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In Photos: An Old-School Indoor Fish Market Run By Women in Mumbai

Glance into the Khar Danda Town fish market through the Quint Lens to experience a centuries-old Bombay. 

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As you step into the indoor town fish market at the Khar Danda Koliwada in Mumbai. the rancid stench of thousands of fresh fish and blood fills the air. They’re sold by at least a hundred women dressed in vibrant sarees, neatly tucked in as they loudly negotiate prices with a hundred more customers.

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The floor is constantly wet, as are the seating blocks. The women keep throwing buckets of water while using their hand to sweep the blood and guts away from their stalls down into the drains. Two dozen cats and twice as many more egrets also share the space, waiting and watching for scraps to snatch away.

Never has a stereotype been truer.

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Who Runs The World?

The Kolis are the original inhabitants of Mumbai since when it was nothing but a group of seven suspended islands. Of them, some like Kolbhat (now Colaba), Palva Bunder (now Apollo Bunder), Dongri, Mazagaon and Worli were named by the Kolis. The name Mumbai too comes from Mumbadevi, the patron goddess of the Kolis.

Glance into the Khar Danda Town fish market through the Quint Lens to experience a centuries-old Bombay. 
A Koli woman prepares fresh flowers for her stall to sell with fish as she sets shop in the early hours. (Photo: Pallavi Prasad)
  • 01/03
    A Koli woman showcases her best seafood catch of the day. (Photo: Pallavi Prasad) 
  • 02/03
    A seventy-four year old Koli woman sits at her stall; she’s been coming here more than five decades. (Photo: Pallavi Prasad) 
  • 03/03
    A Koli woman skins a fish in preparation to set shop for the day at the fish market. (Photo: Pallavi Prasad) 

They are a deep-sea fishing community spread across the city, living in pockets known as Koliwadas (“a home that opens to the sea”). Each Koliwada has a fish market, usually at the beginning of the village and these are run and maintained entirely by women, generation after generation.

Glance into the Khar Danda Town fish market through the Quint Lens to experience a centuries-old Bombay. 
A Koli woman sits at her stall in the early hours of the market. “I only look young”, she says; she’s been coming here every day for 30 years now. (Photo: Pallavi Prasad)
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Glance into the Khar Danda Town fish market through the Quint Lens to experience a centuries-old Bombay. 
Bombil hung out to dry by the sea, a stone’s throw away from the fish market. (Photo: Pallavi Prasad)
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For Sale

Glance into the Khar Danda Town fish market through the Quint Lens to experience a centuries-old Bombay. 
Freshly-washed fish tails drop with water. (Photo: Pallavi Prasad)
  • 01/03
    A lot goes into how alluringly the best of the catch has been displayed, often in creative patterns and colourful plates. (Photo: Pallavi Prasad)
  • 02/03
    Prawns on display. (Photo: Pallavi Prasad) 
  • 03/03
    Fish lines up to reflect the sunlight that floods the market at noon. (Photo: Pallavi Prasad) 
Glance into the Khar Danda Town fish market through the Quint Lens to experience a centuries-old Bombay. 
A lot goes into how alluringly the best of the catch has been displayed, often in creative patterns and colourful plates. (Photo: Pallavi Prasad)
  • 01/03
    Crabs on display. (Photo: Pallavi Prasad) 
  • 02/03
    These fish markets have sustained in the face of urbanisation and modernisation because of the sheer variety and freshness of the seafood. (Photo: Pallavi Prasad)
  • 03/03
    The biggest fish are singled out and kept separately to draw attention. (Photo: Pallavi Prasad) 
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The Other Original Inhabitants

Where there is fish, there will be cats...and egrets. At least 20 cats and as many slender, white egrets share this indoor space with hundreds of people at peak hours. They quietly skulk around, on the stairs of the seating areas, the floors, the iron rods along the roof, hypnotised by the smell of blood and the sight of flesh.

It’s also a perfect example of humans living in harmony with nature. The animals are all but trained. They don’t swoop in or steal fish from the stalls. Only fallen, discarded or generously offered fish is fair game.

Glance into the Khar Danda Town fish market through the Quint Lens to experience a centuries-old Bombay. 
Cats, egrets and women dominate the fish market. (Photo: Pallavi Prasad) 
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Glance into the Khar Danda Town fish market through the Quint Lens to experience a centuries-old Bombay. 
A cat chooses its spot for the day in the early hours, before the Koli women arrive with their fish. (Photo: Pallavi Prasad)
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Glance into the Khar Danda Town fish market through the Quint Lens to experience a centuries-old Bombay. 
A cat feeds on half a fish discarded on the floor. (Photo: Pallavi Prasad) 
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Glance into the Khar Danda Town fish market through the Quint Lens to experience a centuries-old Bombay. 
Egrets on the lookout for food. (Photo: Pallavi Prasad) 
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Glance into the Khar Danda Town fish market through the Quint Lens to experience a centuries-old Bombay. 
Women wash, clean, cut, display, bargain and sell the fish after it is caught by the men. Then, how much the family makes depends on how high a price she can get for the catch. (Photo: Pallavi Prasad) 
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Topics:  Women   Quint Lens 

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