Big spending in Little India

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 September, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 September, 2003, 12:00am

To shop for Indian jewellery, sari fabrics, spices and ephemera without visiting the subcontinent itself, head for Singapore's Little India. The most conspicuous traders on Serangoon Road, which local lore says was built in the 1820s, are the jewellery merchants, whose yellow-gold wares range from simple nose studs to elaborate wedding glitter. There is fun stuff here too: jangly costume jewellery of the sort in vogue among Hollywood actresses. The most dazzling selection of bangles is at MKM Costume Jewellery (92 Serangoon Road), although providing the friendliest service is Yusoff at Designs Today (81 Serangoon Road, tel: 6292-1641), which sells everything from toe rings to bangles (S$15/HK$66 for a 48-piece set) to fashionable stretchy sari blouses and beaded lenghas (S$70-S$450).

The sari is alive and living luxuriously on the shelves of Sithi Vinayagar Company Sarees (67 Serangoon Road). There you can pick up beaded varieties from S$1,000; on the street outside numerous stores and barrows sell less elaborate saris for as little as S$10.

Yoga devotees will love The Yoga Shop (6 Kerbau Road, tel: 6296 6566), where staffers quickly tell you they're all volunteers. Find inner peace and harmony with a range of books, tapes, yoga mats and information about Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University. While you're there, dip into the Indian fortune-cookie bowl, which holds prettily folded papers predicting, for instance, that 'with the power of determined thoughts, you bring visions to life'.

While you're feeling spiritual, venture down Campbell Lane, where shops such

as Jothi Altars (1 Campbell Lane) sell religious artifacts and accoutrements, and promise 'divine homes'. Pick up a small brass incense holder for a few dollars or a large altar for a few thousand. Celebration of Arts (1-72 Campbell Block, Little India Arcade, tel: 6392-0769) is more of a celebration of kitsch, with huge carved swings, sari-clad Barbie dolls and large as life brass antelopes.

Kitsch religious imagery - from Ganesha to Jesus - is big at the Ansa picture framers/art gallery (29 Kerbau Road), where glittering, embellished pictures of Indian gods hang besides digitally enhanced posters of Mahatma Gandhi and gilt-edged drawings of the Virgin Mary. Been-there-got-the-deity T-shirts are available from Sunil's Department Store (S$19, 136 Serangoon Road, opposite the Sri Veerama Kaliamman Temple, tel: 6298 8763) in a range of colours and styles.

Recharge your batteries with a calorific overload at Indian Candy's, which sells sugary mithai and ladoo, milk cakes and halwa in the Little India Arcade (48 Serangoon Road), a cluster of shophouses restored as part of Singapore's architectural heritage preservation campaign.

Stock up on Indian herbs and spices at Khan Mohd Bhoy & Sons (8 Buffalo Road), which grinds its own. Alongside the more commonplace pepper, coriander, chilli, fennel and turmeric, you'll find dosa and dokla mixtures, idly and bhaji flour, bins of dried chillis, incense and papads.

And if the thought of all that rich food makes your belly ache, there's a store for that too. Ayurvedic herbs (orital thamari, thulasi, neem leaves, nellikai and vendaya powders) are dispensed along with advice for ailments from gas to headaches at Orchid Pharmacare on Kerbau Road.

For all that and more, there's the Little India institution Mustafa's (formally called Mohamed Mustafa & Samsuddin Co; corner of Serangoon and Syed Alwi roads). It is living, heaving proof that modern merchandising and customer-service theories need not come between consumers and their dollars. The 24-hour, multi-floor department store, which has its own money-changers, stocks door bells, almonds, running shoes, toothpaste, watches, saris, digital cameras and all things in between - and sells it all without a hint of a smile.