A giant wooden table where he used to keep all his belongings, always arranged meticulously; lots of tiny bottles of globules and potions, a white china clay jar with milky white powder inside, a stethoscope, prescription pad, golden fountain pen and a silver watch. A shiny silver pocket watch with roman numbers and a long chain hanging from it. This was my grandfather’s table, to which I always had immense attraction and curiosity as a child.
His death was a loss that I never saw coming. And I didn’t get to keep all his belongings. But I got the pocket watch, to keep his memory ticking with me.
It’s a hand winding watch, which after all these years, hardly looks silver anymore. But it was still ticking and showing time, until last month. I realised something clicked inside, perhaps broke, while I was trying to wind and fix it. I was hurt.
I took it to our local wristwatch shop, but he gave me a disappointed look and asked me to try my luck at Radha Bazaar Lane.
“Radha Bazaar where”, I asked, while considering if travelling to some streets in Delhi probably, just to repair a watch sounded practical or not. I had no idea, Radha Bazaar is in Kolkata itself! Right behind Lalbazaar Police headquarters, a moderately narrow lane took me to Radha Bazaar, last Saturday.
As soon as I stepped out of my car, the very place intrigued me, its old world charm mixed with the modern era fascinated me, like a world frozen in time, still telling the time tale! I wanted to explore more.
Radha Bazaar lane watched the time since pre-independence days. During World War II, India had open government licence policy (OGL) for importing watches. The shops here have sold premium international brands like Tissot, Omega, Faberleuba, and many others at that time. An Omega wrist watch at that time could be bought at a price starting from `265 and Tissot used to cost `150. The military personnel were the main buyers, as the prices then were simply beyond the reach of middle class Bengali men. Import of foreign watches was banned after independence. However, shipping still continued and 1960 saw foreign watches openly on sale in this street.
It was not the custom policy but the lull in the world market of Swiss watches between 1965 and 1985 that compelled many shops to close down here. The ones’ that survived got a fresh lease of life with the coming of Japanese brands like Seiko, Jordano, etc, in 1970. Later in 1985-1988 Titan came in and swept the market here, in India and thereby Radha Bazaar. The big old shops still standing with élan vouch for Titan watches that had kept them going. However, in 1990, the Swiss made watches made a comeback and since then, there has been no looking back!
S.H. Mumtazzudin Times (P) Ltd, the corner shop right at the entrance, with its 3 storeyed glamorous building, marks the entry to this lane. It had been standing tall since 1922, and after Firozuddin took over the business from his grandfather and father, it grew taller. They currently have three showrooms here in Radha Bazaar itself and a few more in other parts of Kolkata.
“I have sold original Swiss watches at `50 or `60 only, those your generation dreams to possess now”, says Mr. Firozuddin. Perhaps because of his close association with China for business purpose, Firozuddin is a man of fine taste and elegance when it comes to tea. Originally a Delhi born, he came to Kolkata when he was a month old with his family. He joined his grandfather’s business in 1966, at the age of 16. His well decorated cabin showcases several awards among which a very old certificate with oldest logo of Tissot at the down left corner of the golden frame particularly captivated us.
Radha Bazaar is known as the hub for quality watches to wholesalers and retailers even today. You are sure to get at least a 10% discount on the original branded watches, even if you are buying only one from any of the showrooms here. The Prime, a luxury watch boutique has its showroom in this lane. Anyone who is finicky about wall clocks or table clocks to match their room décor, are sure to get spoiled for choices at International Watch House at 18 Radha Bazaar Lane.
Besides, if you go deep into the lanes, you will discover the amazing mine of spare parts. Case, dial, belts, key stem, coil, wheels, watch oils, electric circuit board, clock movement machine – so many names, such minute particles, all are sold here. Such is the extent and variety of these spare parts that distributors specialises in each product. Swastik Material Traders, also the authorised distributors of Casio, Timex and Maxima watches, specialises in watch case and dial. Everest Trading Company deals with watch belts alone. The whole array of belts that any wrist watches’ dial can be fitted to, is stuffed in this shop.
Source of Products
Rajkot, Delhi, Mumbai, are the places that manufacture all spare parts needed for watches and clocks and these shops stock them all.
“The service centre of the brand couldn’t repair the damage. But Uttam-da has repaired it”, a happy customer told us, taking out a golden wrist watch from his pocket. We figured out Uttam-da is a real Mahanayak of this industry. In his dingy shop, at 142/1 Radha Bazaar Lane, with two skillful assistants and two 100 watt bulbs hanging from top, he has earned his expertise, working along with his father as a kid, since 1966. A wooden platform that functions as the work top bears the time-tale on its wavy eroded curves. Be it some internal injury or a broken metal belt that needs moulding, Uttam-da’s fine craftsmanship comes into action.
However, when we met Roy-da, at his repairing shop, his fading voice tells a different time tale. His forefathers’ business is still being taken care of by Roy-da. “But I never want my son to get into this. Look at the cheap China watches all over this place. Why would people need to repair old hand winding wrist watch anymore”, he sighed. However, a section of people who wants to stay true to their heritage or heirloom or people who are emotionally attached to their old watches and there are many for that matter, with expertise like Roy or Uttam who will always be valued in Radha Bazaar. Otherwise, Roy Watch Co. can always give their business a new life by stocking some fancy watches that their neighbourhood shop owners have already done.
It would be untrue to say that we had not noticed those star studded colourful ‘China watches’ so long, as it seems how they are called, all around us. These were everywhere, screaming for attention. But it’s only now that we went close to a shop selling these products and enquired. The starting price is 60 bucks. Sporty unisex watches of various themes are available at 100 bucks only. And the ones that you would love to flaunt in any party or wedding will only cost you 200 to 150 bucks. Infact, bargain well, and the whole shop could be yours!
I was yet to fix my grandfather’s watch, which I had left with Roy-da. To my utmost delight, I found it was ticking and showing exact time! Roy da has taken good care of it in this short while! Another customer was wearing a similar smile while walking out of this shop. I followed him out through the narrow lane, and spoke to him. He was Apurba Narayan Goswami, aka Appu, a passionate antique watch collector. He comes here regularly for his curio collection. We were awe struck when he took out two very old pocket watches, from his pocket, and declared each one has cost him `200 only. I asked in haste, “But who sold you such antique pieces here in Radha Bazaar?” He gave a sly smile and pointed towards a biker wearing a helmet, speeding out of Radha Bazaar – the seller!
FiroZuddin: “One of the biggest watch markets in the world, not to mention Asia, that’s what Radha Bazaar was, once!”
Products to Look For
Wall Clocks `47 onwards
Sporty Wrist Watch for Gents `60 onwards
Party Wrist Watch for Ladies `130 onwards
Table Clock /Time Piece `70 onwards
Big Round Wall Clock `200 onwards
Pocket Watches `250 onwards
Grandfather Wall Clocks `6700 onwards
Radha Bazaar Lane
North: India Exchange Place
East: Rabindra Sarani
South: Lalbazar Street
West: Brabourne Road
Market Open 10:30 am to 8 pm
Weekly off Sunday