that.” People who really understand wood always come here, he says firmly.
The shops carry the aroma of varnish, and the wares on display gleam richly, even if they are inelegantly stacked one on top of another. Most of what is on sale is colonial-era teak and rosewood pieces. “Colonial rosewood is the most sought after, because it is getting scarce,” says Mr. Khan.
The first shop was set up in 1957, by Haji Abdul Sattar, Mr. Khan’s grandfather, who came here from Gonda, in Uttar Pradesh. “Over time, more people came and set up shop,” says Mr. Khan. Most of the shop owners are distantly related to each other.
The furniture comes in via a network of scouts around the country, but most are sourced from Kolkata, Surat, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Chennai, and Goa. “Kolkata is a major contributor,” says Mr. Khan. And as for sales, he says, most of their customers tend to be from South Mumbai and Bandra. About 30% of their sales are to the export market, and the shopkeepers also make an income from renting to Bollywood productions.
Old, but nimble
This is easily one of the oldest markets in the city; regulars say that the Arabian Sea was just a few metres from Bhuleshwar when it started as a fruit and vegetable market. The area has changed, and where there were once just single-storey shops, 20- and 30-floor apartments towers reach into the sky. The market has stayed, adapting to the world around it.
Take Mr. Dwarkadas, who set up a humble potato shop here in 1939 and called it, quite simply, Dwarkadas Batatawala in 1939. His descendants now run the Dwar Corporation, a major supplier of carpets and doormats, with tie-ups with malls and online portals like Flipkart and Snapdeal. Ashish Agrawal, his grandson, who grew up in Bhuleshwar and now lives in Byculla, says, “My uncle runs a retail outlet that sells flooring material like doormats and carpets under the [Batatawala] name, while I head the wholesale supply under the name of Dwar Corporation. The name is a tribute to my grandfather as well as symbolic in the sense that we sell doormats.”
Another story of adaptability: “My grandfather’s uncle, Jalanchand Kanhaiyalal, started a sari shop here in 1960, when saris used to sell for ₹8,” says Dinesh Kotia. “It was a popular store and had a daily footfall of 200 customers. Today, I sell packing material like cartons, ropes, while my brother sells silver jewellery.”
Change notwithstanding, you will still find bewildering variety here — flowers, clothes, imitation jewellery, steel utensils, pipes — everything you need for anything from a birthday to a funeral, as Mr. Kotia says.
Gautam S. Mengle
It was once literally a causeway, a narrow strip built to connect what used to be the island of Colaba with Bombay island, via Old Woman’s Island. Though later, a city hungry for space reclaimed the bits between the seven islands, the name has stayed, if only informally (its proper name is Shahid Bhagat Singh Road).
Perhaps this is appropriate, because it bridges many divides.
For the shoppers, there is junk jewellery and other bric-a-brac, street fashion, watches, sunglasses, jewellery, bags, all available along the pavements, as well as swish big-brand shops. For nourishment, street food and beer joints as well as more upmarket eateries and international food. And aside from the office crowd unwinding at the various watering holes, you will also see a large number of tourists browsing the pavement shops, some from the cheap backpacker hotels and lodges along the side-streets, with a few of the well-heeled from the nearby five-star hotels as well, though they are more likely to be en route to the pricier stores or the dozens of handicrafts shops that dot the lanes leading off the main road.
Iconic hangouts include Mondegar, with its Mario Miranda murals and jukebox, and Leopold, also sadly remembered for being one of the places where terrorists gunned down innocents in the November 26, 2008 attacks.