As an adult man, there’s three things I love more than anything else. One is a good bargain, two is showing off and three is navigating my way through a treacherous, possibly murderous terrain. A trip to Chor Bazaar in Mumbai offers you all three of them, as I would soon find out.
Why would anyone in their right mind willingly go to, let’s be honest, not the most posh neighbourhood in the city, you may ask? And that would be an excellent question. If you’re faint of heart and bothered by petty issues like cleanliness, comfort and personal safety, I would not recommend you go anywhere near the Chor Bazaar Mumbai(CBM). But if you aren’t, I can guarantee you an interesting and certainly eye opening (not life changing) experience.
Antiquing or “buying cool, old shit for cheap” as its colloquially known, in is still in its infancy in Bombay. The only people who buy antiques in this city these days are old millionairesses from Peddar Road, hipsters, and the guy who stocks the tables at Social. In my opinion, antiquing is one of the most beautiful experiences you can have, there’s no feeling quite as exciting as owning a piece of history, for little more than the price of a disappointing meal at KFC. And just so we’re on the same page, I’m a straight man.
The Mumbai Chor Bazaar offers you an opportunity to do just that. The whole point of antiquing is the story, not just behind the item you’ve bought, but the story behind how you bought it. Just the simple act of going to Chor Bazaar, particularly in the monsoon will involve varying degrees of comedy, tragedy, drama and great personal revelations, all of which make for a compelling tale. Here’s mine.
My editor, who I don’t really care for, especially because he never proof reads my articles, assigned me to do a piece on Chor Bazaar, a place I’d been to a grand total of once, despite living in Mumbai for more than twenty years. Chor Bazaar literally means “Thieves’ Market” in Hindi, and is a flanked by brothels on one end, a mafia haven on another, and most terrifying of all, a theatre that seems to show nothing but Sunny Deol movies from the 90s, so naturally, I was not very thrilled.
I tried to protest, but soon found myself on a train to Grant Road, armed with my favourite intern and a Windows phone no self respecting thief would dream of stealing. Once we reached Grant Road, we got off on the eastern side of the station and proceeded to walk to Chor Bazaar, a journey that Google Maps promised us was just 1.5 kilometres away.
Bad move. A quick tip to people who aren’t from Mumbai, when you’re in Mumbai and on the eastern side of the tracks, do remember that the motorists do not care whether you live or die, so it’s best you invest in some sort of taxi if you value your life. After dodging speeding bikes, being grazed by a black and yellow Fiat and nearly beheaded by a BMC garbage truck which for some reason had “Heil” written on it, I managed to reach the halfway point. My intern was not so lucky.
The second bit of the journey was only slightly more terrifying. Between being stared down by an entire street full of women (one of whom I’m very sure touched my butt), being nearly head butted by a giant goat and watching a lady with a broom viciously assault a man on a scooter I ended up at the legendary Chor Bazaar, right after which my sandal snapped.
Chor Bazaar isn’t a single street or a market for that matter, it’s a serpentine network of shops that sell everything you’ll ever need, from steel pipes, to antique Coca Cola memorabilia, to parakeets and of course brass horns, though you’ll have to walk around a considerable bit because not everything is sold at the exact same place. But it’s well worth the walk, if anything for the view. It’s not uncommon for you to find old industrial refrigeration units from the 60’s and the occasional goat the size of a horse. If you’re lucky you might even see the rusted chassis of a vintage Studebaker being hammered at by three stocky men, and if you’re exceptionally lucky you might even come out of Chor Bazaar alive. Practically everything they sell there has a story to tell, not necessarily a happy one, but a story nevertheless. Just walking through those semi-paved streets with bits and pieces of old Bombay all around you will make you feel something inexplicable in addition to the disgust and fear you’ll be feeling already.
The point I’m trying to make is if you’re looking to buy something cool, with historical value, for close to nothing, this is a place you should definitely consider visiting. Once you overlook the filth, remoteness and likelihood of being impaled by a piece of scrap metal, it isn’t too bad. If you do ever visit, which you should at least once, tell them Andrew sent you. They won’t know what you’re saying, but do it anyway. Check out the insane, life-threatening flea market every Friday morning from 4am(yeah) to noon for the latest in stolen iPhones. If you’re ever at the Chor Bazaar in Mumbai during the hold month of Ramzan, be sure to check out the Iftar at Mohammed Ali Road, it’s a great way to satisfy your appetite (if you still have one left) after such a tiring ordeal.
Mumbai Tip: Never visit the Chor Bazaar in Mumbai in the monsoon.