Somewhere in the noisy lanes of Dhobi Talao stands a picturesque shop; a little old fashioned, with a small cosy bench, and loads of memories. The owner is a fourth generation Parsi; but the heavy wooden name board proclaiming the store’s 1887 roots has been recently replaced with a new one. “But the character and tradition still remain,” assures owner Keki Kerawalla. One of the only shops in Mumbai to design authentic Sapats, the traditional footwear used by priests as they walk inside the fire temple, Kerawalla and Company has had a long history. “Can you imagine we only sold Sapats for the first 100 years?” says Keki, a little amused herself.
Her “tiny shop” as she often refers to it, has now widened its reach with new shelves and plastic boxes. Each box holds a tradition, be it the net sadras (traditional vests) from Gujarat or the German silverware, or the multi-coloured Parsi caps. There is also a new provision store and bakery that she has opened within the premises. Her trusted aides — all from Bihar and now smoothly adapted to the Parsi style — are Gundesh, the nickname for the chef; Tuntun and Luv Singh who is now called Love Singh who make up Keki’s small family. But it is the goodwill of the traditional Sapat that makes her store a ‘must visit’ in the small, tightly-knit community that will celebrate their new year this week. Over the years, while the traditional design has not been compromised, there are a few innovations added to make the Sapat look contemporary, but always with the comfort of the cloth and leather.
Their clients over the years have included some famous Parsis including the Godrej family, and even Nani Palkhiwala who would walk in to buy a Sapat in the early days when Keki’s father-in-law sat at the counter. The younger generations of these families still frequent then store, sometimes to buy a cap, or a sapat, or just the traditional vest.
The latest customer has traveled from rural Maharashtra to buy a cap to wear for the new year. Her clients have in the last century gone global — the traditional vests have regular clients from Iran and some families place orders from Spain too. At a time when the community is trying every effort — the latest is Facebook — to stem the trend of dwindling numbers, shops like Keki’s retains the old world charm of the philanthropic community she represents.
“It’s sweet when we have the younger generation walk to the shop to buy the traditional items, sometimes when they exchange change they tell us that their grandparents had introduced them to the shop. We feel nice that they are still holding on to old times through us,” she adds. Sometimes there are other communities too who have benefited from Kerawa—las¿just recently she filled in an order of 100 orange Parsi style caps for the Shiv Sena.
These days the shop has other regulars. During the festive season, at the height of bandobast, it’s not uncommon to see policemen come to Keki’s shop to rest and freshen up. They call her aunty, and that is licence enough for her to “poke them on their face” about their “growing tummy” and attitude towards the public, but it’s “all in good faith” she adds.
“You know I will never ever sell that bench. It’s where they come and sit and chat with me, good times and bad times. Sometimes they travel all the way to buy a Sapat, other times just for a chat.”