Mumbai Memoir- Exploring ‘Behind the Bazaar’!
The Islamic month of Ramzan is practised with religious fervour among the Muslims world-wide. In spite of its Hindu majority, Mumbai’s cosmopolitan nature has exposed its citizens to diverse religious and ethnic cultures.
South Mumbai’s ‘Bhendi Bazaar’ is a Muslim dominated area. Followers of various sects of Islam, namely Sunni, Shias, Dawoodi Bohras Dhakkhani, Konkani, Malbari Muslims and Ismaili Khojas have their own settlements in this region. The area that roughly spans from present day Crawford Market (now renamed as Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Market) to J.J Hospital is locally referred as ‘Bhendi Bazaar’. During the colonial rule, it is believed, that the British use to refer this area as ‘Behind the Bazaar’ (i.e behind the (Crawford) market). Unable to pronounce the exact words, the locals colloquially started referring it as ‘Bhendi Bazaar’!
Throughout the year this densely populated area rattles with commercial activities. Besides the congested residential accommodations, retail shops selling clothes, imitation jewellery, fashion accessories, cutlery, perfumes, henna, hardware goods & Islamic religious books, sprawl on its main streets. The area is also famous for its restaurants, namely Zaika, Shalimar, Noor Mohammedi etc that offer Moghulai cuisines on a daily basis.
For a solo tourist it may be a chaotic experience to explore the narrow lanes of ‘Bhendi Bazaar’, unless a local guide helps to navigate through the ‘sea of people’ and the ‘ever green’ traffic that moves around. Many visitors flock to explore its buzzing streets, while the holy month of Ramzan unfolds the moon above. Due to the fast from dawn to dusk, the mornings may seem dull here. But at night, like an Indian bride beautifully decked, the streets of Bhendi Bazaar glitter with pomp and pride.
The most iconic structure of Bhendi Bazaar is the 131 year old ‘Minara Masjid’ (Minara mosque) that stands overlooking the Mohammed Ali Road. Like a grand old man, it has witnessed the metamorphosis of its precinct since the colonial rule in pre-Independent India, the partition of India in 1947, the local communist discipline in the 50s, the rise of the notorious Mumbai underworld in the 80s and the communal riots during the 1990s.
Since the last decade, besides its holy identity, the mosque has become a popular landmark for friends, family and tourists to meet up for ‘Iftaar’ snacks during Ramzan. The lane adjacent to the mosque dishes out mind boggling non-vegetarian delicacies that tempt every adventurous foodie. The menu ranges from smoking hot spicy starters to aromatic, lip smacking 4 course cuisines that captivates one’s senses.
One may feel like a Moghul emperor as one feasts on the spicy barbequed kebabs, baida roti (deep fried preparation of egg & minced meat wrapped in a corn flour based dough), Haleem, Nalli Nihari, Paya soup (bone soup), Tandoori Chicken, Chicken Shawarma, Chicken & Mutton Biryani and various other slow cooked ‘Bara Handi’ delicacies (made out of 12 spicy preparations) that are served on tables laid on the streets of Bhendi Bazaar. Both Muslims and non-Muslims enjoy the food along with their friends & family here. Here’s a link that gives a glimpse into the street food culture of Bhendi Baazar: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zPXwj8fo5IE
For the one’s having a sweet tooth, Suleiman Usman Mithaiwala (a sweet meat shop) is a must visit. Besides other Indian sweets, the shop boasts of its Phirni, Malpau, Mawa Jalebis and Faloodas. Calorie conscious Mumbai’kars too excuse themselves for a night, after tasting the sweets here.
As one walks further north on the Mohammed Ali road the streets are decorated with shops of various kinds. Everyone in the evening time is in a pre- Eid shopping mood. Kids enjoying on the ferrous wheel and teenage boys zooming on their speed bikes typically adds to the night life at Bhendi Bazaar during Ramzan. After the Ishaa namaz (last prayers of the day) as one walks away from the Minara Masjid area, beautiful ‘taraabi’ verses (lines read from the Holy Quran) can be heard in the background. This is how a ‘taarabi’ sounds like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HFT3-Xf6O1k. Irrespective of the faith one follows, I believe, that the peace that radiates from a well read ‘taraabi’ needs no particular religious background to experience it soulfully.
As one enters the Bohri Mohalla (the area dominated by the followers of the Dawoodi Bohra sect) a calm ambiance is experienced. Besides the distant buzz at the foods stalls around the corner, prayers will be heard from the huge mausoleum named ‘Raudat Tahera’. Outside the mausoleum, ice cold jaggery juice is served to all, irrespective of religion, caste or creed. I always find that the Bohri hospitality is sweeter than the jaggery juice which is generously served with heartfelt sentiments of communal harmony.
Lastly a one tours Bhendi Bazaar area, one notices a unique sight from over the fly over bridge that cuts through the main road. A Hindu temple of Lord Shiva is located on the West side of the bridge which overlooks the minarets of a mosque on the East side of the bridge. It seems as if the temple’s golden canopy and the minarets daily exchange greetings with each other, thus promoting the secular Indian legacy of ‘Unity in Diversity’ that reflects during the festivities of Mumbai’s Bhendi Bazaar!
Photo Courtesy: Shraddha C. Sankulkar & Aditya Chichkar
Photos and Captions
Minara Masjid- The Pride of Bhendi Bazaar!
Minara ‘meet-up’! Friends & family feast at the ‘Iftaar’ get-together.
The chef & me frying Malpua (sweet dish) together at Suleman Mithaiwala.
Little Prince from Arabian nights! A kid at his dad’s shop selling fashion accessories.
Pre-Eid shopping at Bhendi Bazzar-Bangles, cutlery, lamps.
Mesmerizing henna designs & aromatic perfumes attract one’s attention at Bhendi Bazaar.
Bohri Mohalla & the ‘Raudat Tahera’ reflecting serenity & sweet hospitality. Photo edited by Aditya Chichkar.
Celebrating ‘Unity in Diversity’ since 15th August 1947. Photo edited by Aditya Chichkar.