Apna Bazar meaning “Your Own Shop” inspires pride and nostalgia in the hearts of many even remotely connected with it.It was the poor mans ‘Shopper’s Stop’ 40 years ago.When other political parties were accumulating wealth and power by manipulating working population votes or local regional sectarian emotions or rigging elections in every small and big labour unions ,the socialists were busy conducting a very scientific experiment applying the dual principle of consumerism and co-operation.
Under the leadership of Shri Dadasaheb Sarfare ,Ram Mahadik and Shri N.K.Sawant they were using their traditional know how to bring commodities at the doorsteps of mill workers at Naigaum in central Mumbai characterized by the low income toilers and clerks. The concept was to form a society with ownership of the consumers to run their grocery business so that they gain access to commodities at competitive rates and can save monies to invest in their childrens education. At first they started small cooperative retail outlets in Naigaum Bazar opposite Trikoni Maidan and in a small shop at Ambekar Nagar on Golanji Hill on the
Now one of the major heading in expense in lower and lower middle income group in those days and even now are groceries and toiletries.If this expense head can be more rationalized then it could go a long way to ease the economic squeeze on the wage earners with growing families and as most of their spouses were home makers.With a fixed income and growing needs of the children this was thought to be essential and utmost priority as food grains available in the Government shops were meager and of inferior quality.
With their abilities and experience in Law ,Commerce and Social Service , they made these two retail outlets a great success.There was transparency and clarity in the dealings in wholesale purchase and retail sale and every small item was recorded and every small customer was given a receipt .Quality too was assured.Books were maintained scrupulously by their accountant Shri Chamankar and due to hard work and spirit of public service they acquired respectability and stature.Apna Bazar Cooperative Society was now cruising ahead in service to the humble consumer.They acquired skills and confidence and this unique combination gave them the vision to dream.They were dreaming of one of its kind departmental store .There was one in Dadar market those days but had private ownership.A 4 storey huge departmental store uniquely run on cooperative concept was designed and the foundation laid.They obviously had the blessings of stalwarts like S.M.Joshi,Madhu Limaye,Madhu Dandavate,Ahilya Rangnekar and Mrinal Gore
I saw the building being constructed on Naigaum road next to the post office.Its progress was monitored by us as we passed by on way to school and back.Soon the building was completed and stocked with goods arranged in the respective departments .Fabric and Hosiery and Chemist on the ground floor.Provisions and Groceries on first,Electronics goods and traveling goods on Second and Books and stationary on third.The fourth floor was the office.Shopping at Apna Bazar was an experience and more and more consumers patronized the landmark.They even put up a documentary cum advertisement in movie theatres and a gingle on the radio.For the wage earner and the mill hand Apna Bazar was a symbol of cooperation and hard work.It gave him and his aspiration an identity.
Shekhar Sawant was the son of shri N.K Sawant a practicing advocate in small cause court and session court N.K. as he was popularly known was the chairman of Apna Bazar .Shekhar was one of my best friend and in SSC he did me a favor.I had wanted always to put the concept of earn and learn in practice, so I approached Shri Sawant with a request to let me do summers for two months at the Apna Bazar.He was obliging .And so I worked at their office on top floor .I remember there was a very senior clerk by the name Vengurlekar .He had retired from a Shipping company and had joined Apna Bazar for preserving his income so that he could discharge his family obligations.He would guide me with the work.My job involved entries from receipt books on to the ledgers.The work was simple but tedious and required guidance time and again.Being young and enthusiastic I was very quick and I worked hard, irrespective of the tiny remuneration. I worked for 2 months and earned some cash but I was proud of the work and the income.I learned dignity of labour at this temple of service which stood by me for all my life.I learned diligence and perseverance and importance of documentation at a very early age.
Apna Bazar grew in status and size with many branches all over Mumbai and remote suburbs in the north and east .Later Apna Bazar cooperative Bank was established which is being run very efficiently and whose popular branches are everywhere in Mumbai Eventually I became a member of this Bank.They have good schemes for each constituents in the society , it is an equal opportunity organization with a attitude of holistic service to the common man As time went by the old office bearers faded into the past but their spirit of cooperation lives on as a symbol of unity and service in the form of this consumer movement called Apna Bazar!
If socialists had come to power they would have started degree and diploma courses in Cooperation, Cooperative Law and Cooperative Business and Apna Bazar would have become a training ground for operations and projects. They would have replicated this model in all small towns and villages like the cooperative milk federation of Amul in Gujrath. The movement would have gained momentum and Mills ownership would have become cooperative ownership when private owners got disinterested due to limited profits.This in turn would have stalled their relocation or sale to government who in turn like land shark sold the land to big builders.The nature of Mumbai would have been preserved to some extent.And maybe excellent fabrics manufactured in these mills exported to USA and Europe.But alas,this never happened and we lost a great chance of self development and progress due to dissociation from cooperation in retail trade unlike cooperative societies in real estate and housing or farm produce..Apna Bazar was a role model but which was fossilized by the nexus between capitalists and the government.This sinister nexus spawned Mall culture replacing the great culture of cooperation in the Metropolitan Mumbai the financial capital of India .Let us again get beck the glory of that great edifice and centre of excellence a super institution APNA BAZAR!!