From a 108-year-old vintage timber store, to perhaps the last block printmaker, we take a non-tourist tour of Crawford Market.
First things first: don’t rely on GPS if you visit Crawford Market. Even the most cutting-edge geo-tracking technology won’t be able to name the narrow lanes accurately. Secondly, harness your communication skills: politely nag for directions and bargain skilfully. Lastly, wear comfortable footwear. We cannot emphasise on the last tip enough.
It’s 5pm on a Friday. The crowd is overflowing: middle-aged women are haggling with vendors over handkerchiefs; students from St Xavier’s College (T-shirt embossed with the college logo) are loitering around a store picking out buckets and soap cases, possibly for the hostel; toddlers are loudly demanding juice at Badshah Cold Drinks.
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We make our way to New Vasantashram, a lodge built inside Narasimha Mansion, Crawford Market, in 1947. The entry is hidden between stores of Esbeda and Bombay Shoe Mart. We meet Sujata Rao, the second-generation owner of the lodge. She takes us through Crawford Market to her go-to shops for fabric, block print art, and vintage furniture (the real, non-tourist stuff).
Big bag world: Esbeda, the women’s handbag brand, has a showroom on the ground floor of Narasimha Mansion. Prior to Esbeda, a store called the West End Shop was situated across the ground floor. It was a retail store stocking high-end clothes for children and costumes for fancy dress competitions. Rao shares an image circa 1955 of the original Narasimha Mansion, shot eight years after Vasantashram was established.
The last of the block printmakers: Established in 1983, Super Block Maker is a shop owned by Mukhtar Bhai on Omar Street, near Khatri Masjid. It showcases wooden blocks with intricate carvings, used to print patterns on fabric. The artists are proficient in carving Indian motifs from kalamkari and Mughal art. Mukhtar claims his is the only shop of its kind left in Crawford Market, and is likely to shut down after his death, as his children are pursuing careers in other fields. Rao, a regular customer at the shop, has used the blocks as door handles at Vasantashram.
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The real vintage store: Shree Om Timber Mart is a 108-year-old timber market at the border of Crawford Market and Kamathipura (on MS Ali Road). Run by Girishbhai Rai, it’s the only wholesale vintage timber store in Crawford Market. You’ll find vintage furniture, acquired from demolished bungalows across Mumbai. Rai and his sons refurbish the stuff and sell it. The oldest artefact is a 1791 cast iron column from the Life Insurance Corporation building at Fort.
Shobhana Fabrics: This wholesale cotton cloth store is located inside the Crawford Market building. Rao swears by their material and has been sourcing cloth from the store for the last 14 years.
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