India’s Local Color

Mumbai’s Crawford Market is a feast for the senses and the camera lens

By: Rachel Reid Holbrook

This is the first Image
A boy watches over his family’s banana stall
while his father takes a midday nap.
India is one of the world’s oldest living civilizations, and one could spend years in India and never uncover all of its secrets. But for the curious visitor who seeks to understand what it feels like to live in India, there is Crawford Market.

Located in south Mumbai near the Victoria Terminus Railway Station, Crawford Market is a fruit, vegetable and poultry market for the residents of Mumbai. But to a visiting tourist, it’s an overwhelming feast for the eyes (and nose and ears).

Officially “Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Market,” this historic property is more commonly referred to as Crawford Market, named after Arthur Crawford, Bombay’s first municipal commissioner. The building, completed in 1869, reflects the bygone era of Victorian Bombay and is just one of many stamps left on the city by the British Raj.

Though it has degenerated significantly, one can still appreciate the ornamental features of its Gothic and Flemish architecture.

Visitors enter the building beneath a frieze depicting Indian farmers that was designed by John Lockwood Kipling, son of India-born novelist Rudyard Kipling. He was also the architect of several intricately sculpted fountains inside, though none of them are still operating.

The building was the first in India to be lit by electricity. Judging by the tangled masses of dusty electrical wires in the ceilings, it appears as though the original wiring is still in use today.

Crawford Market is perhaps the best spot to observe daily life in India’s largest and most densely populated city. Look one way and you’ll see a barber trimming a beard, look another and you’ll see a butcher plucking a chicken. It is teeming with activity basic to human life, only it’s all happening in one place.

The merchants who sell their wares at Crawford Market are the ultimate multi-taskers. While they are open for business, they may also get a haircut, weave a basket, catch up with a friend over chai tea or just take a nap.

In particular, a stroll through this indoor/outdoor market is a photographer’s dream; the mountains of colorful fruits and vegetables are a backdrop to the frenzied activity of buying, selling and trading. Though crumbling, the architecture still manages to retain some of its Victorian glory and sets an evocative stage.

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A barber trims a moustache for a client
Visitors should be made aware of a few pointers before heading to the market. Though the market is south Mumbai’s largest, it is for the most part limited to fruits, vegetables and produce. There are several shopping destinations in the area for Indian merchandise such as silk, jewelry and pottery, but Crawford Market is not one of them.

Upon entering, visitors will be approached by porters who will offer to carry bags or give a personalized tour. Tour guides are not necessary, but if one chooses to accept, he should be prepared to pay.

In a separate structure, but still within the market, a slaughterhouse is where chickens and fowl meet their end and restaurateurs purchase their night’s poultry. Though not for the squeamish (or an animal-rights activist), it is an example of a transaction that has been occurring in this market, mostly unchanged, for almost 150 years.

There are some complaints that Crawford Market has fallen into disrepair. That it is dirty, crumbling and not well-maintained. A proposal to give the market a face lift has been bouncing around the municipality and resident groups for years, but the reservations felt by all parties are the same reasons why Crawford Market is a must-see destination: It is a heritage site. It is one of the most endearing structures from a departed era and a vital center of commerce for much of Mumbai.

India is a country defined by its history, culture and people; at Crawford Market, all three combine for the truest Indian experience.

THE DETAILS

Crawford Market can be reached via rail or taxi within Mumbai. Taxis should be directed to the Victoria Terminus Station, which is also the exit for the train. The market is open daily from 10 a.m.-8:30 p.m. and two to three hours is ample time to meander through the aisles.

CONTACT

India Ministry of Tourism
www.incredibleindia.org

Mumbai City Info
www.mumbai.org.uk

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