Seven years ago, SwastAniMasta became CoolHunter for the Mumbai Mirror, a Mumbai based compact newspaper brought out by Times of India. Now it’s time to say good-bye.
But have you met the vendors? Predictably, I and the stallwallahs have become good friends over the years. They helped patiently while I asked for hangers upon hangers of clothes to be arranged for pictures. They wouldn’t let me publish things they didn’t have enough pieces of; or those that were damaged.
Some talked me out of buying things for myself out of impulse. Others keep aside things they know to be my style. Some of them them always had a joke for me.
Each one was only full of hope for this new development. None of them said bargaining irritated them. None of them complained about their jobs.
Since 1993, 85 per cent of my wardrobe has been from the streets. That’s where I found mul, thin cottons and silks that I adore. It’s where I found clothes slated for export markets, thus in sizes that covered my torso and without embellishments. The stalls always held surprises of sample, quirky pieces that nobody else would have. And they were cheap. They made me feel unique. They let me experiment. They made me generous because it doesn’t pinch to give away failed experiments to friends.
This project directed me towards cheap clothes, but also showed me their potential clearly, un-fogged by the glamour of a label or price tag. This top here — Do I like the fabric? Do I like the colour? Will it look good on me? How many ways can I wear it? Is it batshit crazy? Then I must have it.
Many of the men did not want to be photographed for religious reasons.
Stall no 66, Fashion Street
Ram Bachchan Saroj is from Azamgarh and has been at this stall for 17 to 18 years. He doesn’t exchange clothes before ‘boni’ so wait till 12.30-1 pm.
He specialises in sample pieces, sequinned dresses, gowns, chiffons at the weirdest prices. There have been beaded bags for Rs 50 and even beaded wedding dresses. I’ve bought a Red Valentino champagne sequinned dress from him for Rs 600; a corduroy peacoat in 2005 that I still wear and an embroidered kimono jacket in the same year, which I still don’t know how to wear.
Stall no 46 on Fashion Street has Dheeraj Singh, Ram Kumar, Kanhaiyalal Karotia and Virendra Singh.
Everyone is from Uttar Pradesh. They exchange clothes between 2 pm and 5 pm. Cottons have been scarce here in the past few years, but they are the only ones who keep bringing back Victoria Secret’s amazing Chaddi Shirt that won’t untuck.
Modern Stall at Colaba Causeway has Rashid Yusuf, who is a relentless flirt and in a mischievous, non-creepy way.
When I first met him, he said his name was Rahul Dravid and insisted I call him that. I have caught him guilt-tripping a collegian out of her dabba. He’ll try on head braces and necklaces for you and ask you to take a picture. Yusuf is from Kerala and says I shouldn’t write about him flirting because his father-in-law may find out. He also supplies to the stall opposite Citywalk Shoes, down the road. Modern is the stall for body harnesses, midi rings, statement necklaces and accessories all the cool girls (and Rashid) wear.
Fateh Bahadur Singh outside Just in Time wants me to say he apologises to any customer he has been rude to.
“No customer is rude to us,” he says. “In fact, we may have lost our temper sometimes and for that I would like to apologise. There is no loss in business even if a customer leaves without buying anything. I wish them love and peace.”
He’s from Banaras and has worked here since 1983. He loves everything and always wishes everyone a good day. He’s polite, chivalrous and fair. Dresses and jumpsuits are what you’ll find here and they tend to be cheaper than anywhere else on the Causeway. I admit I have forced him to inflate prices when I know other stalls are charging more for the same dress. Sorry guys, but he’s just so nice. Tell him I said Good Day if you see him.
Rashid sits opposite the Cusrow Baug Gate. He and his brother have been selling belts here for 15 years. Always polite, always fair, always smiling.
I miss them so much.