CHEAP JACK IS A TREASURE TROVE IN BANDRA
WORDS BY GENESIA ALVES AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY SURUCHI MAIRA
Cheap Jack used to have a sign: “Everything for the dog, but the dog”.
In the days before the Internet killed boredom, Bandra teenagers interrupted their evening passegiattas to pop in to Cheap Jack and browse the ambitiously categorized “Cards for all Occasions” section. We’d stand, opening one card after another, reading some aloud to each other, cracking up across the shop. Eventually, the stern Bohra gentleman at the counter would “tsk” at us. “Are you going to buy something?” Embarrassed, we’d shuffle off, only to return two days later. Sometimes we’d buy an eraser in apology.
I had to actually stop going to Cheap Jack for a while. A cousin, blessed with so much self-confidence it had turned to sparkly self-delusion, had just had a huge wedding. Standing in Cheap Jack, waiting for someone to bring out a ream of hand-made paper from the secret labyrinths of the ShopThatSellsAll, I heard her signature squeal progress through the crowded shop towards me. Fresh from her honeymoon, she looked like she had eaten too many Mars bars and other heavenly bodies as well. “I’m so fertile, I hope I’m not pregnant!” she said as way of greeting. I’ve blanked a lot of this exchange out, but I know it ended with me nearly dropping all my change as I scuttled, paper in hand, from the shop.
“If I had to check if they were original I’d have to bounce these on the floor, you know,” I said. He looked alarmed. I reassured him I was only half-joking.
Later I told my mother that I would not be leaving the house until all the mental images had been exorcised, and my mother laughed at me but also with me. However, she considered my desperate pleas to emigrate a “frivolous overreaction”.
Cheap Jack slowly grew from a greeting card and basic stationery shop to a trove for anyone with a hobby, home-project, or passing DIY obsession. When the hive-mind turned to knitting, there was yarn and needles to be had. Later there would be embroidery hoops and drawers full of skein thread. One day I went to look for basic white buttons for a school blouse and came out an hour later bedazzled. Metal, plastic, ivory, wood, little pink dolphins and carved emblems, chrome elephants and diamante butterflies, mirrors, beads, bells, bows.
There is a cosmetic demarcation of the shops. The “old” Cheap Jack still sells mostly stationery, cheap toys and school supplies. He also stocks incredible wrapping paper, and the greeting cards section is still there. “Something Special” is an Aladdin’s cave of treasures. In one half of the shop, the ceiling is covered with bags of foam, silk and paper flowers. The walls are laden with shallow shelves full of trim, ribbon, lace and leather. In the back you will find felt, mull, poplin and velvet. There are large glass “diamonds”, variations of the Hands of Fatima on pendants and “Evil Eye” charm bracelets. The other half of the shop contains all the ingredients and accessories you would ever need to host a kids’ party, a baby shower, a hen night or a pride parade. I kid you not.
Cheap Jack slowly grew from a greeting card and basic stationery shop to a trove for anyone with a hobby, home-project or passing DIY obsession.
Upstairs, in the “Mini Mall”, you can get Lock&Lock tiffin boxes, every sort of baking tool and accessory you could want: frying pans, wind chimes, cheap wooden furniture, scented candles, umbrellas. Their glassware selection is particularly exciting if not consistent. We’ve found rare Tata Ceramics pieces here.
Last week, I dragged three children through the labyrinth. First, pencils, staples and glue from Cheap Jack for the eldest. Then, for “projects”, playdoh, ice-cream sticks, toothpicks, “yes madam, we have three sizes of googly eyes” googly eyes and elastic hairbands from Something Special for the middle child. Finally, upstairs to the Mini Mall where we had to buy for the youngest Thor Mighty God of Thunder for Rs. 170 only. On a whim, thinking of my mother and her favourite brand of glassware, hard as French-nails, I asked if they had any Duralex drinking glasses.
No, said the man behind the counter. Then one of the salesmen, in that classic Cheap Jack way, suddenly piped up, “There is a box. One last box.” He went into the labyrinth and emerged with an old dusty box. I checked. There was that familiar brand name on the bottom of each tumbler. “If I had to check if they were original I’d have to bounce these on the floor, you know,” I said. He looked alarmed. I reassured him I was only half-joking.
I paid, refusing the plastic bag because I know it makes them happy. We clattered down the stairs, the children and I, each holding on to our precious things. My baggage was only slightly heavier because of my sentimental heart, thankful I didn’t emigrate, wondering if its time to get a dog.
Cheap Jack, 63 Hill Road, 1st Floor, Before St. Peter’s Church, Next to Balaji Restaurant, Bandra (w), Mumbai 400 050. Phone: 022 2640 9367/022 2641 0883