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24 February 2007

SIGHTED SITE : Tribal Route, Mumbai

Nepalese mask from Tribal RouteNESTLED AMONGST cottages in a quiet seaside village in suburban Mumbai is a pleasant surprise: a fabulous arts and crafts store called Tribal Route. It sells Indian stuff seldom found in the big sprawling concrete jungle of Mumbai (like contemporary terracotta sculptures that stand so precariously and huge incense sticks in such scents as coconut, strawberry, and ylang-ylang). I got a roughly finished Nepalese mask depicting some royal personage; it now sits prettily on my living room shelf with a Tibetan mask of a lama (Buddhist priest) that I found elsewhere.

Finding the shop is tough: the village (called Aram Nagar) is tucked away from the main road along the Arabian coastline, and the cottages are not numbered in sequence. This is what the owners, Nihar Mehta and Mamta Mamta, have to say about the village:

Aram Nagar II, which in the mid 1930s, was INS Ghansoli, or “camp” as it is popularly called, which served as army barracks during the British rule. Around 1947, it got converted into refugee camps, during the Partition, in the heart of Versova (a quiet suburb of Bombay, which has a history that goes back to the Portuguese rule in the 16th century!)

Meandering lanes, fruit and palm trees, mud roads, two famous temples (the Amba Mata Mandir and the Ganpati Mandir), two huge playgrounds, 400 cottages, the Arabian Sea across the main J.P. Road, and the famous Vesave fishing village down the road, where the inhabitants can tell tales of the freedom wars between the British and the Marathas. This is what makes Aram Nagar 2 what it is, special, an experience, probably the only last few acres of land untouched by land poachers! (Well maybe the heritage society would like to step in, and help conserve this.)

Such effusive history is the perfect backdrop for this hard-to-locate store (actually two shops, one selling furnishings, the other selling bric-a-brac). It is fun to shop: compact, colorful, and cheery. The collections are one-of-a-kind, so the merchandise mix keeps evolving. I had a glimpse of the huge storage area; there seems so much more to be displayed, and that is reason enough to check the store every so often.

The store is an obvious labor of love by Nihar (an interior designer from Mumbai) and Mamta (a fashion designer from Delhi). Dotting the walls, for example, are miniature masks that belong to Nihar's private collection. During my visit, I had chai (tea) and chat with them over things creative at the upper-storey majlis (terrace) shaded by an ancient mango tree (I think it's a mango tree). This weekend, they plan to have a wine-tasting affair with customers and colleagues to celebrate the Hindu festival of Holi.

Tribal Route is one great way to explore the suburbs of Mumbai and enjoy the diversity of crafts in this country.

Tribal Route
18 & 2 Aram Nagar 2, J.P. Road, Versova, Andheri (W)
Mumbai 400 061, India
Telephone +91 9324 278 505

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