May 26, 2019

The time-keeper at Chor Bazaar

He sits outside his shop in the narrow lane of Mumbai's infamous chor bazaar. His is one of the many in line of the bric-a-brac stores in the area. Abdul Ghadiwala, he calls himself, a plump bespectacled man smiling broadly at the camera hanging in my neck with all except his front two teeth. I doubt that is his real name. Abdul sounds Muslim, and Ghadiwala sounds Parsi, but I do not debate. I simply assume it is part of the advertising gimmick he uses to sell his wares, a wide range of clocks and watches from the vintage to the new. There is a grandfather clock in one corner of the store, looking ancient yet in full working condition, an old Smith's clock, and a variety of other time pieces.

Abdul, however, unlike the other shop owners at Chor Bazaar, is more interested in regaling his life story than displaying his ware. I think he has presumed (from my cloth jhola and camera) that I work for some paper or am a reporter of some sort and that this might be his first lucky break to being famous.
He tells me his family has been running the shop since over three generations now.

"My grand father named it The time machine," he says, pointing to the signage hanging on a nail outside the store. "He used to say time is precious, and we have to treasure every second of it."

I smile, taking in the truth of the statement.
"Why time machine?" I ask, half expecting him not to know what it actually means. He surprises me.

"This shop is filled with memories from my past, but the people who come here show me glimpses of the future. Most of these antique watches too are testimony of somebody's past, but they are fated to travel into somebody's future. They are with me only for the time being, the present." he says, his disposition calm and almost Buddha like.
"I come here in the morning and say Namaaz, with the tick tick of the watches in the background. It has now become synonymous with my heartbeat.”

Then after a deep sigh, he continues.
"So with every customer buying a watch from my store, I feel my heart travels too. That way I don't just travel across generations but also visit places all over the globe..."

I laugh at the innocence and depth of his explanation. The man is a philosopher.
He takes offence and turns away, trying to hide his irritation by pretending to be busy. I immediately realize my mistake and attempt to correct the damage. I ask him if he has any hour glasses to show me. His face lights up at the mention of hour glass.

"Yes, yes," he says. "Nobody asks for them anymore."
He fishes out one from a dusty old box of curios that have been relegated to one corner of the store.

"Here," he remarks, placing the hourglass in my hand, "As good as new."

And just like that, he is back to regaling me with his stories. He shows me a gold embossed pocket watch that had travelled across two generations only to return back to his store. I tell him that would make up a grizzly horror story, he frowns. "Do I look like some evil 'hocus pocus' man to you?" I like the way he says 'hocus pocus' and he tells me that it was the name of the magic show he had gone to watch with his teenage son.

"That hocus pocus man stole my watch. He asked me for magic trick, and gave different one back," he complains, half impressed with the magic trick he had witnessed.

It is getting late and I have to head back. Mr Ghadiwala is disappointed to have to end the conversation abruptly. But I promise him I will visit again, next time with an actual reporter friend who'd be willing to do a piece on him. I buy the hourglass as a souvenir of our fascinating rendezvous and make my way from 'The time machine', the conversation etched in my mind.

Abdul Ghadiwala might not be the best salesperson in Chor Bazaar, but he sure as hell makes an excellent story teller!

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