Fear of catharsis
Khan Market has been the nucleus of Delhi’s upstart shopaholics, a must-visit for the capital’s fashionistas and trendy young people looking for a thrilling experience. Considered to be India’s most expensive real estate for retail, Khan Market has a pulsating vibe, enticing devoted connoisseurs to walk the pavement for fashion, jewellery, books, leather products and homewares.
Named in honour of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (Frontier Gandhi), this shopping destination started off as a grocery market in 1951. Khan Market looks like any other outdoor market in Delhi – a crowded inner lane, uneven pavement, spontaneous potholes and an occasional pile of garbage or a stray dog. Like the others, this U-shaped market is not the easiest to navigate, but many of its patrons wouldn’t dream of shopping there without the ‘right’ footwear – high, high heels.
But this shoppers’ paradise is all set to get a facelift soon. However, shopkeepers hope that this spot will avoid the nightmare of the Connaught Place (CP) redevelopment project and the transition will be quick and smooth.
According to the plan, this 63-year-old market is set to get a centralised AC plant and a common effluent treatment plant. An extensive underground parking with tunnel links to the nearest metro station has also been planned. An emergency ramp, a multi-storied mall, a multiplex and an al fresco walking space will also add on to the list.
Sanjiv Mehra, president of Khan Market Traders’ Association says: ‘We are happy with the renovation project. However, it must be executed in a systematic and planned manner. Something good is being done for the market. It will definitely benefit the shopkeepers. Parking and fire safety are major issues and we hope that these will be addressed in the renovation proposal.’ The idea for the Khan Market redevelopment project was conceived in March 2011 by the Union urban development ministry. NDMC officials, however, are confident of avoiding the nightmare that CP experienced while the makeover took place. The CP facelift plan was first conceived in 2004 and set in motion in 2008. It started as a two-year project but missed the completion deadline five times and finally ended three years behind schedule with almost nine times over budget.
Om Prakash Mishra, Director (IT/Project/Building), NDMC says: ‘New Delhi is one of the areas that has been nominated as a world heritage site. At a soon-to-be held meeting in Doha, India has to present its case before the international committee as to what are the steps being taken to preserve it as a world heritage site. Therefore, we have planned to renovate these markets. We will also build interpretation centre in these markets for tourists who want to know more about the heritage of such places. We will restore it as a cultural market. NDMC has also decided that the restoration will not come at the cost of existing retailers there.’
Retailers and shop-keepers at Khan Market, however, have mixed opinions.
Khan Chacha’s Mohd. Salim says the renovation should take place really fast. He also believes that his customers enjoy a different charm while shopping in Khan Market which will not be the case in a shopping mall.
Echoing this same thought is Swati Rana, the store manager at Da Milano, an exquisite leather boutique in Khan Market. She says: ‘Street side charm is completely different. It gives a different experience altogether. There are several problems here but those can be addressed and rectified. Mall culture cannot be an alternative in this case.’
For some, company-run stores will never match up to the service provided by family-run shops. Haripad Das, owner of Saraswati Publication House says: ‘Our business has been hit considerably over the past few years. There is no proper parking facility here. There used to be a rush in this market few years ago but now, gradually it seems to be losing its charm. I hope that with this renovation plan, my business will also get back its shine.’ Saraswati Publications is one of the oldest only-Bengali publication stores in Khan Market.
Mansi, the merchandiser at Ogaan says: ‘I really don’t know how to react to this news. Khan Market has a history of its own and is ranked as one of the best markets in Asia. If the plan is executed, the whole essence will vanish. Customers will be bound to try out the hit-and-trial method with so many choices opened up in front of them.’ Ogaan is one of the country’s oldest multi-designer fashion boutiques and houses collections from contemporary labels like Bodice, 11:11 by CellDSGN and NorBlack NorWhite.
Balraj Bahri Malhotra, the founder and owner of Bahrisons Bookshop in Khan Market moved to Delhi as a teenager. He, along with his son Anuj, now runs one of Delhi’s best-stocked bookshops. Anuj says: ‘NDMC hasn’t approached the traders’ association, as far as I know. The proposal of a makeover has not been presented to us yet. I have read about it only in newspapers but I still don’t know the reality.’
What remains to be seen is how the contours of Khan Market traverse this lane of change and come up with a befitting alternative. The escalating rents, gleaming brand stores, young trendsetters and a loyal clientele – all attribute to a flourishing retail trade and what one needs to witness is how this heritage market makes it to the New York-kind lifestyle, a city that never sleeps syndrome smoothly.
— With Inputs from Ankush Vats