Mosaic on Harbour Street is probably the smallest shop in Kent. It’s a bit like the Tardis in reverse: seemingly smaller on the inside than on the outside, you duck your head through the door and step down into a Hobbit-cave of ethnic wonder, with a fascinating array of art, clothing and jewellery, all hidden away in two tiny rooms. It’s like stepping into another dimension.
The first time I ever went into the shop Shernaz, the owner, addressed me by name and asked if I had written any more books recently. She had obviously been paying attention.
I met her on the train to London once and we had an engaging conversation about various philosophical matters. It was then that she told me that she came from a Parsi family. I was very impressed.
For those of you who don’t know: the Parsis are the remnants of the ancient Zoroastrian religion who fled to India from Persia after the Muslim takeover.
Their priests were called Magi, which is where we get our word “magic” from. The Three Wise Men of Biblical fame were probably Zoroastrian priests.
Shernaz was born in Calcutta of an Irish Lancastrian mother and a Parsi father. Her mum left when she was two and she was sent to a boarding school run by Catholic nuns in Darjeeling from the age of four. At ten her dad died and she was brought up by an aunt in Mumbai. You could say she’s had a heterodox upbringing.
As a young adult in Mumbai, she ran a column in the local English-language newspaper, and hosted a morning radio programme. She also helped set up an NGO whose mandates were women’s reproductive health and HIV disease control.
She came to Whitstable in 1988 on a visit. Coming down Borstal Hill for the first time, she thought, “I could live here!”
She moved to the town in 1999. She was very open-minded about what she might do for a living and, on the back of her work in Mumbai, applied for a position with one of the local papers. In her interview, she criticised the paper and suggested a number of improvements. The editor said, “You want my job!”
Eventually she settled for opening a fair trade shop utilising stock she got from the women’s cooperatives she had worked with back in India. It was very Indiacentric at first but has since broadened its range to
include any fair trade goods, as well as work by local artists. She also makes and designs stuff herself.
Shernaz remains a campaigner. We went for a walk one day and she was picking up bits of plastic from the beach to turn into art with her grandchildren. Making art out of waste. It’s part of her philosophy.
Mosaic still has ethical sourcing at its root. Shernaz is there most days and is usually willing to stop for a chat about the things she’s interested in.
A woman after my own heart!
For further information go to the Mosaic Facebook page, here: https://www.facebook.com/mosaicwhit/
Story first appeared here.