An ice-blue dress with barely-there straps catches my eye. Enterprising salesman Rafeek follows my gaze and pulls the dress off an impossibly skinny mannequin for my inspection. He recites his spiel about “best cotton quality”, “wash-and-wear”, and how the “pyaara” colour suits me — but I know it’s meant for someone who skips dessert. Wheedling and smiling, Rafeek tries convincing me that it’s “free size”. I manage to get away from the shop before I believe him.
Centrally located and offering immense variety (from underwear to shoes, skimpy T-shirts to chikankari suits, belts to bags), Linking Road receives far larger crowds than the stylish-sounding Fashion Street in South Mumbai. You won’t find Linking Road on the map, though, because its official name is Vitthalbhai Patel Marg. The street-shopping zone begins at National College and carries on north.
Here, shopping is about the thrill of the chase. You don’t simply find and buy. You bargain, you pout, you make an offer and casually stroll away, hoping to be called back. When called, you count out notes reluctantly, though it’s less than what you would have paid. The salesman accepts with a magnanimous shrug, though it’s more than he expected. It’s a game, and both sides know it.
Despite the May heat of a mid-day sun, 21-year-old Mansi Vats has come all the way from Sion to shop here. “I can get a varied wardrobe here — I’ll buy at least four-five items for less than Rs 1,000. Plus, it’s great fun to bargain with the salesmen!” she says with a grin. Her steal today? Rubber chappals with wicked smileys winking up at you, that she negotiated and bought for Rs 75 instead of the “fixed price” of Rs 100.
This summer, Linking Road boasts lots of cotton kurtis and shirts in bright shades like candyfloss pink and lemon yellow. You could also team T-shirts from a scrambled pile of clothes (Rs 100 fixed price) with dhoti-pants — flared but tapered at the ankle by an elastic hem (Rs 200-300 depending on the material — soft hosiery cotton or bold, printed starched cotton). Other materials also find favour — especially georgette for the heavily embroidered salwar suits in pastel shades (starting price Rs 400).
A row of shoe shops offers a choice of ladylike sandals adorned with mirror work, or bright floral designs, or even saucy winking smileys, all for Rs 100. At the same price (after bargaining) are Kolhapuri-style slippers in multiple colours (blue, white & black, yellow), perfect to match with a specific outfit.
Another popular buy, though not quite as summery, are the “jeggings” (jeans+leggings), made of a thin denim-like material and meant to hug your legs. On display, these are worn by silver-grey, air-filled, leg-shaped balloons that float eerily in the air like the leftovers of a slasher film. It’s easy to buy the jeggings (Rs 250), slip on a loose cotton shirt that falls to mid-thigh (Rs 200) and add a dash of colour with a bright belt (Rs 50).
A quirky item grabs my interest: a water bottle for Rs 95, a smart buy in this weather. Structured like a liquid soap pack, it is flexible, includes a spout to drink from — and features a certain Angry Bird glaring out in red-on-black. You can fill this bottle with water and freeze it, for ice-water on the go, or fold it up and stuff it into your bag when empty. While I negotiate, the salesman disappears twice to avoid police harassment for his illegal “shop”.
My steal today? Soft cotton shorts to wear at home, featuring bright red crabs on a green background and the slogan “I’m crabby in the mornings”, for Rs 100. It’s cheap, it’s cute, it’s different. What might you find today? Head to Linking Road and start exploring. But a warning — it’s hot out there. Want my Angry Birds bottle?