Khuda Hafiz To Chor Bazaar? Mumbai’s Iconic Flea Market Disappears Under Clouds Of Redevelopment

Khuda Hafiz To Chor Bazaar? Mumbai’s Iconic Flea Market Disappears Under Clouds Of Redevelopment

Ever since the Saifee Burhani Upliftment Trust (SBUT) took over the massive 16.5 acre Bhendi Bazaar redevelopment project, rumours have been afloat of Chor Bazaar shutting down.

Draupadi RoheraUpdated: Tuesday, October 17, 2023, 06:56 PM IST
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Khuda Hafiz To Chor Bazaar? Mumbai’s Iconic Flea Market Disappears Under Clouds Of Redevelopment |

It’s a hot Friday afternoon and the narrow, dusty lanes of Mutton Street in Bhendi Bazaar are buzzing with excitement. No, it’s not the usual hustle-bustle ‘shor’ associated with Mumbai’s famed Chor Bazaar, but rather small-time hawkers boisterously selling cheap rubber footwear, gaudy T-shirts and even malai kulfi to a local clientele! And you wonder where have all those vintage shops gone that once catered to the acquisitive impulses of wealthy maharajas, bounty hunters, Bollywood stars and sexy Hollywood celebs?

Chor Bazaar, or the ‘Market of Thieves’, appears to have been relegated to the past. Crumbling buildings now serve as a backdrop to a charming little market place that The Guardian’s travelogue says: Provides prospective buyers everything from ‘Raj-era’ steamer trunks to vintage Baccarat crystal to antique silver to old Bollywood film posters!

Ever since the Saifee Burhani Upliftment Trust (SBUT) took over the massive 16.5 acre Bhendi Bazaar redevelopment project, rumours have been afloat of Chor Bazaar shutting down. A walk down the street reveals that only one gulley comprising 122 shops has been dismantled as part of the project. Shops on the rear lane have been left untouched and yet the impact of redevelopment has been felt by one and all. Small curio businesses that once thrived here have downed their shutters and moved to greener pastures such as Goa, Udaipur, Pune and Jaipur. The bazaar no longer exudes its old-world charm and glory. “Chor Bazaar is finished… dismantled and done… that era is gone,” laments Asif Bhai, owner of the famous ‘Taherallys’, the fabled furniture art shop whose list of clients includes the who’s who of the world, right from a Shah Rukh Khan to a Sabyasachi Ray to wealthy Moroccan princes.

Businessmen & Shop Owners Share Their Plight

Asif, who sold Hussains, Souzas and Razas in the original, as also aristocratic antique furniture and pricey chandeliers, says his business is “finished” after he relocated himself to a temporary commercial accommodation near JJ Hospital. “Where I had a 100 walkins on an average, today it has come down to a mere 10. We were left with no option. SBUT is a huge project and Chor Bazaar was just a small part of it… We had to go along.”

He adds that today much of his business is over the phone. “People who want my stuff just seek me out minus the Chor Bazaar tag,” Asif says. He has recently collaborated with Gauri Khan and Suzanne Khan on their interior designer projects and worked with Sabyasachi on his studio in Kala Ghoda.

As part of their redevelopment, what the SBUT is offering these 122 shop owners is a high street shopping complex (still under construction) where they would be accommodated in clusters and zones on ground-plus-two levels. This has not gone down well with some owners.

Explains a business owner on condition of anonymity: “Chor Bazaar was like a walk through gallery… a flea market where people would wander around the street and pick up artefacts they fancied. Now imagine taking an escalator to go to the first floor of a high street shopping complex to buy old limited-edition film posters, gramophones or antique designer clocks! That feel is lost.”

Asif agrees: “It is just not possible to ‘replicate that oldworld charm or character of a chor bazaar’ in a closed mall-like structure. Malls are meant for fancy things, not vintage furniture!”

Some shops owners like Mohammed Farman Mansuri (a fourth-generation owner who has five shops of century old antiques and objects d’art in the bazaar) are, however, happy and gung-ho about the makeover. They believe it’s a win-win offer for them and that they only stand to gain because whereas earlier their shop titles were that of tenants, now they will be made full-fledged owners. Plus, as part of their redevelopment, they will be given extra space, lofts and will also enjoy the benefits of a shopping complex infrastructure including parking space.

“Yes my business has been impacted because of the temporary relocation, but I am optimistic that once the proper complex comes up we will be back in action,” he says.

So does he see art aficionados and bounty hunters taking an escalator to the first floor of a mall to seek out his objets d’art? Will he be OK sharing mall space sandwiched between a hardware and a garment shop?

Farman remains unfazed. For him the bottom line is that he will gain more monetarily in terms of ownership title, extra space and infrastructure. “Over the years people’s buying patterns and lifestyles have changed. And so have ways of doing business and commerce. We will figure it out,” he retorts.

SUBT's Side Over The Redevelopment Project

Says Malikarjuna Rao, senior manager and head of design, SBUT: “With times changing where everything has now gone on social media, we are giving Chor Bazaar a chance to reinvent itself and come up in a new avatar. As it is their businesses are now conducted on phone or online so we don’t see how the high street shopping complex will negatively impact them. Instead they will have the added advantage of better amenities where earlier their infra structure was only crippling.”

A spokesperson for SBUT adds that shopowners will be given street facing shops where they can prominently display their signages. “When the owner and the stuff that he is peddling remain the same, I don’t understand what the fuss is all about. People interested in buying their wares will come to them any which way.” He further points out that the project needs to be looked at in totality. “After all its going to benefit and uplift a total number of 3,200 families in Bhendi Bazaar and Chor Bazaar is just a small minuscule part of it.”

But for many art aficionados like the late Jennifer Kapoor, who along with director Aparna Sen walked the dusty lanes of Chor Bazaar for her home production 36 Chowringhee Lane, the beautiful experience of seeking out that perfect lampshade or an antique table may never be the same again. For now, it’s curtains to a charming flea market.

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