Everything You Need Is At And Around Crawford Market



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Looking for fine art supplies, fruit, shampoo and chocolates? Crawford Market has you covered.

Every June, dark clouds roll over the Arabian Sea almost a week behind schedule. Threatening thunder, theatrical lightning and then the rain washes over Mumbai, flooding streets, disrupting trains and triggering kanda bhajiya pangs. That’s when I think of Crawford Market.

Flash back to 2005 – my first monsoon back in the big city after five years at boarding school. It’s also my first Malhar. Malhar is a raga associated with the monsoon. Malhar is also the name of the St. Xavier’s annual college festival. And, as I would discover soon enough, Malhar also means frequent expeditions to Crawford Market if you’re a first year student in the Fine Arts Department.

Every day two or three of us would set out with a list of supplies, a time limit, some money and strict instructions to return with a bill. Hurrying past Rang Bhavan, through the covered walkways of Gokuldas Hospital, we’d find ourselves outside the Mumbai Police Headquarters, gazing at the elegant arches and granite bas-reliefs of Crawford Market. Fresh mangoes, imported shampoos and Swiss chocolates would call out to us through those dusty brown walls. But fruits and cosmetics can’t be used to create art installations. For that we’d have to go to Abdul Rehman Street.

Hurrying past Rang Bhavan, through the covered walkways of Gokuldas Hospital, we’d find ourselves outside the Mumbai Police Headquarters, gazing at the elegant arches and granite bas-reliefs of Crawford Market.

Jumping across muddy craters while avoiding handcarts loaded with A4 sheets, marching past photocopy shops displaying neon staplers and a soft toy wholesaler with pink teddy bears dangling from the third floor, we’d finally catch our breath at the red post box. That post box was our TARDIS. Only we didn’t have to step inside to be transported to a different space and era, we just had to take a right, hold our breath and climb up 12 creaky, smelly wooden stairs to New Bombay Stationery Stores.

It’s an oddly shaped, windowless room with art supplies spilling out from shelves that line all the walls and standing room for no more than seven people at a time. New Bombay Stores is low on décor but high on competitive pricing. From Staedtler’s steel box of sketching pencils and local paintbrush sets to Camlin oil paints and turpentine bottles, everything is available at a discount. We’d take three of everything. And the bill, even if that meant shelling out a few extra bucks.

Further down the road are the plywood marts. We’d relay the specifics, choose a piece of plywood from the shortlisted ones and haggle over the cost. Then we’d sip on milky cutting chai and discuss the weather while the chosen sheet was taken to a workshop to be cut to size. Sometimes we’d venture towards Minara Masjid for oil lanterns. JJ Gandhi & Co. not only has the most mesmerizing collection of miniature lanterns, but also stocks everything from torches and searchlights to gas appliances and kitchen equipment. We’d hear stories from the ’70s when JJ supplied oil lamps for almost every Bollywood film (including Sholay) and how the store’s future was in jeopardy since the next generation of Gandhis wasn’t interested in the lantern legacy.

By the time we’d inch closer to Mangaldas Cloth Market after buying jamun off the street, dusk would set over the city and evening prayers would reverberate through the water-logged lanes. We’d troop indoors, willing ourselves to stay strong for another half hour lest we collapse on the snow-white mattresses at each and every shop. We’d see old salesmen sitting out front, their chequered shirts blending with the stacks of material they were trying to sell. We’d ignore the raw silk saris and hakoba lace, walk past the bright bandhni dupattas and embroidered dress materials, turn a blind eye to hand-painted kurtas and go straight to the shop selling white cotton material for our scaffolding. And then we’d finally head back.

As the weeks wore on, we became more efficient and planned our Crawford Market expeditions more meticulously. We would split off to make our purchases, weave through narrow lanes and bargain like professionals. We would even send one person back to college in a taxi with all the wood, cloth, lamps and paints while the rest of us made a quick stop at Baadshah’s for rose falooda.

I had three years of St. Xavier’s, Malhar and Crawford Market, but I still haven’t gotten my fill. I don’t attend college anymore, neither do I paint like I used to. But every monsoon I attempt to make the annual pilgrimage to Crawford Market for a taste of the past. And Baadshah’s rose falooda.

Crawford Market, Dhobi Talao, Mumbai 400 001.

Mangaldas Market, Janjiker Street, Lohar Chawl, Kalbadevi, Mumbai 400 002.

New Bombay Stationery Stores, 1st Floor, 213 Abdul Rehman Street, Mumbai 400 003.


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