Gearboxes for a song

Petrol tanks and shock absorbers for all models. — Photo: Sampath Kumar G.P.

Petrol tanks and shock absorbers for all models. — Photo: Sampath Kumar G.P.  

NOTHING CONTRASTS the hep areas of Cantonment more starkly than the gujri market, a warren of greasy lanes lined with shops overflowing with automobile spares of every size and kind. The market also reflects the Third World's thrift and enterprise. While Americans squash a multi-tonne 18-wheeler into a lump of metal, deft hands at the gujri at Stephen Square on Chandni Chowk Road, opposite Russell Market, painstakingly rip open junked vehicles, from the smallest and oldest moped to a roomy Ambassador, part by minute part. From the engine right down to rivets and nuts, no part is spared. Every component is laboriously salvaged and given a new lease of life.

The gujri is a sprawling, complex yard of automobile spares squeezed into every corner and hanging from every hook. Mudguards, fuel tanks, batteries, steering wheels, gear levers, gearboxes, radiators, carburettors, brake shoes, tyres, chassis, and the entire assembly of components that make a complete vehicle are massed together for sale.

The range of spares is so wide that, for a few thousand rupees, one can assemble an entire car if one puts one's mind and hands to it. People flock to the gujri not only for good bargains but also because they can find spares for cars that are no longer manufactured. Jawa motorcycle, Vijay and Lambretta scooters, Standard Herald, old model Ambassador, Fiat, Jeep, Chevrolet, and Impala have long ago stopped rolling off assembly lines. But their spares still live on at the gujri even though their demand may be limited.

The prices of some of the parts are just a fraction of their original price. For instance, one can pick up an Ambassador door for just Rs. 100 or Rs. 150. A new petrol engine that would cost a lakh can be had for Rs. 1,000 while a diesel engine is a mere Rs. 3000. A two-wheeler mudguard comes for Rs. 75 instead of the Rs. 400 one has to pay at company rates. Rates, however, are not fixed and customers, who usually bring along their mechanics, have to do some serious haggling.

Syed Basheer, Joint Secretary, Stephen Square Merchant's Association, recalls how before Bangalore's roads became choked with automobiles, the gujri comprised some 30 shops selling blades, and axles and wheels for bullock carts and horse carriages.

Members of the association running the 80-year-old gujri source condemned goods and vehicles through tenders. Once they are transported to the gujri, the automobile, a product of years of design, development, and manufacture and once somebody's prized possession, is impersonally taken apart by about 20 workers, all car-breaking specialists who charge about Rs. 200 to dismantle a car. It's all over in a day and close to 200 kg of spares from a single car are sold as scrap.

Parts that are beyond repair are sold as scrap while the rest are expertly salvaged and made serviceable. Here, Mr. Basheer points out that the traders rarely know the state of the vehicle they bring to their yard, and are not sure they can make a profit from it. Often, it's hard to break even, he claims.

Nevertheless, those who come looking for spares rarely go disappointed. If one has the patience to look around, one is sure to find what one is seeking. Looking at the complicated heaps of parts, it would seem a miracle if one can get what one is looking for. But one can never underestimate the shop owner's savvy touch.. They know exactly where they have put away that little one-inch screw or the hex-head nut. No wonder then that some 200 people from around the city and even from as far away as Mysore, Davangere, Belgaum and Raichur drop by for spares everyday.

Though spares of the newer models like the Tata Indica, Ford Ikon and Santro are hard to find here, the traders say they'll get them soon.

Moving parts like those in the engine usually are beyond repair and are sold as scrap while other components like shock absorbers, clutch plates, horns, and batteries (for cars and two-wheelers) can be recycled. Many are in passable condition or can be put back in shape by the enterprising souls.

Sharing space with automobile spares at the gujri are tarpaulins, old clothes, and military shoes bought by traders from auctions conducted by the police, BSF and CRPF.


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