IT was once known as belakang mati (dead end), but today it is anything but.
In just over two decades, Jalan Masjid India, which began life as a few shops and a mosque of the same name, has blossomed into a popular tourist destination.
It is a place where cultures intertwine, especially during two major festive seasons — Hari Raya Puasa and Deepavali. The iconic street is turned into a huge Malay bazaar during Ramadan and becomes Little India during Deepavali. But, even without festivals, Jalan Masjid India is a shopper’s paradise.
Shoppers flocking along Jalan Masjid India
M.L. Puneithavathy, whose family runs Madras Store Sdn Bhd, says Malaysians of all races and tourists flock to Jalan Masjid India year-round, as there is much to see and do there.
“Shopping is the biggest attraction in Jalan Masjid India. When my mother opened her small stationery business here 37 years ago, the whole place was isolated and quiet.
“Only a handful of stores were open and, in addition to Masjid India, was all that was present here.
“The road behind our shop was a dead-end, which was why it was calledbelakang mati, and there were many brothels in the neighbourhood,” says Puneithavathy.
Before venturing into the saree business, her mother supplied books, magazines and stationery to the nearby offices.
Jalan Masjid India was then a far cry from what it is today, as the place used to be quiet and dark after sunset. Many shopkeepers did not venture out of their premises at night.
It also had its own theatre, called the Hindustan Theatre, which was located down the road from the present Semua House.
In its earlier incarnation, the Masjid India mosque was a wooden and brick structure. The mosque was financed by Indian Muslim traders who lived and traded there and in Batu Road, now known as Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman.
Today, Jalan Masjid India, which runs parallel to Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, is surrounded by office buildings, condominiums, shopping complexes, hotels, bazaars and malls.
It is also the place everyone makes a beeline for to get their festive shopping done, especially for Hari Raya and Deepavali.
From clothes to cookies, tableware, silverware, glassware, home decorations and traditional delicacies, almost everything is available at the shopping haven. The goldsmith shops that line the road are also heavily patronised by locals and foreigners.
Puneithavathy says Hari Raya shopping starts as early as February, with many wholesalers buying six-metre sarees to make baju kurung, shawls and tudung.
During the “Festival of Lights”, the whole road becomes a vibrant little India, where one can shop to your heart’s content for sarees, silverware, home decor and traditional goodies.
Tourists have often said that to experience the real atmosphere of Deepavali, Jalan Masjid India, is the place to go.
Open almost all year-round, the street is where online entrepreneurs and siblings Yaya and Mymin Azahar, have been doing their shopping on a large scale, for the last two to three years.
Their shopping destination is usually the saree shops that sell ready-made baju kurung fashioned out of the saree fabric.
“What we do is buy the baju kurung at the saree shops and sell it online. The demand for baju kurung, especially those made from chiffon, georgette and silk materials, are very popular,” says Yaya.
Nurul Farhana Abdul Shukor, who sells dates and nuts from all over the world at the Ramadhan bazaar, says nothing beats shopping in Jalan Masjid India for Hari Raya.
“We usually open our shop at 9am and close about midnight.
“The closer we get to Hari Raya, the later we will close. We are here till the wee hours of the morning.”
When friends Ikhwan Mohd Amran and Jusoh Musa, started their small business selling cotton baju kurung during the fasting month in Jalan Masjid India, they never expected their business to take off in such a big way.
“We have our own clientele who come looking for cotton baju kurung. This year, we sourced for paisley prints and sales have been brisk.”
Hari Raya would not be complete without cookies and serunding (meat floss), which is supplied by Rosnita Ahmad and Mohd Afiq Mohd Zain, who source their delicacies direct from Kelantan to city folk who have not the time or inclination to prepare these items.
Belgian tourist Christine Buytaert, who hails from Antwerp, says Jalan Masjid India offers a whole new experience.
She “stumbled upon” its Ramadan bazaar while exploring Kuala Lumpur and was instantly fascinated.
“This place is definitely not what I had expected.
“It is absolutely wonderful, and we can’t wait to explore all that it has to offer,” says Christine, who is in Malaysia with her husband and two children.