A few stolen moments at Mumbai's Chor Bazar

What follows at the end are a few million photos from an afternoon at Mumbai's Chor Bazar or Thieves market. You can see these and a few more on this album on the Finely Chopped Facebook page.

The plan was always to go to Chor Bazar after Noor Mohammadi. That's what my intrepid fellow explorer, Sudeshna, and I did the other day. Two sociologists by training, exploring a hidden facet of modern Mumbai. The world below the  J J Flyover which connected Byculla to CST. She had been warned not to go to Chor Bazar alone. At the end of our expedition she wondered why.

Done with our Grand Trunk Road lunch at Noor Mohamaddi, we set off past the more genteel looking Shalimar restaurant. We crossed shops selling attar or Indian fragrances on our quest for Chor Bazar.

We joined the teeming millions, all headed in the same direction. Past more restaurants and then saw a  classical yet modern looking mosque. We were about to head towards the mosque when I saw a man selling an interesting mix of channa (pulses), spices, chutney, liver and other condiments. I stopped to take photos. The vendor was more than willing to let me shoot. The customer, Mr Hassan, indulged me too and even offered me a bite. Thankfully I remembered my manners in time.

This little food stall set the tone for the afternoon. New discoveries. Photographs. Friendly people. People who would pose for photos. Indulge your banter and answer your questions. It was like being on a holiday.

Our entry to Chor Bazar, literally 'thief's market', was past a Mosque. Religion and sin in peaceful coexistence. Sudeshna, educated in the leftist liberal feminists corridors of Delhi's JNU, observed that women were allowed in the mosque. We soon found out that this was the 'Saifee Mosque'. One of the main, if not THE main, mosques of the Bohri Community. Women are allowed in their Mosques from what I gather.  

Hope I am not treading on any toes here... do not claim to be well versed with the religious aspects involved. Apologies in advance if any feelings are hurt. Not the intent.

The area was crowded. Yet peaceful. Order maintained by a posse of men in olive green fatigues and maroon berets looking straight out of the Tintin stories based in the Middle East. On asking we found out that they were volunteers from the Bohri community performing duties as diverse as maintaining order to providing paramedic services. The crowds were due to the occasion of Muharram. Someone told me devotees had come from across the world to congregate at the Mosque for Muharram. Looking after them were little children handing out glasses of water. Lessons in humanity learnt at an early age.

We crossed the mosque into a lane of sweet sellers. Again encouraged and indulged as I took photographs. I took photographs of an ancient man in a white beard deftly wielding a ladle to fry sweet samosas. We were introduced to the venerable Sara, owner of a sweet shop, established in 1922. Turned out she was an ex councillor. Happy to be with her people even "if everything collapsed". I asked her to smile as she posed for photos. She said that she used to be scolded for laughing too much as a kid in school. I promised not to.

We then walked into the Chor bazar. Greeted by a shop which said New Calcutta Feta Shop. Our eye's lit up as immigrants do at the sight of any connection from the motherland. We went in and chatted with the shop keeper from Bardhaman in our native Bengali. Turns out that 'Feta' is not cheese here. It refers to the golden caps which Bohri men wear during festive occasions. We got our lessons on Bohri caps - which ones are for children, for ordinary folks, for priests and for special people.

Thus educated we finally walked into the 'chor bazar'. Into lanes packed with people. The winter cool a big relief. The packed lanes a bit of a strain if you are claustrophobic. But the sense of warmth, bonhomie and good cheer took care of that.

There were all sorts of second hand stuff on sale...old mixers, fridges, washing machines, toasters, watches, batteries, telephone receivers, spectacle cases, and fresh olive oil bottles (!)... a museum of people's lives and their cast-offs. But where were the old gramophone players, the grandfather clocks, the automobile parts and old movie posters and the other legends of The Chor Bazar?

Turned out that the shops of Chor Bazar are shut on Fridays. That's when the street side sellers take over. Though we did find one or two shops selling treasures from the past...some needing a coat of polish to recover their lost sheen. The odd brand name or LP cover a throw back to our own pasts.

It was a lazy afternoon. Walking by with a silly smile on the face. Making new discoveries. Camera clicking away. Conversations with strangers. Lessons learnt. Being made to feel welcome. Completely at peace. Unwound. Destressed. Lulled into thinking that this was a vacation.

Sometimes it's good to see your own city as a tourist. To open your eyes and fall into its spell.

Shalimar Restaurant...the search begins
The scent of a princess
Perfume testing

The Saifee Mosque

Food to go with holy thoughts
Channa with a twist
Liver for the channa
I discovered that there were textures in food beyond the Far east. Right in our own backyard
The kind Mr Hassan who allowed me to photograph his lunch and offered me a bite too
"Hey there are women in this mosque" said our  JNU Sociologist alumni
People posed for photos without a fuss
Life before facebook
The Bohri Volunteers
The calendar shoot
Finally some food pics. Boondi
The shop was founded in 1922. I am sure he was there then
They will grow up to be sweet samosas
He complained that I only too chacha's (uncle's) photos
Ladoos. At home in a mosque. And in a Mandir.
The lovely Sara
Refreshments for tired feet
Hey...that's our home town
Bohri caps
How can you shop without eating
To new beginnings
Environment friendly battery disposal?
He offered a free photo with each of his 'Dubai watches' as I clicked away
Few signs of Chor Bazar
You want 'good price?' Kiss my a@#

That 70s show
Mithun da
Er, I paid money and watched this film
A woman's best friend
They say it's winter at Mumbai
That was quite a stunt
Friday prayers
Turn right for Chor Bazar
Attar or Indian perfumes...memoires of a nautch girl
Guess you can shop for everything here
The Lost World below J J Flyover


very nice nice trip to chor bazar...I have been here many years back..when in school..but my memories..revived..thanks for sharing!
Hi, Thanks for the virtual tour of chor bazaar, hope to visit Mumbai sometime , till then will make do with the pictures :)
Scarlett said…
It amazes me how you get so many people to let you click them & even pose for you!

BTW, did you figure out why it's called 'Chor Bazaar'. I've always been curious about it?
vandana rajesh said…
Very nice post..have been planning to go to chor bazar for several years now however has not materialised so far...this was a really nice guided tour of the place. Enjoy reading your posts bringing out the different facets of this beautiful city that is so close to my heart.
thanks for the pics sir
i specially likes the caption
life before facebook
Magical Homes said…
quite an engrossing album. am tempted to visit soon.
Kalyan Karmakar said…
You are welcome Harman. Didn't know you were a Mumbai girl

@Mumbai Dive: beats the treadmill

@Soulblogger: thanks

@soul speak: hope you make it soon

@Vandana: thanks a lot. Chor Bazar was on my bucket list for too long

@Scarlett: actually people wanted to get photographed here. I felt like a tourist

I guess because spare parts from stolen cars and other stolen goods would end up here
magiceye said…
that was a lovely post!
Anonymous said…
Love this.