Mumbai- A Vibrant City with a Big Heart


Re -edited post, June 2020.

Chalo Mumbai, let’s go to Mumbai, is a phrase commonly uttered by rich and poor. This has always been a city of opportunity for the arriving settlers. Bombay, as the city was called by the arriving British in 1600’s, they got to task,built the port, beautiful Victorian and Edwardian buildings and Gymkhana Clubs. After the English, Dutch and Portuguese, were the Mughals who attacked the city. Trade, commerce of cotton, gold jewellery and spices made the city a big trading post and brought in more people.

To date, the city attracts many thousands of Indian rural migrants who arrive in search of a job. Determination, grit and competition, struggle sum up the vibrant life of this every evolving, ever pulsating city! The people welcome one and all, whatever calamities and challenges life brings…it swallows.

Mumbai: Iconic red BEST bus near Churchgate station.

The city is your’s as long as you live in it…but somehow both  artificial and real life exist side by side, I feel. Mumbai is to be experienced and understood. The book Shantaram and the regional linguist P.L. Deshpande’s article in Marathi, the local language have a wonderful take on the life and people of Mumbai. Mix some magic and some masala.

Mumbai is nostalgia, my childhood home, brimming with  memories of bus rides in the iconic red BEST buses, pouring monsoon rain and swelling seas of the Arabian sea. Talking of markets – memories of holding my mother’s saree pallav in the crowded markets of Girgaum, Crawford or Dadar markets as she busied buying raw mangoes during the season or vegetables and sprouts for our daily Marathi cuisine have etched their mark on me. Mumbai street food..see here. The city is home to Parsis, Marathi, Anglo Indians, Gujrati’s and even some South Indians.

Where do you fit in, dear reader?

‘Chaalo market’ I say to my ageing mother, on my recent visit to the city. I tucked and pulled her saree pallav jokingly, as she recounted a rainy day adventure of yester years – when I sat atop a push cart covering my head with flimsy, plastic sheet. That my dear reader is Mumbai rains, which is another story!

Here, at the Vile Parle (east) train station, the street market is right outside the station premises,a bustling place all year round. Almost every suburban station in Mumbai has its own market strategically located just outside the station. This makes it ultra convenient for daily commuters, on their way home after travelling long hours by train.

Bhajiwalah’ is a colloquial term for the vegetable vendors, who arrive as migrants from Bihar or Uttar Pradesh (states in North India). Or he is the rural, typical white dhoti clad bhajiwala with a white topi cap coming by train from outskirts of the city from Vasai, Virar or Ambergaon. He brings locally grown, produce from small farmers thus ensuring quality and freshness.

Make shift stalls were quickly covered with wet jute cloth to protect the vegetables from dust pollution and the temperate heat in Mumbai. Large umbrellas shaded fresh stock from sun or rain.

Makeshift stalls selling fresh vegetables

Makeshift stalls selling fresh vegetables

What about the intense competition between adjacent vendors?  Mounds of juicy tomatoes, mounds of green  cabbage, beans and cauliflower, long white gourds (lauki or dudhi) made for picture perfect photographs. About 40 bhajiwallahs were selling almost the same vegetables. ” Hum ek doosere ko madat kaarte hain, behenji, sabka pet hi to hai na?” said the bhaiiyaa calmly,  competition is in its place and help in its place, all have to feed the stomach!

Women customers tend to browse around, yet they loyally favour their regular Bhajiwallah, who squats at the same space allotted to him by the municipality each day and fill their reusable cloth bags, called pishvi.

Beware of two things here – mounds of vegetable trash and unwanted plastic bags ( however there has been a recent ban on plastic) make an unpleasant scene. Though the municipality trucks clean it all up at the end of the day .

Flower garlands for sale. Tied by a widow who has learned to make her living.

A widow sells flower garlands,an art she learnt from her late husband.

Secondly be aware of pick pocketing. Well, world over, densely populated cities, where the rich and poor divide is huge, pick pocketers are part of the crowd. Cash is essential to pay for high rents, bribes to policemen, medical expenses caused by pollution and heavy rain and maybe depression…as part of family is back home in the rural areas. There are rag pickers, school drop outs, and beggars too freely intermingling. Many a migrant vendor will complain about expenses back home – a dowry for his daughter, home repairs or building a new toilet and roof. Mumbai life – reminds me of an old Bollywood song by Raj Kapoor ”yeh hai Mumbai meri jaan’.

Head to the popular Maduram stores! A piece of Malayalee business acumen and store owner and salesmen are migrants who came from Kerala, in the South India. South Indian cotton bed sheets, chequered Madras towels, fancy handkerchiefs and coir mats for home and kitchen – get it all here.

My mother and I walked towards her regular, Marathi manoos (local man) the Vasai Vallah. Even as a young girl, I remember my mother patronizing the Marathi vendors community who came to suburban markets by train from Vasai, bringing wiht them farm fresh greens and local vegetables used in Marathi cuisine.

Brinjals sold here in at least 5 different varieties – slender purple brinjals, round green ones, stubby green ones and the big sized bringal /aubergine specially used for making baigan bharith laced with coconut cream milk, freshly made. Yummmm.

Palak, Methi, Cuka the green leafy vegetables looked farm fresh, and not like the other places where its sprinkled often with water, just to keep them fresh. And remember, hands dipping into buckets…are they washed? Come on, be brave, toughen up your immunity! This is a street market in a densely populated city of the world!

India being a tropical country, many varieties of both fruit and vegetable bananas are found in this market. Rajelis for making a coconut filled sweet treat, small yellow Velchi and Sonekali are aromatic and soft. Green raw bananas mostly used by South Indians for deep frying into chips or made into a dry vegetetable.  “Kanda Mala – kai bhav deta Bhau?’  my mother inquired the Vasai vallah in local Marathi. The small sweetish white salad onions, are sold neatly braided into a plait. The white bulbs look like festive bulbous balloons. The Kanda Mala is traditionally hung from the wooden kitchen ceiling, in typical wada or ancient homes.  Breaking away one onion at a time as an accompaniment to Jowar Bhakri, a traditional cereal Roti, it is the perfect way to savour the sweet zing of these salad Onions.

Photo courtesy:

Its’ payment time, murmurs the old Vasai Vallah. I tuck deep into my shopping bag, getting more intrigued in search. My face turns pale, my heart skips a beat. I show him how the underside of my bag has been neatly cut and ONLY my purse stolen! Skilled perfection!

My mother raised her eyebrows, gave a knowing nod. Slowly, a faint smile appears on the Vasai Vallah’s lips and his words leave me humbled. ‘Udaya yaa ani paise dhya, me roj ithech basato..…khup varshe jhalii’ he tells us. “Come back tomorrow surely and pay me, this is where I sit daily, come rain or shine.’ he said softly.

This is the simplicity and trust of these vendors! I nodded in agreement to pay, humbled at his trust and understanding of relationships between a known customer and a vendor.

Mumbai -a city of dreams and hopes and big hearted!

Shanti Bai - the lady vendor making and selling flower garlands - Smile please

Shanti Bai – showing off her flower garland, just for the photo.

 Have you visited any market in Mumbai? What impression did it leave on your mind?


All content and images copyright Veena S. (2013 -2020) Please see copyright disclaimer

3 responses »

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