So how did this little lane become a vegetable market, popularly known as Bhaji Galli? Well, the genesis lies within the confines of a very big chawl towards the Grant Road station end called Bhalchandra building. In the 1930s, the white Gandhi topi wearing vegetable vendors from Vasai, popularly called ‘Vasaiwale’ used to sell vegetables in the chawl’s courtyard. They used to procure home grown vegetables from the weekly markets of Virar, Vasai, Nala Sopara, Bolinj, Holi and Nirmal, arrive here in the afternoon and go back after selling off their wares. This would ensure that the vegetables sold by them were fresh. Slowly over time more and more people started setting up their shops till they were spread across the whole lane.
Though the “Vasaiwale” coming here have dwindled drastically, one such Vasaiwala, Babu Jeevan Naik has been coming here for the past fifty years. The vegetables he sells are always very fresh and lush green. He says that twenty five percent of the people now telephone him and opt for home delivery. He has customers who come from Colaba , Haji Ali, Walkeshwar and Malabar Hill, apart from the office goers who pick up vegetables on their way back home.
Jerestin Sidhwa , a Colaba resident has been visiting Bhaji Galli for the past 15 years. She says that she prefers this place as many of the seasonal vegetables are available here but not at the Colaba market. “The vegetables here might be slightly more expensive but are better and fresher and I just love the shopping experience here”, she adds.
In one of the arms of the lane, you can identify the East Indian women from Vasai in their traditional maroon sarees who sell specific home grown produce. Jacinta Augustin Burbos is one of the few East Indians left and she sells fresh but small quantities of pumpkins, village grown aubergines, flowers, lemons, snake gourd, lemongrass, ‘alu’or colacasia leaves, bitter gourd, kelful or banana flower and even the wild ‘gavthi’ mushrooms in season.
One more interesting vendor is Kamlakar Karande popularly known as KK. He introduced what he calls ‘Continental’ vegetables to Bhaji Galli in 1982. This was when these exotic vegetables were not as commonly available as they are today. He was the only vendor who stocked basil, thyme, celery, parsley, broccoli, Chinese cabbage, bell peppers, pak choy, avocados (from Ooty),cherry tomatoes,babycorn,leek and mushrooms and sell them at reasonable rates. He was one of the few vendors who called out to you in English “ Want to take some celery or parsley sir” he used to shout out at every passerby. His grandmother Kandabai Khade was one of the four original vendors who set up shop or benches as they were known then in Bhaji Galli in the 1930s.
Octogenarian , Shashikala Dalvi will never forget Bhaji Galli. She resided in this area before she got married and moved to Dadar. “For many years after my marriage, I used to take back ‘fresh vegetables’ from my ‘regular’ vendors whenever I used visit my parents’ home", she reminisces.
If you visit Bhaji galli in the evening, you will find it crowded with hundreds of people buying their vegetables with shouts of ‘Tomato daha rupaye kilo, Batata aathra rupaya kilo’ in different nasal twangs, renting the air. It truly is a one-of-a-kind shopping experience.