Bhendi Bazaar – The Past
Bhendi Bazaar’s history is inextricably linked with that of this dynamic city. The anecdote of Bhendi Bazaar is one of the many stories that contributes to making the epic saga of Mumbai becoming the economic capital of India. Originally, Bhendi Bazaar formed part of the inner-city areas developed to cater to housing needs of the manpower aiding trade and commerce activities in the harbour of Old Bombay, as Mumbai was known then. Proximity to the Crawford marketplace meant high interest among traders to reside in the nearby localities.
The colloquial pronunciation of Behind the Bazaar (Crawford Market) became Bhendi Bazaar. Businessmen from various communities like Dawoodi Bohra, Memons, Gujaratis, Sindhis, Parsis, Katchis, etc., seeing an opportunity owing to its strategic location, moved into Bhendi bazaar selling things as diverse as hardware and foam, to clothing and antique items. People from across the city visited Bhendi Bazaar and the small markets nearby, including the Chor Bazaar (a weekly flea market), to buy and trade precious items.
Houses in Bhendi Bazaar were developed in a chawl or dormitory fashion. They were designed to accommodate single men who moved to the coastal city for livelihood. Slowly entire families started moving into these chawls. Forced closeness resulted in a distinct culture that has organically bonded over living almost in each other’s life. These bonds of friendship, family, and devotion to Bombay create lifelong emotional memories in these neighbourhoods.
Present day Bhendi Bazaar is a mosaic of diverse people, and the numerous bazaars, which has woven together these unique cultures. However, the aging infrastructure has caused a decline in the standard of living of residents, and endangering scores of people.
The Crumbling Infrastructure
Despite the hustle bustle and the full-of-life ambience of this neighbourhood, Bhendi Bazaar remains one of the most under-developed and neglected parts of the city. The area is serviced by an infrastructure that is nearly a hundred years old. Built for another time, the area is deprived of footpaths, walkways or wide enough roads navigable by cars. No formal system for waste disposal exists even today! Residents receive water for only just a few hours during the day!
Many buildings made of wood and brick are seriously affected by structural weaknesses and detoriation over time. Outdated sanitation, and inadequate fire and safety measures leave the residents vulnerable to natural and man-made crises. Visitors are met with heaps of rubbish and rodents scurrying around. A once glorious neighbourhood is slowly being gripped in the throes of decay!
People of Bhendi Bazaar
The people of Bhendi Bazaar come from varied backgrounds and communities. Keeping with their traditions, they have their respective places of worship and other social engagements; but this diversity has never affected the harmony of this neighbourhood. Majority are followers of Islam with the Dawoodi Bohras being present at large.
Entrepreneurial, inventive, resourceful, and resilient in nature, the people here love this neighbourhood that provides for all their diverse needs. However, as families have grown, the matchbox size homes barely provide habitable space. Women, children, and especially the aged find naturally the shared bathrooms a health hazard. Absence of elevators is another major concern for the elderly and disabled. Light and air barely find their way into these tiny rooms. Living conditions have slowly become dire.
M/s Salebhai Adamji Lakdawala
When we started, there were some 40 shops into the same business. In 1932, the wood caught fire and burned down everything leaving only four shops alive.
Mine is one of these stops. I sell packaging wood. My children didn't take up my business, they took up engineering instead. Someday, they might. Till then, I'll run the business my grandfather started. I come to Bhendi Bazaar every day. I come here because here's where I belong. Here is where I've always belonged.
Haji Mohammed Zaheer
Some 25-30 years ago, I used to have a shop in Jogeshwari, but due to the riots between Hindus and Muslims, I had to move to Bhendi Bazaar.
It’s been over 20 years since I set up my restaurant here. Setting up my restaurant in Bhendi Bazaar was convenient as it’s a Muslim area. By God's grace, business here has always been very good.
Today, Bhendi Bazaar is crumbling, and the redevelopment is like a ray of hope. We will have better buildings, better roads. This will in turn lead more people to this location and business will flourish like never before.
Aziz bhai Noorani
I came to Mumbai from Gujarat some 30 years ago. Initially, I used to live around here, but then when I had a family, I moved to Dahisar into a bigger house.
I don't own this bakery, I just work here. But I've been loyal to the owner and to Bhendi Bazaar. This place has always been welcoming. It has been so welcoming that it's overcrowded now.
I don't live here, but the living conditions have deteriorated over the years. We expect this to change once the project materialises. There's something about Bhendi Bazaar - you will never get tired of this place.
Fakhri Farsan Mart
I took over my grandfather's business six years ago. Since then, I've introduced branding & packaging for all our 101 food items, but things have changed. Earlier, we had people visiting our store every day, now they visit us once a week or once a month.
We've been here long enough to have an emotional connect with Bhendi Bazaar. I'm doing the best I can to make sure my business advances and make it easy for my children to run it when they come of age. I believe this project should make it happen.
