This article is gives a preview of the 5 radio broadcasts on Market street as the first Little India of Singapore. The next 5 articles cover in more detail, and rich with photos, the lost and forgotten Indian heritage of the area in tandem with matching radio podcasts.
The Market Street/Raffles Place area is the oldest and longest serving Indian settlement in Singapore. For about 150 years, from 1822 until it was redeveloped in 1977. The area was all shop houses, and I lived in one also. It had about 75% Indian and 25% Chinese population mix. Chinatown began from the next streets - Telok Ayer and Philip. The Indian resident population was about 1,000 and many more used to come into the area during office hours.
There were about 200 Indian businesses and professional firms in the area. They were spread out over the 4 main streets – Chulia, Market, Malacca and D'Almeida – and in Change Alley and the Arcade in Raffles Place. It was really a Little India – as no one Indian group dominated it. There were Tamil Muslim wholesalers and retailers, Chettiar bankers, Hindu Tamil provision shops, Sri Lankan Tamil lawyers, Brahmin office workers, Sikh jagas, Gujerati Hindu textile traders; Bohri and Khoja Muslim spice traders, Sindhi retail shops, Hindustani Paan shop owners and Malayalee civil servants. All of India was represented. Even what we call Little India in Serangoon road today is not so diverse. It is mostly a Tamil area. Market Street was a true microcosm of the variety and diversity of India.
SELF-SUFFICIENT INDIAN AREA
One Indian Muslim mosque – Masjid Moulana Mohamed Ali
4 banana leaf restaurants/cafes – India Coffee House, Jinnah Café, Shanmuga Vilas,
1 saree shop - Nalam Store
Few Indian provision shops – Rai Trading, P Govindasamy Pillai, K Syed Mohamed
1 flour/curry/spice mill
Few Indian barber shops – Odeon
Indian Goldsmiths – pathars
Paan shop – Bon Paan
Indian shipping agencies (for tickets to India)
The Indians living there hardly had any reasons to leave the area. The main reason to leave the area was to watch Indian movies at the Diamond and Royal Theaters in North Bridge Road (near Arab street). The Hindus did not have a temple in the area, so they had to go to either the temples in Chinatown, Tank Road or Serangoon Road. Infact, Market street together with Tanjong Pagar were the two areas Indians from other parts of Singapore came to for shopping for Indian items.