While Kamathipura may be better known as Mumbai’s largest red-light district, the area also holds another form of nightlife that’s been kept secret for many years now. No, we’re not talking about an underground disco club; we’re referring to the nightly shoe markets of Dedh Gully, where every piece of footwear that’s been stolen from temples, mosques, churches, trains, gurudwaras and even weddings end up getting sold. What was once a niche business that thrived entirely on the down-low is now an unstoppable chain of demand and supply, creating an economy that is possibly running up to an 8 digit figure.
What really pushed this market out of the shadows was its colossal audience of youngsters and college students who come down from places as far as Ambernath and Raigad. The whole experience can best be described as a trip in a Mumbai local during rush hour—swift and surreal. The market has over 70 stalls, each with its own flock of impatient bargainers and an average stock of 100 pairs of shoes, each and every night.
You’re probably asking the same question we did right about now. How has a business of this nature managed to survive all these years, let alone exist as a prolific and profitable system? With people rarely filing official complaints about their stolen footwear, there isn’t much police intervention. “If we get caught, we should be ready for a few slaps. No one bothers to file a case. There’s no fear since there’s never a complaint nor an investigation,” said Ganesh (name changed), a former vendor at the market, in a report by
Mid-Day. There is a growing worry amongst police officers though, regarding this flourishing market, especially with the sharp spike in the number of stolen footwear incidents across Mumbai.
This congregation of vendors or more popularly referred to as the jootachors don’t generally move or function in organised groups or gangs. Despite each individual vendor operating in his/her own little space, labour amongst the jootachors is divided on the basis of procuring the shoes and selling them. Interestingly, the “procurers” categorise themselves with regard to the geographic targets. Some target residential and commercial complexes, while others target temples and places of worship in the suburbs and even trains. This position is then further dichotomised into the person who lifts the shoes and the one who stashes them. Once a sizeable number of shoes are obtained, these men then transfer the bounty and sell it to hawkers or vendors in Chor Bazaar and Dedh Gully.
In the last five to six years, the sales from Dedh Gully’s shoe market have shot up by a whopping 90% and it has posed as somewhat of a win-win situation for thrifty vendors and youngsters looking for a good deal. As the city falls asleep, the market dawns to welcome its crowd of young buyers, operating only between 4AM to 8AM on Fridays and Sundays. People usually take the last or first local train to reach the bustling lanes of Dedh Gully, to strike an exclusive deal on some of the latest shoe brands and designs. However, lanes worth of cramped and lively stalls has caused somewhat of a nuisance to local residents.
Concerning the stall space, many vendors happen to use their own houses as selling space and put up stalls on their verandahs. Families running these stalls usually work from 3AM to 8AM, managing hundreds of haggling youngsters till the break of dawn, all before going back to their routine jobs in the day.
The Dedh Gully, for the past half-decade, has served as a tireless hub of commerce and livelihood for many local Mumbaikers. For those wondering where the police are, they’re probably stuck at one of the stalls trying to bring down the price of their new shoes lower than what they initially bargained for.
To read the full report by the Mid-Day click here
Representational feature image courtesy of Thatsofarah