My family has been here from the start. When I was young I used to help out my uncle to run his shop and eventually I took over his work. With God’s grace today, it has been more than 50 years that we have a shop here in Bhendi Bazaar.
The time spent over here in Bhendi Bazaar has been really good. It’s only because of his love and grace that this would have been accomplished.
I'm hoping the redevelopment project will prove beneficial to us.
I live in Bhendi Bazaar with my brothers and sisters. We're born and raised in this holy place. I also get to make new friends everyday with people from across the world who come to offer their prayers at the Darga.
How many people, do you think, have the privilege of being born around 'Raudat Tahera (Darga)'? Now Bhendi Bazaar is crumbling. But then we all know about the redevelopment plan. It is good. They are making a new society, everyone will get a bigger place to live. By the grace of God, after the redevelopment, I am sure it's not just going to be good, but very good.
I am never going to leave this holy place for anything in this world. I will always be a phoolwala in Bhendi Bazaar
A. K. Zainuddin & Co
My father use to work in this shop in 1939. Those days we use to deal in victorias for British people.
Which was a very old market in India during the 2nd World War. Due to inflation, my parent told their boss to increase salary which was not increased. So my parents left along with my uncle and started this foam shop. 4 generation have passed now since we are running this business.
Most of us have spent our entire life in this mohalla. I shifted from Bhendi Bazaar to Mumbai Central still if I want a loaf of bread I come to Bhendi Bazaar. People are used to staying in this locality. Although it is small, congested and dirty we have to take these conditions in our stride. Still this is home to many families. From the business point of view, thanks to this location we have always seen growth and has been maintained. People always come and buy something.
The redevelopment of this area is going to be huge task and will improve many lives. After the redevelopment is complete, we plan to expand our business into house furnishing as well.
I don't live in Bhendi Bazaar, but I come here everyday to run a business my grandfather started 70 years ago.
We do have a Mithai shop in Mazgaon as well, but the outlet in Bhendi Bazaar is the most popular.
It's been two years since I've started looking after the business and I've realised that it's not fairing that well. In some years, Bhendi Bazaar is going to turn into a tourist spot in Mumbai with the redevelopment coming along.
It simply means that there will be more people coming to Bhendi Bazaar and businesses will flourish too. It's a very good project and is meant for the well-being of the people as well as businesses. I will always remember Bhendi Bazaar as a holy place.
I opened my utensil shop around 40 to 45 years ago in Bhendi Bazaar. In the beginning, there wasn't really anything over here.
Everything was very simple, one customer a day was more than enough. Later on, things started improving. We used to get gold and copper in a horse cart from outside and sell it over here to customers. Business was great then. It is not like how it used to be before.
We've spent too many years in Bhendi Bazaar to get out of this place. There is no other place as safe as Bhendi Bazaar and nowhere will I find the same lovely people. We're looking forward to many more better years once the Bhendi Bazaar redeveloped is complete
Our shop is here since the last 125 years. We have supplied Ice cream during 2nd World War as well. Business has been really good.
Our speciality is that we create handmade ice-cream and do not use any kind of machinery or artificial flavor. Machinery is everywhere, handmade ice cream is rare. It's like a heritage for us now. Definitely we would like to continue the heritage. People should know how the real ice cream taste like. I was born here and also grew up here only. There is a lot of difference between the old days and now, there has been a tremendous increase in population and it's become dirtier. Right now the living conditions are bad. People are living in 100sq feet homes, the shops are not organized.
Once the redevelopment is complete, we are hoping that the business will increase & improve. When the high street shopping will come it will be a very organized environment. And when the environment is organized, things also turn out nice and good.
I started working at Bhendi Bazaar at least 35 years ago at a salary of Rs 7 per month. Everything was convenient, everything still is.
Luckily, I have an amazing boss. We hear about this redevelopment project. Some say it's good, some say otherwise. If this happens, we will go elsewhere and work harder. And we will come back when the redevelopment is complete. There is no place like Bhendi Bazaar, and this 80-year old tandoori business will not work anywhere else in Mumbai city like it does here. I am still here, and will always be.
One of the oldest native markets of Mumbai, Bhendi Bazaar is a bustling hub for shoppers who visit the area from every part of the city for its uniqueness, and for its availability of end-to-end needs of the city-dwellers and tradespeople. The bazaar is also exquisitely popular for its ethnic food delicacies, model antiques, and other cultural items. Markets here have organically grown and are bifurcated serving different specialisations—ranging from foam, leather, clothing, and religious paraphernalia to hardware, antiques, services and the likes.
The iconic Raudat Tahera and Saifee Masjid in Bhendi Bazaar attract religious tourists from around the world to Mumbai. And yet, no major investments have been made in the neighbourhood and markets that are slowly stagnating. Capital is being driven out to other more competitive localities around South Bombay.