Harrods, the famous upmarket departmental store in London once boasted that they sell everything from “pin to elephant,” but the more humble Chandni Chowk Market at our own backyard can claim no less. In fact, only a century ago, it had been observed that shops in the Chandni Chowk bazaar sold everything “from a door nail to a silk dress.”
Today, this market with rows and rows of hardware stores stocks up a wide variety of products, ranging from door knobs, handles, nuts and bolts, screws, hinges, curtain holders to bathroom fittings and much more but at the cheapest rates. It may not be much to look at both from the exterior and inside but you would definitely find it swarming with buyers at any point of the day.
Doubling up both as a wholesale and a retail market, the hardware bazaar at Chandni Chowk is definitely one of the oldest among all the markets in the city. There are two lanes within the bazaar and shops are lined up on both sides. There are two massive wooden gates at the entrance and exit of the market- the main one being on Chandni Chowk Street. One can enter the market either from Lenin Sarani or Chandni Chowk Street adjacent to Chittaranjan Avenue.
This age-old market will not only provide you the products you seek in bulk but will also readily customise it for you. Often buyers who prefer to customise designs according to their own preference also flock to this market. For instance, if one of your door knobs breaks into pieces and you cannot find a spare one, head for Chandni Market because they will fashion out one for you. At least this was what S Ghosh, owner of S Ghosh and Yes Ghosh claimed. Asked why his shop was called “Yes Ghosh”, he replied that it was because he doesn’t want to turn down a customer. Does it remind you of that famous anecdote in which Ronald Reagan, the then Governor of California rang up Harrods to ask whether they sold elephants and pat came the reply, “would that be Indian or African, Sir?” The scale of operations may be different but customers are no less than gods for any successful establishment. No wonder they keep coming back.
In 1784 Gokul Chandra Mitra, a rich Bengali merchant won “Chandni Chowk” in the first lottery held by Lottery Committee which was involved in developing civic amenities. According to eminent historian of Kolkata – Radharaman Mitra, the descendants of Gokul Chandra’s great grandson, Biharilal Mitra held the largest share of the market. According to shop-owners, the history of this market dates back to the year 1842 when Aurobindo Mitra, bought this place from East India Company and gradually converted a stable into the market.
Indeed there was a stable in the neighbourhood of Dhurramtollah. HE Cotton spoke of Messrs Cook and Company’s livery stables being located nearby though by the time Cotton was writing his book in the early 20th Century, it had ceased to exist. One can only wonder whether it was the same one. One can still see the original stone slabs on the floor, reminiscent of the era when it was still a stable. HE Cotton sketched a detailed-picture of the market a century ago. “In this district, on the north side of Dhurramtolla this Bazaar called Chandney Chowk, a labyrinth of ill kept passages, lined with shops, in which may be found a wonderful collection of sundries, from a door nail to a silk dress, very similar shops and stalls may now be found, but under conditions infinitely more advantageous and comfortable in the Municipal Market in Lindsay Street of Chowringhee,” he wrote.
As there was not any market for carpentry tools, Chandni Market flourished. The first shop established in the market was N.G. Mitra & Co. followed by KC Das & Co. and Sinha Ghosh & Co. Other shops followed steadily and gradually the market grew in size.
“N.G. Mitra was the first shop established in the market in 1842. During that time, N.G. Mitra was the only shop in the market set up to serve the needs of carpentry tools. Our shop, at that time, catered to a large clientele but gradually more shops came up in the market,” claimed Sourav Mitra, current owner of the establishment.
“Initially, our shop was illuminated by gas lights. So were, two to three shops set up just after the establishment of our shop. The pipe lines of supplying gas lights are still visible in some of the old shops”, added Mr Mitra.
The rent is quite low as is the case with many old establishments. Earlier, someone would turn up each month to collect the rent but now a small office has been set up on the premises.
At present, there are around 160 shops in the market. On entering the market, you will find shops stocked with varieties of furniture fitting, specialised tools, signages, door hinges, curtain fittings and so on. The wide variety of products is mind-boggling. For instance, for curtain holders you can find simple, cheap ones, antique looking, ornamental or even sleek designs to match your modern apartment. Shops have attendants indulging in hardselling while customers also try to haggle as much as possible.
According to S Ghosh of S Ghosh & Co., “Every shop specialises in certain items. Like, N.G. Mitra specialises in furniture fittings offering wide varieties. Bikash Hardware Mart specialises in hardware items for door and curtain fittings. N Nandi & Co. stocks different types of screws and nuts and bolts, Mondal & Co. specialises in bathroom fittings and my shop specialises in antique knobs, handles, signage and others,” said Mr Ghosh.
Some shops at the fringe, sell steel sheets and other kitchen accessories. Azizul Rehman stocks kitchen accessories while Abdul Gafur & Sons is said to be the most reputed shop in the market in terms of any kind of hardware product you are in search of.
Set up on an area of 33 acres of land, the Chandni hardware bazaar housed under a single shed, stands out to be the biggest one in Kolkata in terms of its product range and quality.
Monohar Das Katra in Burrabazar, is a key competitor of this hardware market.
Being one of the busiest markets in the city, the place is always overflowing with customers, particularly carpenters and plumbers who source their materials from these stores. The main gate faces the Chandni Chowk Street.The second gate is at the end of the third lane, not visible from outside, guarded by shops in extended area. Apart from the two big entrances, the market has seven small exits too.
The original market was confined to only first and second lane. The third, fourth and fifth lanes were extended later. Although the adjoining lanes have around 30 to 35 shops selling mattresses, pillows, curtains, furnishings and so on – the hardware stores in the first two lanes comprise the original Chandni Chowk bazaar.
The market also has an office on the first floor -‘Chandni Bazar Byabsai Samiti’. Interestingly, all the sellers in the market are Bengalis, except Mr Vohra, owner of Harish Aluminum Industries, claimed Sourav Mitra.
The market, undoubtedly, sells a wide variety of products ranging from antique pieces to new, fresh and trendy products, all designed to give a stylish look to your house. Astonishingly, the products are all light on your pocket, even if you choose the most expensive ones.
The main customers of the market are usually wholesalers, retailers or even both. About 30 per cent are regular customers while the rest 70 per cent are floating ones.
The profit margin is kept at minimum, around 5 to 7 per cent due to stiff competition among all the stores in the market. Since all the shops are very old, they thrive on regular customers and word of mouth publicity and hence ensure lower profit margins on products.
KC Goenka, a regular customer of N.G. Mitra & Co., said, “I am a regular customer to this market and I always make it a point to visit N.G. Mitra the sole reason is their product quality, reliability and reasonable prices which suit my pocket.”
Payments are made through cash, while some shop owners allow credits to regular customers. No card payments, however, are accepted in the market.
Source of product
Products like holders, fitting and stainless steel products are sourced mainly from Mumbai, brass products are sourced from Jamnagar, screws and nut bolts come from Delhi, locks from Aligarh and dye cast materials from Surat. More than 40 per cent of materials are sourced from Rajkot and wooden products are brought from Uttar Pradesh and Aurangabad. Apart from sourcing products from outside India, the market also reaches out to Assam, parts of Bihar, Odisha, Mizoram and North East.
With a whole lot of customers, the market is a flourishing one. Although the market for end users from neighbouring Assam, Bihar, Odisha, and other parts of North East have reduced nowadays, the shopkeepers have no complaints, indicating steady growth of their business.
So, as long as real estate continues to boom, Chandni Chowk would be the ultimate destination for those decorating new apartments or refurbishing homes or work places thus ensuring the best bargain in return.