Bye bye Chor Bazaar?

The iconic Mumbai flea market might just be wiped out soon. It’s time you made another trip to the busy alleys of Mutton Street

There are too many fond memories of finding something valuable in a dumpster in Chor Bazaar. “Do not carry anything expensive with you when you go there,” People whisper cautiously. I have tried – too many times – to explain that it is not exactly a market where thieves sell their loot (how colonial of us) but rather a mispronunciation of ‘shor bazaar’ or noisy market. While it is noisy enough to live up to its name, I am sure there is thieving enough to live up to the mispronunciation too.


But that does not mean everyone is sitting there, waiting to rob you of your wallets and cell phones.


Located off Mohammad Ali Road, the flea market is set to vanish with a first-of-its-kind cluster redevelopment scheme set to relocate as many as 250 shops that function out of the alleys. But, the Mutton Street Chor Bazaar shop owners’ association has refused to move into the proposed high rise building stating that it will kill the essence of the iconic market. The association has demanded that they should be given shops on the same street they presently occupy, reports


“We are not opposing the project. Our only concern is that the trust should show us the blueprint to know where they are going to relocate us. We also want the shops on the same street with same area. We do not even want to change the directions of our shops. We are reluctant to shift ourselves in mall-like complex where there is no guarantee of business,” Mohammad Salim Khan, who owns a 40-year-old antique clock shop and is secretary of the association. What Khan says next is quite legit. “While walking on street, people see the relics and other rare items and then buy them. Do you think that it will happen in a mall? The mall culture is totally different. If we sell these Chor Bazaar items, people will laugh at us.”


On my first trip to the market (I remembered to not carry any of my credit cards or my cell phone) I bought an original poster of Bicycle Thieves for fifteen bucks. It was in pretty good condition, a little rough around the edges. Over the years, I have pulled out Sri Lankan masks from heaps of antiques, Turkish glass lamps, ornate mirror frames and ivory wine goblets. All they needed was some good cleaning (and disinfecting) and soon, chunks of history were sitting in my living room.


I have often strolled down the streets during the short Mumbai winters enjoying the whiff of old school charm and nostalgia. Old uncles sit huddled outside shops, sipping tea and gossip, strains of ghazals and qawwalis catch your ear, you can sit down wherever you want and strike up a conversation about the weather – casual, laidback and unassuming. During Ramzan though, it is bustling with madness and the whiff is of meat sizzling on skewers and haleem being slow-cooked on gigantic vessels. For those of us who like to escape the speed of the cities, Chor Bazaar is a detour to a time when clocks ticked to their own rhythm.

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