There’s a goat eating my necklace. Well, not my necklace exactly, but a fabulous antique necklace I was just about to buy. My hand is still outstretched, poised to pluck the glittering prize off the rusty nail it’s hanging from, as the hungry critter chomps right through it.
Ah well. If one is to survive a shopping spree at the chaotic, 150-year-old Chor Bazaar or “thieves’ market” in the thick of the Muslim enclave of South Mumbai, one is best taking a philosophical approach anyway. This necklace wasn’t meant to be.
As I continue making my way through the maze of crowded, narrow lanes lined with stalls and wooden carts heaving with antiques, curios and vintage bric-a-brac, I manage to quickly unearth many other things that are meant to be. Unearth being the operative word.
Withered vendors eyeball me as I swipe cobwebs off everything from old sewing machines, hand-painted metal signs, Aladdin-style lamps, musical instruments, clocks and old engine parts. It’s worlds away from the glitz and glamour of the boutiques I’ve spent the past couple of months perusing in Mumbai’s upmarket Colaba district and I love it.
“Very special. You like?” comes a voice from the ether as I wrench a mini metal perfume holder out of a tangle of chains, rings and other junk jewellery. Yes, I like, but not for the 1000 rupees (about $20) price on the tag. Luckily, I’ve spent enough time in Mumbai to know that the first rule of Indian market shopping dictates thou shalt never pay full price.
Thou shalt, rather, bargain relentlessly, eschew embarrassment completely, and aim to pay a maximum of half of the quoted price.
I succeed, sort of. I walk away 1000 rupees poorer, but richer for now being the proud owner of not one but two completely useless mini perfume holders.
My purchases only increase in ridiculousness. I rummage through bronze bells and statues of gods and goddesses in all shapes and sizes, realising they’re too heavy to lug home to Australia, and buying a couple anyway. At a stall selling a grand total of seven items of clothing, I pick up a lurid blue top with intricate gold embroidery for the equivalent of $7 that I know I’ll never wear. I shake thick layers of dust off Bollywood posters and vintage artworks of saints and deities, eventually deciding on the kitschest of the kitsch: a silver sequin-encrusted depiction of the famous Indian spiritual master Sai Baba for $2. I am lured into a tardis of a shop where I traipse through tiny room after tiny room heaving with wooden masks and statues, only to end up in a dimly lit back room being shown miniature paintings of some rather naughty, and rather hilarious, scenes from the Kama Sutra that I come scarily close to buying.
I don’t need any of my purchases, I think as I heave them into a battered black and yellow taxi. In fact, I’m not even sure I want some of them. But then I remember my philosophical approach and realise the Chor Bazaar experience isn’t about want or need. It’s about losing yourself in the experience. About feeling like you’re looting a very dirty, very crowded, pirate ship for a day. And about realising that that bejewelled poster of Sai Baba was most definitely meant to be.
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