Fishmongers, spice sellers and the Raja

From the list of walks to preview from Alliance Francaise’s series of Heritage Walks across Mumbai, my choice was one that snaked though the corridors of the Lalbaug Industrial Estate. I had referred to my tour guide for the walk by a slew of names that ranged from the Stark-ian Sansa to the bizarre Shahenshah.

It was only when I pulled the oldest trick in a journalist’s book — “Could you please tell me how to spell that?” — was when I realised her name was actually Sancia Sequeira. Sequeira is a Government of India tour guide, middle-aged, extremely genial and very popular amongst the locals. Her ability to make any part of the sprawling market seem like the backyard of her own house was uncanny. “It is not me,” she says, “These people are genuinely warm. Where else will you find a dargah located right next to a Hindu wedding hall?”

The spot she is referring to is at the crowded entrance of the estate, known as Chivda Gully, which used to be the hub of tamasha, an indigenous form of Marathi theatre several years ago. The eponymously named lane is replete with stores attached to kitchens manufacturing an assorted variety of pressed rice.

We pass by a host of general stores that Sequeira tells me, switch to aggressively selling a mixed bag of temple ware and incense sticks during the festive season. The Ganesha Gully, which leads to a shuttered area, shuttered by asbestos is the hub of spices, selling freshly ground flavourings. There are shops specialising in strainers, sweets, knives, dried fish and manure, operating in the vicinity for at least 30 years or more. She then walks us through to the fish and meat market thronged by a variety of customers.

Sequeira points out a glaring of well-fed cats assembled at the feet of the fishmongers and a murder of crows eyeing the spoils from above.  “So what are the asbestos covered sheets all about?” I ask her, who looks at me incredulously along with the other shopkeepers that assemble out of nowhere. “That,” I am told, in a mixture of Marathi, Hindi and English, by atleast seven different people, “Is where they (we) have kept the massive Ganesha idol, the one that is synonymous with the locality — Lalbaugcha Raja.”

This legendary idol’s genesis is actually intrinsically tied to the origin of the market itself. “In 1932,” Sequeira says, “The market at Peru Chawl was shut down. The fishermen and vendors, who now had to operate out in the open, prayed and held a pledge or nawas for a permanent market where they could sell their wares. The monumental Ganesha statues that have been created ever since are in reverence to their beloved Ganapati for having fulfilled
their wishes.”

Writer Sanjiv Nair with Sancia Sequeira, who took him on a heritage tour of Lalbaug. They walked through the spice and fish market. Pics/Pradeep Dhivar

Walking through the streets with cars and pedestrians whizzing by, the sense of collective chaos was not lost on me. However, the overriding sense of community, which has persevered over nearly a century in this place, was obvious. “The money collected during the Ganpati festival is reinvested for the community. The money has also been utilised in creating computer training centres, nurseries and libraries among other establishments to improve the plight of the poor and the marginalised. Lalbaugcha Maharaja Hospital (which is established within the estate) provides dialysis to the poor at merely Rs 100.”

Heritage days
Alliance Francaise de Bombay is celebrating the annual European event which celebrates European Heritage Days. They’re hosting activities to foster a sense of pride and understanding among Mumbaiites for the heritage of their city.

Grant Road
Sept 9, 10 am – 1 pm

Chor Bazaar and Bhindi Bazaar
Sept 10, 10 am – 12 pm

Hermès Store, Horniman Circle
Sept 10, 4.30 - 5.30 pm

Liberty Cinema
Sept 11, 4 pm

Café Zoé, Lower Parel
Sept 18, 6 pm
Call: 22035993

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