THANKS TO its proximity to tourist attractions such as the Gateway of India, well-known eateries including Cafe Mondegar and Leopold Cafe coupled with its reputation as a haven for bargain hunters, the Colaba Causeway market has often found itself in lists of must-visit tourist places in Mumbai. The south Mumbai market that sells everything from a souvenir to a hookah is well known for trinkets and clothing. However, shopkeepers along the stretch, many conversant in multiple languages to cater to a clientele from across the world, say that footfalls of foreign tourists have reduced over the past decade, since the 26/11 terror attacks in 2008 when the Leopold Cafe was a target.
Colaba Causeway market starts after Regal theatre, and is usually teeming with foreign nationals looking to take back souvenirs or college students looking to get a good deal on earrings or harem pants. While local residents still outnumber foreign nationals, the opportunity to make a larger profit has seen shopkeepers learn bits of Arabic and other languages to welcome shoppers from foreign countries.
“Among foreign nationals, a major chunk who come to the market understand Arabic. Hence, most along the stretch have learnt a smattering of Arabic words that helps them interact with foreign nationals,” says Rauf Shaikh, the owner of a shop selling earrings. Shaikh adds: “If I see someone who appears to be from a country that speaks Arabic, I call out ‘Taal Raafi’ that roughly translates to please come here. When it comes to Europeans, we speak in English in an accent that is similar to theirs.”
Shafi Shaikh from the adjacent shop adds: “Normally there are specific months when tourists from particular countries tend to visit. When it is monsoon here, we get a lot of people from Arabic countries as they have holidays then. Europeans tend to visit in December.”
While the market may be well known for particular things, walking down the stretch leads to a view of everything from clothes, key chains, glares, jewellery, shoes, miniature hookahs and smoking pipes to people offering to sew exquisite designs on a piece of cloth, others offering to write visitors’ names on a grain of rice. “Since Leopold Cafe and nearby areas were targeted during the terror attacks, several foreign nationals are skeptical of coming here. The numbers have gone down ever since the attacks,” said Rajesh Kumar, who has a shop selling purses along the stretch.
Another thing that the market has acquired a reputation for is the tradition of bargaining. As one walks along the stretch, arguments about what is an adequate price for a particular product abound. While many tourist guide books specifically advise tourists to not pay the price initially suggested by shopkeepers, one store owner says: “While earlier we had a good profit margin when it came to foreign nationals, now even they do not purchase anything without bargaining.”