The guided walk around Bhendi Bazaar by Breakfree Journeys starts late Saturday evening at Taj Ice Cream. We settle ourselves in the tiny shop, eating velvety ice cream made with real fruit. Taj Ice Cream is unique—it is hand-churned in a sancha, a large wooden tub with metal interiors. Taj has been around for more than a century—there is history in every bite!
Suitably fortified, we set off. A cradle of Bohri culture, Bhendi Bazaar is a palimpsest of Mumbai’s history. Created by the British in the 1800s as a ‘native town’, it is believed that the area got its name from its plantations of tulips (locally called bhendi or bhundi).
Mumbai’s only classical music gharana, the Bhendi Bazaar gharana (as the name suggests) originated here. Founded in the 19th century by brothers, Chhajju Khan, Nazir Khan and Khadim Hussain Khan, this gharana quickly became very popular. Shubha Mudgal, Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhonsle are some of its well-known exponents. Taykhoom Biviji, our lanky Bohri guide, then spins off a reel of names of Bollywood stalwarts—Kaifi Azmi, Saadat Hasan Manto, Sahir Ludhianvi, and Janisar Akhtar—who were Bohri Mohalla dwellers at some point in their lives. Romit Mehta, a Byculla resident, who enjoyed the walk, says, “Very few people organise walks in this area. You usually have walks in and around Colaba and Fort. Also, I always zoomed over the flyover and was not aware of the rich history of the place.”
We move towards the famous Raudat Tahera mausoleum. Biviji waves his arm towards this Makrana marble Fatemi shrine and says, “It was built as a mausoleum for the 51st Syedna. The entire Quran is engraved on its inner walls. It is reportedly the only monument in the world to have a complete religious book engraved within its sanctum.”
We walk to Null Bazaar and Mutton Street, half expecting rows of butchers perched behind their meaty ware. Instead, we trudge past a line of bric-a-brac shops, a jumble of knickknacks spilling out in to the street—chair casters, locks, bells, kettles, industrial machinery and more.
Next is Chor Bazaar. In the bustling warren of its lanes, we find the debris of discarded history—old movie posters, vintage telephones, gramophones, etc. Biviji regales us with stories about the origin of its name. The apocryphal tale is that Queen Victoria’s missing violin was found here (though the queen never visited Mumbai!) and thus the name. Much more likely is the tale that the noisy market was earlier known as Shor Bazaar, a name which the colonisers mispronounced.
The heat and dust of the walk have taken their toll on us and we fill our grumbling stomachs with squares of baida roti from Indian Hotel. We smell Haji Tikka Corner before we reach it. We are handed a plate of soft, succulent pieces of meat called khiri. At the 75 year-old-Fakhri Sweets, we wolf down salam pak—a mithai invented by the shop owner. As I bite into the flaky malai khaja, it strikes me that it could be an apt metaphor for Bohri Mohalla itself—layered, messy and sweet.
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