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Khan Market and Anand General Store a contradiction. One is glitzy, the other basic, everyday

If one were to scrap the glossy surface of Khan Market, one would only see a multitude of very simple people — owners of the Allied Toy Store, Faqir Chand bookstore.

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In the glamour and glitter of Delhi’s Khan Market, where the best brands flaunt their flagship stores and top-end eateries run full house till midnight, one little shop tucked in the middle of the market quietly goes about doing its business. Anand General Store sells household supplies and kitchen items and is one of the oldest shops in the posh market.

In many ways, the store is an oxymoron. While Khan Market comes under the list of India’s most expensive commercial real estate, Anand General Store sells some of the most basic and inexpensive daily-use items needed in everyone’s kitchens. While the market is always in news for its supposedly ‘opinionated’ celebrity patrons, the Anand General Store owners — Harish Goyal and his father Sri Ram Goyal — are virtually invisible due to their humble and unpretentious demeanor.

But the owners of this simple home provision shop have a story to tell. Much before the buzz about Khan Market touched the ink of page three  — in fact, before the foundation slabs of this U-shaped market were laid in 1950 — the Goyal family ran a shop called the ‘Baniya Store’ selling rations, just what they do today.

A simpler past

After Partition, when wave upon wave of migrants poured into North India from Pakistan, Mehr Chand Khanna, the first Minister of Rehabilitation in the Government of India decided to create employment opportunities in Delhi by setting up a series of small neighbourhood markets where shops could be given on lease with an additional monthly rent to those who had lost land and property in Pakistan.

Accordingly, the area had to be cleared up for construction — and so the famous Empire Store and the adjoining little Baniya Shop had to be demolished. In lieu of that shop, the Goyal family was granted a place in then-newly made Khan Market in 1951. Soon, many other Partition refugees began a new inning of their lives by signing the 99-year-long lease of Rs 100 with an additional charge of Rs 75 per month as rent.

“The Faqir Chand & Sons bookshop, run by Ram Lubhaya Marwah and his younger brother Ved Marwah, the Allied Toy Store by the Dilbagh Mehra family, the [Joss] Metro Radio Corporation by [the] Khosla family, and the music store by another Marwah family, the Bengal sweet shop, Dr Sakuja’s, were some of the earliest establishments,” says Sri Ram Goyal, the grand old head of the Goyal family. He mumbles more names from his memory: Durgadas, Modi Store, Sovereign Dairy, Berry family, and so on, but can’t recall what their merchandise was.

Sitting on a chair placed to catch a slim beam of sunlight passing through a packed parking full of expensive cars, Sri Ram Goyal — who is lovingly called ‘Bauji’ by all other shopkeepers — remembers a time when Khan Market was a rather quiet place with just a trickle of customers. “[About] 10-15 people would come in the morning and even fewer in the evening. Rest of the day, we shopkeepers would sit in the verandas outside our shops chatting. Then a few years later, the authorities came up with a scheme to charge us a fee and allow us to cover the verandas. So we extended our shops upto the pavement. We now have bigger shops, but ab baatein khatam ho gayi (Our shops have become bigger, but we have lost that connect with each other),” says Sri Ram as his eyes flicker with images of the past.

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History that got buried

Even the current Khan Market association members remember a simpler past. “When we were kids, there was hardly any footfall here. While our parents would be running the shop, we kids would sit outside playing carrom. This central parking area used to be a green grass patch where we kids played cricket in the evening,” says Brij Khosla, the senior vice-president of the Khan Market Traders Association and owner of the Contempera shop, which was Metro Radio Corporation earlier.

“Everyone sees this as a fashionable place. But our families, who have been part of this market from the beginning, saw the initial struggle and hard work that went into bringing this market [to] where it is today. Every shop has its own story of grit and determination. For instance, my mother Nirmal Naini ji used to finish her housework, then come, and sit behind the counter handling sales and accounts. During lunchtime, she would catch a bus and go to Sadar Bazaar and buy fresh stock. Then [she would] come back and again sit at the shop. Finally, she would go home and cook for us all. So, when people talk loosely about this market, we feel very bad,” says Sanjiv Mehra, owner of Allied Toy Store and the president of the market association.

There’s a story behind the famous Faqir Chand & Sons bookshop too. Advocate Amitabh Marwah, son of former Police Commissioner Delhi recalls “The bookshop, named after my grandfather, used to actually be a popular bookshop in Peshawar Cantonment [in Pakistan]. When the family got displaced during Partition, my father, Ved Marwah, and his elder brother Ram Lubhaya ji rented a shop in Connaught Place. But when the government gave shops on lease in Khan Market, the brothers shifted their operations here. My father would open the shop, rush to college where he was studying economics, and then rush back in the evening to sit again at the shop. He had to use the public toilet every day and get ready in the shop ! After some time, the government sold the upper floors as residence and the family shifted here. My father finished his masters and then sat for the Indian Police Service exam and joined the Delhi Police. Since then, members of my uncle Ram Lubhaya ji’s family have run this shop.”

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‘Let Khan Market remain as it is’

From a time when there were 74 original shops and one flat above every two shops to now when there are hundreds of stores lined up in the bifurcated space, Khan Market has a love-hate relationship with the establishment. The market and its patrons have often been called ‘snooty’ and ‘opinionated’, and there have been floating rumours of changing its name to ‘Valmiki Market’.

“The market was named after celebrated freedom fighter Khan Abdul Jabbar Khan. There is a deep connection between this market and the nation’s struggle for freedom. The market was shaped by simple hardworking refugee families who were forced to leave everything behind and start afresh. This market is a sign of that spirit. I think we all should respect these sentiments, and let the place remain as it is,” adds Sanjiv.

Indeed if one were to scrap the glossy surface of Khan Market, one would see a multitude of very simple people — like the Goyals of Anand General Store who stand behind their counters and serve the customers with graciousness — taking care of all their little requirements in the everyday business of running homes.

This article is a part of a series called BusinessHistories exploring iconic businesses in India that have endured tough times and changing markets. Read all articles here.

(Edited by Humra Laeeq)

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