There are only a few places in Mumbai which I am willing to visit any time of the day or night, any time of the year. The second hand, old furniture market at Oshiwara is one of them. Actually, the Oshiwara market is not just a furniture market. It’s a veritable treasure trove of brass lamps, statues, clocks, ceramic door knobs, candelabras, remains of a once-elaborate silver service, delicate English crockery, pretty little tea pots, mother-of-pearl-inlaid tables…the list is endless – all sourced from the vanishing lifestyles of people who once presided over spacious, genteel homes. And all now kept in the narrow and dusty confines of shops, in a higgledy-piggledy, enthralling mess!
My heart swells, my soul exults, when I am in its musty, dusty environs. I can spend an entire day breathing in this air, going from shop to shop, never knowing when I might just happen upon a little treasure.
This is one topic on which Sachin and I have agreed to disagree. He comes from a land of modern, contemporary designs, which has no use for space consuming and heavy Burma teak cupboards or chaise lounges. Clutter-free is his catch phrase. I come from a land of wooden staircases, teak and rosewood furniture, planter’s chairs, brass artefacts, a cluttered place where old world charm rules supreme. My head inhabits a space where the smell of old Burma teak blends riotously and happily with the slightly sour smell of that ancient brass Nataraja statue. Where the Parsi wardrobes, with their painted doors and history of use by many generations, makes me wonder who last beheld it, used it, and then eventually (and tearfully?), sold it.
Over the years, and despite Sachin’s protests, I have acquired for our home, a few pieces from Oshiwara and Chor Bazaar, the other favourite place of mine. The speciality of Chor Bazaar is that it is in town, and blends the old with the contemporary. Here’s where you must head to if you need apart from old furniture and brass, Hindi cinema posters (if you are lucky, maybe even an original poster) of yore, wrought iron garden benches…English friends of ours once picked up a brass car horn for their vintage car, and were so thrilled!
I find the Oshiwara vendors, gentle and accommodating. They just don’t do hard sell. Theirs is a row of narrow shops on the main road and they themselves sit on chairs right outside their shops. You wonder how on earth you are supposed to review heavy wardrobes inside, when you can barely squeeze in sideways. But you somehow manage to not just squeeze in, but review elaborate wardrobes, negotiate the price, and arrange transport! But if you leave without a commitment to buy, the vendor gives a shrug, and goes back to his chair, with no rancour, and no reproachful looks directed at you. Utter fatalism, seems their creed.
I wonder what keeps pulling me back to Oshiwara. It’s primarily a no-fuss place. You look, you wander around, you buy or not, it just doesn’t matter. Even just window shopping here gives one a great sense of satisfaction. And a whiff of a world that once existed, but is now on the decline…A world when women pulled out gorgeous saris out of their deep wardrobes, reclined on chaise lounges while preparing their paan taken out of a brass box with claw legs, and cracked betel nuts on the nutcracker. My ancestral home in Kerala had many such treasures, now lost to me. Maybe, I am searching for a surrogate here. Whatever my reasons, I pray fervently, these shops never shut, don’t get swallowed up by a life and a world, that’s passing by so rapidly.
My only word of advice if you intend to go shopping here – don’t bargain beyond reason. These shops must almost be given the heritage tag, such purveyors are they of long-lost and fast-disappearing treasures. Help them to survive. In a way, you are only helping yourself to survive too.