The flea market at Chor Bazaar

Everything's for sale at this Friday market in the narrow lanes of Mumbai
Projectors and assorted electronic equipment for sale
Projectors and assorted electronic equipment for sale

Along the flanks of Mohammed Ali road are arguably the most diverse Muslim neighbourhoods in India. There are Bohras and Khojas, Shias from Gujarat. There are the famed attar stalls once run by Muslims from Iran. Then there are the Konkani Muslims from the West Coast, the oldest community in Mumbai. Up ahead are Memons, Sunni Muslims from Gujarat. Further on are Muslims from Hyderabad and from Kerala. Finally, at the nothern tip, are coolies and weavers from Uttar Pradesh, the largest community.

And among the dark and narrow bylanes of these vibrant neighbourhoods are the best sights and sounds that one can experience in Mumbai. Great meals can be had at restaurants like Noor Mohammad where the nalli nihari is fit for a king. Chase it down with phirni, shahi halwa or malpua at Suleiman Mithaiwala, whose secret recipes are known only to a few. You can put down a heady Rs 10,000 for a kilo of Jannatul-Firdaus attar (or Rs 10 for 2.5ml) or, if it is Friday, head for the flea market at the once notorious Chor Bazaar, which sprawls over Mutton Street and a confusing labyrinth of surrounding bylanes.

This market used to be a favourite hunting ground during my college days in the early 1980s at St Xavier&rsquos. Most of the LPs that played on my HMV Fiesta were scrounged from here after some ferocious haggling. My first Pink Floyd album Dark Side of the Moon, Rick Wakeman&rsquos No Earthly Connection, with its cover art designed so that if you put a steel tumbler on the centre, the keyboardist would appear sepulchre-like in the reflection, countless Dylans, 10 CC&rsquos Rubber Bullets, The Lonely Bull by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, George McCrae&rsquos Rock Your Baby and... Kraftwerk I bought second-hand Levi&rsquos so faded and distressed that they would have been any fashion designer&rsquos envy today, sleek Gola sneakers, an Alfa Romeo badge for my scooter (it kind of matched the Vespa logo) and a lot of useless but cool stuff, like broken down 8mm movie cameras, kerosene flint lighters that oozed fuel in my pocket and induced a bad rash alarmingly close to the unmentionables.

No wonder I gave up the habit. I stayed away for years and it was only recently that I returned to the alleys to visit the Friday flea market. The Mutton Street entry from the Null Bazaar side is still the same with the hardware guys hogging all the space with axes, spades, drill bits and hammers vying for space with the newer tools like circular power saws, metric socket wrenches, Chinese-made electric drills and even manual pulley-and-chain mechanical hoists. Further down the alley, most of the shops selling &lsquoantique&rsquo and replica furniture are closed on Fridays and this is where the action really starts.

The storefronts are taken over by a swarm of hawkers stocking a stupefying range of items books, clocks, gramophones, brass ship lanterns, telephones of every kind, coins, faded family portraits, car spare parts, mountains of clothes, silver artefacts, lighters, mint-condition Kodak Brownies and computer parts.

Eager buyers throng the alleys, eyeing the wares spread out on the pavement. A carpenter eyes a chisel for trueness, at a coin stall a young man has a magnifying glass held up to his eye trying to unravel the provenance of the metal in his hands, and some young bucks are burrowing into a mound of jeans with excited yips. Some hawkers stand on stools behind their stalls, like barkers at a carnival-soliciting customers with their spiel, while some idle with cronies, eyeing potential marks. No wonder some people claim that the original name of the market &mdash Shor Bazaar, was distorted by those perennial scapegoats, the British.

I am carried into this buzzing, turgid human tide by the temptation of snagging a once-in-a-lifetime bargain. A pair of 20-pound dumbbells &mdash &ldquoHow much&rdquo &ldquoSir, very cheap, only for you. Only Rs 12 a pound.&rdquo &ldquoI&rsquoll give you Rs 8.&rdquo &ldquoDone, sir&rdquo I spy an engraved pewter hip flask, which would not have looked out of place in my grandfather&rsquos greatcoat pocket. Mine for 50 bucks. A pair of &ldquomade in Germany&rdquo motorcycle horns loud enough to make a jaywalker clench his bum at a 100 yards. Just for Rs 200. Into the bag go a full set of metric spanners (Rs 140), never mind the fact that the closest I&rsquoll get to a bolt is the one on my front door. I pass up on the rotary dial phone in &lsquoguaranteed&rsquo working order on a nicely weathered pedestal with a clock built in for Rs 1,000. Perhaps it is the suspiciously bright brass fittings or the instructions stuck on the dial&rsquos centrepiece &ldquo...lift the handset for a dial tone...&rdquo

The market is slowly winding down as I walk back down Mutton Street to get a cab, the hubbub slowly ebbing to a murmur. I feel a stab of regret maybe I should have got the pedestal phone. Perhaps, the next time... and then maybe I can pick up that set of kerosene marine lanterns. They&rsquoll look quite nice hanging on the terrace...

The flea market at Chor Bazaar is open only on Fridays from 11am till it gets dark. To get there, turn west at the Null Bazaar traffic light on Mohammad Ali Road, and you&rsquoll find the entrance to Mutton Street barely 150m away. Haggle over everything

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