N.H. Road comes alive every Sunday with hagglers, bargain hunters and compulsive buyers as they go shopping for second-hand electronic goods, discovers Esther Elias

Every Sunday for nine years now, Shahul Ameen arrives at 8 a.m. on N.H. Road with cardboard boxes too full to tape shut. He spreads a tarpaulin sheet by the pavement outside a shuttered shop, hoists two poles on the road, throws another tarpaulin sheet over them and settles down in this makeshift shanty to unpack his wares.

Out come worn DVD players, Japanese headphones, mobile phone covers, chargers, ancient tape recorders, rusted sound mixers, dismantled mixies and second-hand CDs. Along the length of N.H. Road, others like Shahul slowly begin setting up the Sunday-only sandhai of second-hand electrical and electronics goods. With his products now neatly ordered and his morning chai downed, Shahul plonks cross-legged on a cane charpai, almost to say, “Let the haggling begin.”

“1,500!” says Babu. “800,” says the customer. “1,300!” snaps Babu. “1,000,” begs the customer. They meet at Rs. 1,100 and the customer walks off with a massive set of boombox speakers, its cloth covering bearing tell-tale holes. “People come here from all over Coimbatore every Sunday because there are at least 20 stalls to choose almost anything electronic from,” says Babu, who’s been a part of the sandhai for five years.

While most other sellers stay on till 8 p.m. when the market officially closes, Babu packs up once he’s made a decent sale. Babu spends his week going house to house in colonies across Coimbatore buying old electronic goods by weight. “Sometimes we buy from kabadi-wallas as well,” he says. Shahul finds his wares through similar methods but frequents exchange melas across the city and outside as well.

Unlike these two, Babu, owner of an electronics service unit just off N.H. Road sells at the sandhai the leftovers from his centre. “I have products which are too old to be fixed, so I bring them here and mechanics and other electricians buy them for the spare parts,” he says. Another hot product is mobile phones and their accessories, both new and second-hand. “Many sellers have small cellphone outlets elsewhere. When they accumulate models which are no longer manufactured or sold by mobile brands, they bring them here and sell it for half-price without guarantee cards,” explains Shahul. “They get rid of their stock and we get mobiles that work,” says Shashidharan, a regular customer at the sandhai for the last five years.

A long shot

It’s a hit-and-miss affair with products here, adds Shashidharan. He once bought a second-hand remote that claimed to work on any television set but didn’t do so. His spoil for today is a clock backlit by fluorescent lights shining through water with floating plastic fish in it. Through the years he’s frequented the sandhai, Shashidharan says he’s seen it expand to include stalls that sell more than just electronics. Some electronic stalls now stock new film DVDs and music CDs; others have cardboard boxes full of old cassettes with Tamil songs and well-used VCD tapes. Those like Pandian have set up stalls selling rubber chappals for Rs. 20, feeding off the sandhai’s constant crowd. “Through the week we sell at Race Course and we bring the excess here on Sundays,” he says. He is accompanied by a chat-walla, mosambi-juice seller and others peddling clothes.

The sandhai gets most of its footfall thanks to the buses that stop on N.H. Road and make their way to the heart of Town Hall. “Each of us gets 90 to 100 customers and altogether at least a 1,000 people come through each Sunday,” says Shahul.

Each stall usually has a huge crowd milling around it, few among them buying though, most just looking to replicate the bargains others make. Eavesdrop on a few conversations and you’ll hear a fair smattering of Hindi, for many migrant labourers from North India come to the sandhai for second-hand products that could make their short stay here more comfortable. Besides those buying, there are those looking to sell old goods too. As we speak, a man offers Shahul a walkman from the 90s. “Not interested,” says Shahul pointing to the walkmans he’s already got to sell. As others stand in the unforgiving heat, peering over Shahul’s wares, he gets himself a lime juice to last him through the second half of this sandhai Sunday.