Bombay Rewind: The clock's ticking
With an influx of Chinese-made watches, the-once ubiquitous watch repair shops are facing challenging times. The Guide made the rounds of what could be some of the last horological bastions
In his tiny cubicle on Dadar's LJ Road, Mohammad Zayauddin, 45, has everything he needs to repair clocks and watches, and tell a passer-by if there's still some life in the batteries of her remote. Zayauddin's first stint in watch repair was in Riyadh — days he looks back on with fondness. "In Saudi [Arabia], everything used to be up-to-date. We would be given the latest equipment and gloves, all inside an air-conditioned workspace. Here, the dust keeps coming in," he says, pointing to the busy road. But the pollution isn't his only concern. "There was a time when I would easily make over Rs 50,000. Today, the earnings have come down to Rs 15,000. The market is flooded with Chinese watches as well as Chinese-made machines in Indian companies. HMT shouldn't have shuttered. If such big watch companies close down, repair shops are bound to get impacted," he laments, adding, "I don't want my kids to get into this. I advise anyone wanting to get into the business of watches against it, too."
At Ruby Watch Repairs. Hari Niwas, LJ Road, Dadar West.
Where time stands still
A Jamil, 62, remembers the day he started Regal Times — December 19, 1978 — with pride. "Yeh kaam dimaag ka hai," he points out. "The more hands-on you are, the more adept you become. I learnt all this from my ustad," he says, recalling that the city even had a watch repair training department at the Kohinoor Technical institute in Dadar.
Located in a wooden booth of no more than two feet by two feet on the pavement outside Radio Watch Co., the shop with a spare parts box as old as itself seems like a moment frozen in time. But this isn't its only old-world charm. For, seated next to the booth is Jamil's 80-something patron-cum-companion Sharfuddin Khatib. "I am interested in repairing electronic items of all kinds. Before LEDs became popular, I even repaired my own TV," says the retired government official, taking us back to a time not so long ago when making things last was a truly valued virtue. Jamil sums it up when he says, "Even the clock industry of Morbi, Gujarat, has taken a hit. China maal is cheap and the new generation is all about use-and-throw. Gone are the days when people held on to their grandfather's watch as a priceless nishani."
At Regal Times, Bhindi Bazaar
A stitch in time
The bustling Sir Ibrahim Rahimtoola Road in Bhindi Bazaar is a study in everything that a timepiece could possibly require after it leaves the factory gates. But amidst the hole-in-the-wall repair shops and spare part supply stores, the Radio Watch Co., with its massive ship handle clocks and other pieces with a vintage appeal, stands out. "There was a time when we would deal into wrist watch parts. But with today's battery-operated watches, all you need to do is replace the machine. Old clocks ran on the winding mechanism. So, the wear and tear would call for brass spare parts, something we continue to deal into along with supplying repair tools," informs Siraj Akbar Ali Ghadiyali, his surname indicating the family's old ties with horology. But the only reason he still stocks the brass devices is because of a renewed interest in mechanical clocks, he explains. Which is why affordable replicas of antique clocks is what the shop is now known for. "This is our bid to keep up with the times," the 50-year-old shares.
A cuckoo clock machine
At Radio Watch Co., Sir Ibrahim Rahimtoola Road, Bhindi Bazaar.
Parel's horological panacea
Amidst all the talk of horology and its ancillary services dying out, Anand Shivaji Rane is a picture of hope. Known for his skilful fingers that can mend any clock, the 70-year-old has been in the profession for half a century. The reason he gives for his steady business, though, is bittersweet. "Mine is among the few repair shops that remain in the Lalbaug-Parel area. Besides, people are turning towards wearing winding watches again," he says.
Mahadeo Magdum, a regular customer and guard in the vicinity, overhears the conversation and comments, "Mobile ne sabko khaya — radio, calculator, alarm clock, aur ab ghadi." This, however, doesn't deter a contented Rane. "People want to earn a quick buck these days. But in this profession, money comes slowly. Sometimes, watches take four days to repair. But what I make here is all I need to get by comfortably."
At Paresh Watch Company, next to Peninsula Centre, Parel.
Six years ago, when Mohammad Feroz learnt the craft of watch repairing to start his business from a cubbyhole opposite Byculla's Gloria Church, he hadn't anticipated that he was stepping into a dying profession. "Repairing ka naam-o-nishaan khatam ho raha hai jab se China aaya hai," the 32-year-old rues, referring to the shift in preference for pocket-friendly Chinese-made watches. "It is only the expensive watches that people care to get repaired. I get no more than two to three customers a day, and sometimes, none," he adds. So, Feroz now stocks his shop with mobile accessories like earphones, and chargers. "How's your article going to help me?" he asks, as we leave. Perhaps turn back the clock, however momentarily.
At Madina Watch, Ahmed, Building, Byculla East.
The repair toolkit
The intricate task of repairing a wrist watch comes with intricate tools. "You need tweezers and screwdrivers of all sizes. Then there's the cutter to open the back of a watch and a glass-pressing machine. You need the eye glass to examine the fine machinery," Sajid Khan of Star Watch Co. in Bhindi Bazaar informs. The tools are largely manufactured in Punjab, Gujarat and Delhi.
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