It’s a shop. Yes, it’s a big shop. Oh yes, it sells just about everything. Open 24 hours a day. 365 days a year. For real.
It’s called Mustafa Shopping Center and it’s your one-stop shop in Singapore.
Ask any Singaporean about Mustafa and they’ll nod their head knowingly. Ask any Indian at Singapore about Mustafa and they’ll nod their head in reverence. It is an empire in itself selling anything a person could possibly need or want. From foodstuffs to cosmetics to textiles to electronics to gold to travel agency services – Mustafa has it all.
As a wife and mother and the one who is inevitably the food planner for the family, Mustafa is my ‘Happy Place’. The place where everything gets struck out of my elaborate shopping lists. The place which gives me the choice of six different types of red mirchi powder, and Oh Bless, an entire aisle dedicated to popaddums alone.
Most Indian families residing in Singapore, take a monthly or bi-monthly ‘pilgrimage’ to Mustafa. I say ‘pilgrimage’ because the shopping trip is accompanied with lots of extensive planning and hardships, and ends with euphoria.
Mustafa is not just your average shopping center. It is an experience like no other. Situated in the heart of Little India, you are greeted by a burst of colours, sounds and smells (some unwanted) as you enter. If you are arriving by public transport or foot, then it’s fine. But if you’re driving like us, you spend a ‘happy’ 15 minutes in the car trying to reach the car park. Each of us has a different coloured mood during these crucial 15 minutes. My husband’s is generally a black shade. He curses people who are floundering about on the roads with that Indian mentality of ‘The whole world is my footpath’. My mood is usually pink and happy as I go over my shopping list with a practised eye, adding yet more items and mentally mapping the quickest path we must follow to bag all our items. Our son’s moods start off as white as he looks out of the car window, but soon oscillates between red and black, as he gets restless sitting in the slow-moving car.
Getting a free parking spot is accompanied by much celebration. Having completed the first round successfully, we troop into the supermarket and head for the second floor where the foodstuffs are located. Mustafa boasts of an extensive Indian grocery choice. It has more Indian items and variety than shops back home. And all customers including us stock up on flours and pulses and rice like there is no tomorrow.
I keep the snacks and sweets section for last. After all the elbowing and jostling through the crowd of shoppers in all the other aisles, this is our ‘reward’ aisle. We joyfully pile up on every conceivable Halidram product and packets of Indian Maggi noodles.
Our overflowing shopping trolley never looks like it is meant for a family of 3 adults and 1 child. Rather, it looks like we have about ten mouths to feed at home. Five kilo packets of Atta, Ponni rice and Basmati rice and a dozen-pack of Amul milk (for home-made yoghurt) are a few of our staple Mustafa picks.
Sometimes my husband might slink off with a sheepish grin to the Electronics floor to window shop. Which leaves the toddler and me to wander around aimlessly and happily in the cosmetics section. How can you resist when they have an entire aisle just for Hair removers?
The constant and only drawback about shopping at Mustafa is the thronging crowds; 90% of them Indians who grab at the milk and paneer like it’s the last pack on the rack. We have tried everything to avoid the crowds. We even tried shopping at 2:00 am. Just imagine our shock when we smugly walk into the place at the dead of the night only to be faced with similar families giving us the dirty look for crowding their ’slot’!
Some days after the shopping, we stroll over to the many Indian restaurants surrounding the complex and have a quick bite. Tucking into a steaming hot Channa Bhatura and a filter kaapi does wonders for releasing all that pent-up frustration from the Mustafa crowds.
Lastly, we pile into the car with a trunkful of groceries and make a relatively speedy exit out of Mustafa and Little India. For those without vehicles, here is when the real nightmare begins. Hailing a cab in the area can be an exhausting task and most people can barely lift their grocery shopping which starts to weigh in quintal units rather kilograms after a while.
That’s the end of the journey. Well almost. There is a last bit where we unload all the groceries at home and then collapse in exhaustion on the couch swearing never to go there again.
And yet next month, we are again planning and plotting for the next Mustafa trip.
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