I unexpectedly experienced a tourist like moment in my own city, Mumbai. In fact, in my own backyard – the worli bazaar. A typical Indian market, the only reason I made quick, rushed visits to this bazaar was to pick up flowers. Beyond that, I had little reason to lounge around. After all, the bazaar had nothing to boast of. Say unlike the Bandra bazaar that I am familiar with which has much to offer – the lovely, crumbling, cottages in Bandra village maintaining a piece of portuguese susegad intact in the middle of the hustle bustle of Mumbai, the authentic smells and sights of konkan cooking, english speaking veggie vendors, the little stores selling everything from utensils, buttons and fabrics, candles lighting up little chapels (first triggering in me as a young kid the question of why did the Jews kill the king of Jews – INRI). And increasingly, chic cafes and bakeries which hope to elevate the bazaar to a new level of “quaint”! On the other hand, worli bazaar was just commonplace.
But my rather reluctant visit this time was an eye opener. As I walked around, picking up sparklers, rangoli stencils and floating diyas, a man called out to me. “Madam, mehndi for diwali?” said a young man with his portable mehndi shop – basically 2 small stools with pillows placed on the pavement and an album with photos showing multitude of mehndi stained hands. It was such an unexpected encounter – one that I would expect in the tourist filled streets of jaipur markets and forts or perhaps even arguably at chandni chowk or lajpat nagar. This unexpected gift seemed providential considering 2 days back I had been googling for a mehndi artist in my locality! I jumped at the opportunity, having already completed my shopping and also having the good fortune of carrying a shoulder bag which left my hands free to be henna-stained.
The 45 mins on the stool gave me a first row view of the market. What a lot of activity! The frenetic rush of women – myriad colours and fabrics passing by. The varied bursts of languages – marathi, hindi, gujarati, tamil and even Tulu! A toy shop filled to the brim with toys in every shape, colour and size. Baby animals in neon shades seemed to be a hot favourite – baby elephants , lions and ducks. Beyblades, racing cars, skipping ropes and even a rather emancipated girl on a bike with a sticker saying “pretty” as an anti – climax. And the toy that spoke to me the most – hindi alphabet blocks crazily teaching kids ” T” for ” Talwar” – a sword???
As is no surprise during the festival of lights, the street space was lit with lights on sale. Strings of fairy lights in red, pink, yellow, blue and green. A canopy of paper and cloth lamps covering the street. Shaped as flowers, drums and stars. Big kandeel lamps. Red lamps with golden stars . White lamps with golden flowers. Chinese lanterns looking like they would in any Chinese tea house. Then Chinese lamps converted to Hinduism – with stickers of ganesh and lakshmi and shubh labh. A little kid screaming “lotus, lotus, lotus” to convince his mom to buy the lotus shaped pink lamps. Two men camped on the pavement vigorously assembling more lamps from what looks like lamp kits sourced from China. Replenishing the inventory to accommodate sales already made. Observing a flower seller with his pile of marigolds and rajnigandhas and learning how to string a garland. Catholic nuns in their habits strolling about on diwali shopping and stopping to admire my mehndi. Taking in all these sights against the background of gunshots (from a diwali pistol being tested by kids) and the ringing of bells from a makeshift temple created under the holy peepal tree right in the center of the bazaar. At the end of this frenzy, I, of course, came out with 2 pretty palms covered with rajasthani designs. And the important lesson of the benefits of stopping to catch a breath and watch the world go by.