$5 Shopping in a Multi Crore trading lane.
A look into the gold and silver market in the old part of Mumbai, erstwhile Bombay presidency.
I started my journey from an axial junction locals call “Metro”.
Metro junction got its name from the Art Deco styled “Metro Goldwyn Meyer”(MGM) cinema and now called Metro Big cinema, acquired and branded “Big” by a corporate house of Mumbai.
No cabbie agreed to take me to Zaveri bazaar.
“Too congested” said one.
“No entry” said the second.
The third didn’t care to stop when he heard where I wanted to go. Neither did the fourth. He shook his head by rotating it indicating that he agreed with all the reasons stated above by his colleagues.
In the end a cabbie of a battered Fiat, with sympathetic eyes, offered to take me half way up to there. “Can’t go in” he said, “Too much traffic, once I go in, there is no turning back and I’m stuck.”
He left me at the next junction just a kilometer or less, along a straight road towards Crawford market and indicated the point from where I could walk towards my destination.
The minute I stepped out of the cab, I was accosted with the familiar experience each visitor is greeted with. Hawkers surrounded me arms filled with colorful wares and following me the next ten steps of their territorial area. A solitary policeman’s stern gaze sent them back towards their allocated spot, but not before they had convinced their customer of a deal. Was I not interested in the baskets, the table cloths? I agreed to pick a red lacy table cloth for Rs.100 ($1.50) and that is when I was allowed ahead to explore the rest of the lane.
Jostling through the afternoon shoppers, I walked towards my destination. Further on, all kinds of wares were displayed in colorful, vibrant piles for that impulsive buyer. How could you not resist flip-flops for 150 rupees ( $2.25) or a tealight for 30 rupees ( $0.50)? The tea light holder won and I picked a pair.
At the end of this lane, an ornamental mosque and a nearby stone plaque announced “Tribhovandas Zaveri Chowk”. A police cop, who seemed to be on duty around the clock, guided me towards the right road from the fork.
Further on, art nouveau style cornices announced The Bank of India building. The air gave not a hint of ostentation. Everywhere there were gold and jewellery shops. Shops inside shops. Outside shops.In alleys; and on the street.The largest imposing structure in the middle of the street here was of Tribhovandas Bhimji Zaveri, TBZ, as it is called and perhaps from which the Zaveri bazaar got its name. The building has a bland geometric paneling covering the entire outer façade. I ventured in and the usual standard jewellery shop environment greeted me. Counters and sales persons who could have been in Bandra rather than here. Disappointed I came out and turned to the left.
Right in front of me was history. Or rather I was in middle of two historic places. The Bombay bullion association and the historic cloth market. The two historic greats, TBZ and the cloth market association, face each other. The Mulji Jetha cloth market where the business industrialist Dhirubhai Ambani is said to have first set up his shop and started business in Mumbai, is nearby.
Standing in this nondescript lane in the middle of an old forgotten part of Mumbai, I fell into nostalgia of an era, drawn by horse carriages and steam engines and the sweat and blood of the men who believed they could pioneer enterprise in India and give Bombay the character it has today, that of a financial district.
Government has been trying hard to accommodate the jewellery and diamond trade into a new snazzy building in the Bandra Kurla Complex in a suburban modernist part of Mumbai. But the takers have been few. Even today crores worth of trade is said to take place here in Zaveri bazaar each day.
I turned to return back to where I had come.