It is not easy to imagine this in today’s Mumbai, but it wasn’t long ago that anything considered “foreign goods” was hard to come by in the city’s markets. An exception that continues today is Crawford Market, in South Mumbai, where residents and visitors alike can find Western items like Camay soap, Kraft cheese, Fa deodorant or a pack of Pampers diapers.
Its official name — Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Market — is noted on the arch marking the entrance to this sprawling space, but its better-known name derives from Arthur Crawford, who as the city’s first municipal commissioner established this market in 1869. Though it went through a survival crisis a few years ago, it survived unscathed, thanks to the efforts of conservationists.
Today, even as all kinds of consumer products are available freely in Mumbai (and indeed, all over India), Crawford Market continues to attract loyal customers who go there for the wholesale bargain prices and perhaps the sheer excitement of down-home shopping. Indeed, there is remarkably little method to the madness inside the market. Immediately next to shops selling exotic beauty products sit rows of pink and green cashews; the next stall is occupied by a coconut vendor who moonlights in mobile-phone recharge cards. The market marches to a rhythm that only regulars seem to be able to hear and identify, even against the din of the wholesale vegetable and fruit trading.
Published in my Globespotters column the Intransit blog of The New York Times as Mumbai market specializes in Western goods…