The ‘fragrance man’ of Bombay High Court

Aroma expert: Gajanan Joshi, known as Agarbatti wale Joshi kaka , demonstrates one of his home-made incense sticks to a customer outside Bombay High Court.

Aroma expert: Gajanan Joshi, known as Agarbatti wale Joshi kaka , demonstrates one of his home-made incense sticks to a customer outside Bombay High Court.   | Photo Credit: Prashant Nakwe

Gajanan Joshi supplied incense sticks and camphor at the HC and sessions court for 38 years; his son carries on his legacy

A delicate fragrance fills the air as lawyers in black-and-white suits scurry across the corridors of the Bombay High Court and the civil and sessions court. No one really stops for a sniff, but to those who do, the aroma is pervasive.

The carrier of the fragrance is Gajanan Joshi, affectionately referred to as Agarbatti wale Joshi kaka.He has been selling incense sticks and camphor tablets at the two courts, as well as the State Bank of India building near the courts, for the past 38 years.

The 84-year old Joshi kaka is hearing impaired, and his benign smile misses a tooth, but he fondly recollects how he started in 1962, not just selling but also making agarbatti (incense sticks). “Main jahan bhi jaata tha, agarbatti lagake chala jaata tha. Uski khushboo se log mujhe yaad karte the aur mujhe kaam milta rehta tha (Wherever I went, I used to light an incense stick. People would remember me by its fragrance and ask me to send some across),” he says.

Before he got into this trade, in 1953, he would sell tea outside the Bombay Stock Exchange for a princely sum of 10 paise a cup. Back then, he lived at Bhuleshwar and travelled all the way to Goregaon to his older brother’s house for dinner. “At that time, the monthly Western Railway pass from Churchgate to Goregaon cost ₹5,” he said.

He got into the business of selling agarbattis quite by chance, or rather, a sting. “One day, when I was at my brother’s house, I could smell something really nice, and I asked him what perfume he was wearing. He slapped me and told me it’s the agarbatti he makes. And I decided to follow suit.”

As he speaks, court staff stop by to greet him and exchange pleasantries. “It runs in the family,” he continues. “My father learnt how to make them, my brother did, and then I did, and now, my sons do the same.”

Mr. Joshi returned to his hometown in Banswara, near Udaipur, Rajasthan, after retirement. He is in the city on a visit to his son, Vikram, who he says, has proved a worthy successor. “People call him from all over South Mumbai to give him orders for camphor, incense sticks, perfumes and attar. During Ganesh Chaturthi, our business flourishes. It is all with the grace and blessing of the lord,” he says, joining his hands, looking skywards.

The eldest of his three sons, Vikram, who lives in the same house at Bhuleshwar with his family, is also a record-keeper: he has the names of court staff, clerks, some old litigants, security personnel and even lawyers who regularly come to him, down pat. He has also diversified his business and added a variety of home-made incense sticks.

What's more, Vikram is a clever salesman. He suggests a new variety to a customer, who refuses to take the bait. “I don’t want anything new. Give me my regular jasmine and sandalwood. I have been buying this from you for 15 years, I can’t change it now,” he says, with a smile. But that won’t stop Vikram from trying. Like the fragrance, he has a legacy to keep alive.

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Printable version | Mar 29, 2020 12:50:56 PM |

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