The ‘other’ face of Mumbai is a multi-part series of all those places that though little spoken about, are (in)famous and form the integral part of Mumbai. The silence about these places to me seems like an attempt of the childish mind – that if not spoken they shall disappear. Sadly, the reality is different. Thus, when it exists I sought to explore it, in my own way. The other parts of the series can be read here and here.
My heart was heavy after I left Kamathipura. I did not realize that such a short visit would leave such a huge impact on my mind. I questioned a lot of things including my own life and whether all that I was doing was really enough. I questioned the attitude we display when we discuss our surroundings - conveniently ignoring the existence of such treachery and gruesome life. A silent prayer I offered, I recalled a book I read in recent times called Karma and realized that all that we really read in fiction and be touched has happened somewhere, sometime.
The sudden ruffle on my road caught my attention and I was told that I had entered “Mutton Street” in Muslim Mumbai or more popularly known as Chor Bazaar. I have heard about Chor Bazaar ever since I had stepped my foot here, however the people around me refused to me there citing “safety” reasons. An extremely popular flea market that sets up stalls from 3 AM at night and sells mostly pirated and smuggled goods, is one of the most popular ones in India. From old Bollywood posters, to expensive vintage items you can find it all here. However, just in case lady luck is not too pleased with you, so shall go home to realise that your “steal buy” is fake and when you come back the next day to complain, the seller will be no where to be seen.
The market is on all days of the week, but follows a special timing during Fridays – the day of special prayers in Islam. Housed just behind a mosque , when the chants of Azaan fill the air, you feel as if you are on the streets of a Arabian land. Yes, the smell of biryani filling the air and flaring your nostrils, making your stomach rumble does add to the feeling.
Yes, it is the same story of flea markets all across the world. So, what sets it apart? For me, the stories surrounding it holds the charm.
The timeline says that this market has been in existence since 1840 and then owing to the noisy sellers it was known as “Shor Bazaar”
(the Noisy Market) . However, it was colloquially re-christened as Chor Bazaar courtesy the concocted British pronunciation of the original name and also the influx of stolen goods. Coming from a city which still houses the British influence to the core, this story seems very believable to me – however not exciting.
Is that all that that place holds, I asked Jitesh. He smiled at me. Already 2 hours into the tour, he had started to gauge my mind and habits when it came to discovering a nook and corner.
“There’s a legend here“, he said smiling, almost teasing me to beg him to tell me.
“And you are keeping that away from me?” I huffed, feigning anger.
Giving a child-like teasing smile he continued to tell me that the legend goes that if you ever lose anything in Mumbai (materialistic!) you can find it back in Chor Bazaar. Interesting concept right? Jitesh also informed me, that it follows a story of the Victorian times. It was said that when Queen Victoria landed in Mumbai, her violin went missing. She was very upset and thus the King set out his soldiers to recover it. The soldiers found the violin in this very market – thus the name Chor Bazaar stuck to it.
Seeing me smile at the recount of this episode Jitesh asked me to speak my mind. I told him that it reminded me of the lore that makes round about the “Queen’s Necklace” – the popular name to given to the Marine Drive stretch of Mumbai. It is said that while taking a walk down the Marine Drive Queen Victoria was pleasantly surprised and the fluttering lights across the bay left her speechless. That night it is believed that she asked the King for a necklace that would glitter just like the Marine Drive. The word spread and people started referring to the stretch as Queen’s Necklace.
I would have happily believed the two lore(s) and lived in glee if Jitesh did not point out the fact that Queen Victoria never visited Mumbai. I was shocked and taken aback, but when the library at the Asiatic society confirmed this fact, I realized the power of hearsay and that “Chinese Whispers” do make up good stories.
It was as if the heaven’s cracked up seeing my shocked face, as midst rain we moved towards Dhobi Ghat.
Mumbai Mondays is all about seeing Mumbai and its surroundings through my eyes. It’s my take to introduce you to a city and its surroundings which I love, as I see it – alone and often with friends (we call ourselves the Mumbai Mad Caps). It’s a thread that goes live every Monday. I cover places randomly and welcome suggestions too. You can find more posts about Mumbai Mondays here.