Because the Safest Place In the City Is A Thieves’ Market

January 2, 2012 8:09 am by

Photo: Sheena Dabholkar.

Walk into this bustling flea market during namaaz timings and you may well find yourself in a ghost town (comparatively speaking of course; there are still people milling about, just not in the thousands). When Chor Bazaar’s largely Muslim population of shopkeepers decamps to the nearby mosque for prayer time, they’re likely to leave you in their store. By yourself. Such is the level of trust at this “thieves’ market” that most find it unnecessary to lock up or leave behind a guard to watch over customers.

“My family has been here since 1892,” says Abu Khan, the 27-year-old, sixth generation proprietor of Habib and Sons, a tiny store crammed with Bollywood poster memorabilia. “When I go for prayer time, I leave the customers here, they just sit and wait. No one will rob anything.” It’s a sentiment echoed by his neighbouring storekeepers who hawk everything from porcelain keepsakes and old coins to shipping compasses and silver medallions. Altaf Mansuri, who has been operating Object of Desire for ten years, estimates that 60 to 70 per cent of the stores are left unlocked. “It’s very safe place,” he says. “Everyone knows everyone.”

If someone tries to steal something and re-sell it, word eventually gets back to Chor Bazaar the shopkeepers say, and the perpetrator is often brought to justice in the form of beatings. Even those who prefer to err on the side of caution like A. A. Menon, who put in glass doors at all three of his stores after he took over from his father 17 years ago, says it’s not really about safeguarding against theft. “It’s nothing like that; it’s to prevent dust, but nobody has stolen anything from me.” After some prodding, he concedes that occasionally ragpickers will filch something small. “But that happens rarely.”

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