From Vijay Mallya to Ravi Shastri, this small shop in Lakda Market boasts of an enviable celebrity register, finds Rishi Majumder
Photographer: Rana Chakraborty
Business nowadays is slow because people aren’t going for ‘recyled wood’. They want ‘custom made’,” sighs a timber mart manager while offloading a stack of large broken wooden door, window and closet pieces from a truck. Welcome to Mohammadi Timber Market, alias ‘lakda’ market – a colony of near-ancient timber shops off M S Ali Road. They scrape, chop and chisel wooden doors and windows from demolished buildings to sell them as new. “Rs 200 per square foot.” “What about Rs 150?” “Not one rupee less than 200, and you’ll pay for transport.” Meet Girish Rai, alias ‘Girish Bhai’ bargaining in his antique teakwood canopied cabin set amidst endless woodwork and raw wood in the 95-year-old Om Timber Mart. In an otherwise floundering market, Rai makes an enviable profit providing doors, windows and staircases to some of Mumbai, Alibaug and Lonavla’s best known bungalows. How? The buildings he demolishes have “antique fittings”. “Making a Burma Teak masterpiece like I provide, will coast you Rs 600 per square feet, hai na?” Girish Bhai parades his inimitable Gujarati business sense in his inimitable Gujarati accent. “But I’ll give it to you for Rs 300 per square feet!” Saru Che…
The idea struck him when an Irish decorator bought an entire container load of French and Georgian windows. “I then contacted the Mumbai decorators and architects I knew who were doing ‘reech’ homes and sold them the idea.” His break came with Neelam Kothari’s Lonavla home. And then: “The ‘rich and famous’ move in a fixed set, hai na? So anyone who saw my stuff in another’s house, asked for it!” And since, this dingy ‘lakda’ store has furnished the homes of “Admiral Ramnath, Vijay Mallya, Ravi Shastri, Aishwarya Rai, Sushmita Sen, Alisha Chinai, Leslie Lewis, Anjali Menon… and many more. Main kitna bataoon.” The demand for such antiques that Rai claims he started, now centers around delicately curved French windows with motifs, Georgian doors and windows with arched tops, traditional Rajasthani and Gujarati house gates and Swiss spiral staircases. “We first clean them, scraping the old paint off. Then smoothen them before handing them over to an architect or interior designer,” smiles Rai proudly, caressing a white Georgian door as a child would his favourite doll, even his booming voice drops to a murmur. “And I have some of the best decorators and architects on my client list.” Indeed, for liaisons with such was this machiavellian wood seller’s next move. “Hai na?” Rai laughs in agreement. “There is Niti Merchant, Shimul Zaveri, Daras Rafat, Hafeez Contractor.” Small wonder then, that his supplies to distant Delhi and Uttaranchal grew as he got to know designers in these cities.
Enter Rai’s son Amit: “My father handled the business before me. And now Amit is already 10 years in it!” he smiles, using Amit’s help to stand up. “You see, since this accident, I can’t walk – else I’d move my stuff myself!” And what’s Amit’s most precious lesson from his father? “Frankness. Tell people who you do business with, everything you expect and know. It always saves losses,” he answers. Hai na?
This article first appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/rikv