x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Meena Bazaar brings Delhi to Dubai

Community Roots: The commercial centre of Meena Bazaar in Bur Dubai seems to belong to another world, one at the birth of commerce in the emirate. Its bustling population of south Asians has created a piece of India.

Parshotam A M, the manager of Regal textile, at the shop in Meena Bazaar.
Parshotam A M, the manager of Regal textile, at the shop in Meena Bazaar.

DUBAI // Officially there is no such place as Meena Bazaar, but try telling that to the hundreds of traders and countless shoppers who gather there daily.

Merchants at the bazaar, one of Dubai's oldest trading and residential centres, have turned the area into a slice of south Asia - more particularly, the market after which it is named in Delhi's Red Fort.

Nestled in the heart of Bur Dubai, opposite Bastakiya, these shops have something for everyone, be it flowing garments, glittering gold jewellery or cheap but tasty food.

Ask people where Meena Bazaar is and most are likely to point vaguely in the direction of Al Fahidi and Al Musalla streets.

Ram Buxani, who has been in the country for more than 52 years and started an electronics and textile business in the area, says the well-dressed mannequins of the textile stores on Al Fahidi Street closely resemble Delhi's Meena Bazaar.

"Women were not allowed to go out and shop, so the shops were set up inside the fort for the royal wives," says Mr Buxani, who is now the president of ITL-Cosmos. "The textile shops [in Dubai] had mannequins wearing beautiful dresses and the street looked like Meena Bazaar."

He says an Indian garment shop set up in Bur Dubai in the 1970s changed its name from Shardha Trading to Meena Bazaar, and the title caught on from there.

The shop became a landmark for residents and shoppers before it was demolished several years ago.

Parshotam AM, the manager of the garment store Regal, which now has 14 branches in the emirate, is one of those who can remember the original Meena Bazaar store - "the first on the corner".

"There were a few villas around here and there used to be a few clothing stores. But it was mostly empty land," Mr Parshotam says.

He says Meena Bazaar's first jewellery shop opened in 1982 after which several gold stores - previously in Deira's Gold Souq - moved to the area for cheaper rents and to be close to the Creek, where trading in the emirate began.

Another shop established more than three decades ago is the Iranian family business Bin Baker Khoori supermarket.

"My father initially started a tandoor here in 1968 to make khaboos [flatbread]," says Abdul Latif, the grocery manager. "In 1971, he shut that and started a small grocery.

"The area was an Indian market completely," adds Mr Latif, who has mastered Hindi.

Over the years several residential buildings have sprung up, although five decades ago only a few villas could be seen.

One belonged to the father of Sunil Singh, an Indian entrepreneur who in 1958 was one of the few men given permission by Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed, the emirate's Ruler at the time, to own a house.

"There was nothing around the area," says Mr Singh, the executive director of Tea Traders of Middle East. "There used to be a well and people used to draw water out of it. It was a bit brackish [and it] was covered up when water supply began."

Mr Singh, who studied in India, often spent his school holidays visiting his father in Dubai.

"All this area was sand," he says. "My father had a Land Rover. There was not much need to commute as everything was near the Creek."

Mr Singh's childhood memories are of shops, huge sand dunes and the people who lived in the area.

"It was such a small community … everybody knew everybody," he says.

Since then, what was a small locale has grown into a centre bursting at its seams. More residents have moved in, the shops have multiplied and traffic has risen dramatically. But there are signs the expansion is slowing as the area nears saturation.

"There used to be a lot of growth and business," Mr Parshotam says. "But now there is no growth. There are many parking issues and the cream of the customers have moved to shop in other places."

But for people like Mr Singh, the buzzing market is still very special.

"It has a charm to it … anyone over 30 years in Dubai has a connection to Meena Bazaar and their roots are from here. This was the hub."


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