Nestled behind Russell Market in Bangalore, and accessible only through narrow lanes and by-lanes, is Stephen’s Square, better known as Shivajinagar gujri, or an area full of scrap shops. It’s both an auto lover’s dream and nightmare. Tonnes of cars and bikes are crushed here every year, making it perhaps the only place in the city where one might find an out-of-production spare part. Spread over approximately 3 sq. km, the bazaar is a community in itself, with around 600 shops employing more than 1,500 people, most of whom live within a 3km radius.
Estimated to be 118 years old, the bazaar came up around the time the automobile industry came into being in Europe and the US. As a child, Haji Allah Baksh, or Bakshi Mamu as the 96-year-old is known at the scrapyard, remembers working mainly on bullock carts and buggies. “I started working as a child (around 1925), mainly scrapping bullock carts and buggies, but soon there were some very expensive cars (that came in to be scrapped), like a Rolls-Royce which we bought for Rs 6,000 (in 1928), and an Aston Martin worth Rs 3,000, which was a lot in those days (1920s-1930s),” says Allah Baksh.
End of the drive: Haji Allah Baksh, 96, who has been working at the scrapyard for 85 years, at his shop in Shivajinagar. Photographs by Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint .
Since there weren’t too many cars, the shops would take on the repair of furniture from British households. “We got a lot of respect from the Britishers; they knew each of us by name, there were not many gujris back then,” says Allah Baksh. The respect has waned; some years ago, Shivajinagar gujri found itself tagged “chor bazaar (thieves’ market)” when the police suspected cars missing in the area had been stolen by them. “We were raided by the police repeatedly around two-three years ago and we cooperated with them always,” says Ajaz Ahmed Suroor, secretary of the Stephen’s Square Merchants’ Association (SSMA), which is eager to get rid of the label. They do agree, however, that they may not have had complete control over the market.
The association has now put in place a system to ensure that stolen cars don’t enter the area. “All the cars that come in have to be first produced at the association office. If we see that the papers are in place, then we allow it to be scrapped,” says Suroor, insisting that all activities in the area now are legal.
Most scrap dealers begin their day as early as 7am, when they start to hammer, melt and tear apart cars that have come in. Most customers come in after 11am, looking for scrap or spare parts. “If someone has an old Road King bike or a vintage car and is missing a part, they can surely find it here,” says Suroor, adding that given the number of years some people have been in the trade, they easily recognize parts and their uses.
Said to be one of the oldest scrapyards in the country, Shivajinagar gujri generates around 360 tonnes of scrap every day, according to the association. “Most shops are small operations and one store owner perhaps makes about Rs 300-400 a day,” says Imtiaz Ahmed, an SSMA member.
After the creation of a recycling unit in Oragadam, outside Chennai, where cars are systematically torn down and large parts are compressed by a hydraulic press, talk of an automated plant in Bangalore has been doing the rounds. “There isn’t enough work here for machines,” says Ahmed, dismissive of any threat to their livelihood.