Bhendi Bazaar is situated between Mohammed Ali road and Khetwadi in South Mumbai. It is home to several micro-economies that cater to the needs of the communities living in the area.
Interestingly, one of the etymological theories of the name ‘Bhendi Bazaar’ comes from the British era. According to Murtaza Sadriwala, Media Coordinator of the Saifee Burhani Upliftment Trust (SBUT), when the British lived on the Southern side of Crawford Market, the Northern side was referred to as ‘Behind the Bazaar’, which over time was colloquially pronounced as Bhendi Bazaar. This was phonetically similar to the Hindi word for Okra (Bhindi). Contrary to popular belief, Bhendi Bazaar is not a vegetable market, and was developed as a ‘chawl’, in a dormitory fashion.
The chawls were designed to house single men who had moved to the city to earn a livelihood in Mumbai’s booming economy, in the 1920’s. Slowly, entire families moved into the chawls. This ‘forced closeness’ resulted in a distinct community culture.
The shops here primarily serve Muslim residents, who make for a majority of the Bhendi Bazaar population. While the Dawoodi Bohras and Sunni muslims reside in a mutually exclusive manner, with separate residential complexes and separate shops, an interesting mix of culture and urbanisation is evident. The locality has historically been a foam, timber, wood and textile market, but now also hosts sweet shops, kebab shops and clothing shops that sell ‘Ridas’ for women, and ‘topis’ and ‘Saya Kurtas’ for men. Some have recently redeveloped, or are in transit to get permanent possession of their own shops.
Some of the most popular shops here are Shabbir’s Tawakkal Sweets, Taj Ice-cream, and Firoz Farsan, amongst other smaller book vendors, religious ornament vendors, etc. All of them contribute to the Bazaar’s economy in different ways, some cater to exclusive communities and, for some, the market is a bustling area with more customers and, hence, a larger footfall.
Mumbai’s health officials are working on a war footing to ensure containment of the virus by creating containment zones and sanitising entire localities besides extensive screening. But they face a humongous task.