The Olde Curiosity Shoppes

I had visited the London School of Economics, and after having fortified with some ale and a light lunch at the popular pub George IV, I was strolling along the Portsmouth street when I was rewarded by a quaint sight, The Olde Curiosity Shoppe and under its name was mentioned, ‘Immortalized by Charles Dickens’. It was an old cottage-like place right out of 17th century and I could not help venturing in to find myself surrounded by old nik-naks. This memory came flooding back the other day and I wondered if there were such places in Mumbai. Today there stands a trinity of old Parsi shops, each one over a hundred years old, with shop furniture just as old, if not older, each within a hundred meters of the other at Dhobi Talao, all selling sandalwood, Lobaan (frankincense), kushtis (Sacred Zoroastrian girdle), sadras, topis, etc. Each of these iconic shops has been the family business since over three generations:

N D Mulla Shop: The Noshirwan Dhunjishaw Mulla’s shop was established in 1893. All Zoroastrian ritual accessories and artifacts are sold here till today, and like the Olde Curiosity Shoppe, one can find old clocks including the ‘grandfather’s clocks’ being repaired and serviced here. Modern versions of the Grandfather clocks too are crafted here as also the chess boards. Today the shop is managed by Noshir Darabsha Mulla, the grandson of the original founder Seth Noshirwan Dhunjisha Mulla. Noshir is a scholarly gentleman, past professor of photography at St. Xavier College. Noshir speaks of his work with pride and modesty. His clientele does not comprise only Parsis, but all communities, in keeping with an infallible reputation for the genuineness and purity of his wares.

Faredoon & Burjor: A household name for over a century, this shop was started by two friends – Faredoon and Burjor – initially located right opposite where it stands today. Being an only bachelor, after Burjor’s demise, the shop went down to Faredoonji, and after him, his son and now his two cousin granddaughters. I had the pleasure of meeting with the very elegant and effable Soonoo Naterwalla Soonu Vaid. They sell Parsi/Irani Zoroastrian religious and traditional accessories. They’re well-known for the Faredoon Burjor Parsi Calender. Ms. Naterwalla says that her grandfather was the first to have the Parsi calendar printed. Their clove toothpowder used to be in great demand, but probably due to the rising prices of ingredients, it is not manufactured now. Their most famous product was the ‘Faki’, a herbal powder concoction, effective in controlling diarrhea and stomach upset. There is a story of a faux pas made by a sweet and helpful, elderly Parsi gentleman who was working for a British firm but had limited knowledge of the then King’s Language. One fine day the British MD’s wife, looking very pale and wan, walked in and greeted him in a feeble voice, “Top of the morning, Adilji.” Our hero, Adilji, all concerned quipped, “Arre Madam, you are not well or what?” “Oh Adilji,” said she, “I’m having an upset tummy since a few days – it’s the water here.” Adilji, helpful as ever, advised her, “Call for Faredoon Burjor’s faki, Madam,” and to her consternation, he continued, “then take some faki and ‘faak’ it.” (‘Faak’ in Gujarati means to gulp it down). Fortunately, the British lady knew of his linguistic prowess and maintained a stiff upper lip.

Rustomji Nusserwanji Kerawalla Provisions and Stores: Established in 1887, this is the oldest of the three shops and one of the very few old shops managed by the founder’s family for four generations down – from Rustomji to his son Kaikhhusru, to his son Behram, to son Keki. After the demise of Keki Kerawalla, the shop is being managed by his wife Tanaz. Just like the two shops mentioned earlier, they also started with selling Zoroastrian accessories BUT later they included shoes and sapats or typical Parsi home-footwear. (The word ‘sapat’ comes from the Portuguese word ‘sapata’). They also used to make free shoes for Polio afflicted people. They still sell sapats, parsi topis of various styles and a variety of food stuffs and provisions.

One can only imagine and wonder about all the changes these three institutions must have seen in the past 125 years they have been standing. Most of our ancestors must have crossed their threshold at some time. The hard working Parsis, the Sethias, Sir Knights and Baronets, the clergy of the community, all must have visited these iconic places, in their buggies, the victorias, the now vintage cars, the trams and taxis. Parsi ladies in garas with head scarves of white mulmul called mathabanus, right down to dresses and pants and jeans and shorts. Men in duglis, Jama, Pichori right down to the present day Chinos, jeans, T-shirts and sweat shirts!

The three shops are but a small examples of the entrepreneurship amongst us Parsis. Our surnames speak volumes- Parsis ventured into every field of human endeavour, and also pioneered some! This is the never-say-die spirit of our go-getter community, this is the glory of our enterprise!



Pics Courtesy: Soharab Jesia
Dara M Khodaiji
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