The Majestic furniture store in Pune's cantonment

The Times of India, Pune 31 July, 2017

Towards the southern end of the East Street, near the chaotic Pulgate junction, history stands in the form of some of the buildings built by the earliest native settlers in Cantonment.

Civilian settlements were allowed in the cantonment only a few years after the Company wrested control of the area.

This was to service the white settlers themselves, through foreign goods, and the comforts that they enjoyed back in the British Isles. Enterprising communities soon found their way into the cantonment, often using their contacts with the British. Over time, ethnic enclaves were created within the Cantonment, often based on the trade that the community was known for.

Bohri Muslims, mainly from the Kutch region and predominantly Gujarati-speaking, came to the cantonment in large numbers. They were already a known business community in the western parts of India at the time, and ran the so-called ‘European shops’ that were full of Western imports, luxuries, and essentials. The community has also been known for carving out elegant furniture with finesse.

A few of those shops have gone out of business over the years, with families breaking up and the newest generations moving onto other trades. However, three of them still stand at the end of the East Street. One of the shops was named Majestic, an adjective that used to apply to the building it stands in, but the elements have taken their toll over the years.

The name is engraved onto a panel on the building and the marking “Hoosain Building: 1909” looks every one of its 108 years in existence. The cantonment is 200 years old. Inside, on a weekday morning, the scene is rather subdued and quiet, except for the dull creaking of saws from the workshop behind the showroom, and the occasional shrill noise emanating from a drill being used.

Except for the store manager’s small desk, the shop floor is filled with every kind of furniture imaginable. Some of them have Indian adaptations of the latest German and Swedish designs.

“Most of these furniture are built to order. Some of them will go to households in the city, others to hotels and restaurants. Business is good. We also rent out furniture,” a shop attendant says, while proudly showing off a new and articulate almirah, fresh off the workshop and built for an old household nearby.

Time has taken its toll on these furniture shops too, and so have expenses. Some of them are selling ready-made furniture and branded bedding, to keep up sales.

“Most furniture sell slowly, but we have to keep the shop running. So we sell these beddings and other smaller furniture, which come from bigger manufacturers. They sell well, and people do not have to wait for them to get made,” Majid, a third generation shopowner in the nearby Sadar Bazaar area says.