Remember when loud music blaring from store-side speakers used to be a staple in the city? Almost none does it anymore. One can’t help but miss it, even if it was a great nuisance to the public.
This is why when coming across this rarity, one is bound to take notice. So did Jahan Islam, a photographer, who came to Karwan Bazar to visit his relative and decided to have a cup of tea. He stopped at the sound of classic Bollywood songs booming from old speakers.
Curious, he looked across at the source of the music — on the opposite side of Janata Tower. It looked like a makeshift shop, with a small crowd gathered in front of it. The promise of eccentricities made him cross the road.
He was not disappointed.
Jahan’s eyes dazzled as he saw an old man sitting in a sea of old/broken/outdated electronic products. Table-clocks, wristwatches, sound boxes, CD players, laptops, land-phone sets, calculators — the store is stacked with electronic gadgets straight out of early 2000s and 1990s.
His interest piqued when he found a rare camera flash that went out of market years ago. He started bargaining with the old man — his bid of Tk 100 vs the man’s asking price Tk 400. They eventually settled at Tk 200.
It’s not exactly antique. Jahan was glad that it still worked, but he would not have been upset if it did not. Collecting rare camera accessories is something of a passion for him. He has a showcase full of precious old gadgets. The flash would be a prized addition to that.
Such an unusual store is bound to attract people with unusual tastes and needs. Jibon, a clown by profession, is a regular customer of this “Bhangari Dokan” (scrap store). On this particular day, he was there to buy a headphone.
“I frequently come here to buy stuff I need. You can find a lot of necessary things at the cheapest of prices,” a smiling Jibon said.
But more importantly, “The products we buy from here serve us quite well. If there’s any issue, chacha (uncle) repairs it free of charge,” he added.
The uncle being referred to is vendor Abdus Salam, a jolly 65-year-old. “For 45 years, I’ve been selling scrap. I started this business when I was only 20 years of age,” Salam said. He could not remember the year.
Every day, he adds about Tk 500 worth of goods to his collection. “We collect things going door to door and from scrap warehouses in Old Dhaka.”
All of it sells too, and then some more. “We make a sale of around Tk 3,500 per day on average,” he said. Almost all the buyers come from lower-income households.
Before he started this business, Salam used to be a peon at the then Dhaka City Corporation office. One of his duties was to take damaged electronic items for repair. “I sat beside the repair-man as he fixed them,” he reminisced fondly.
Observing the technician’s methods keenly, Salam started trying to replicate his learnings. Over time, he got there.
In the meantime, he came into contact with a man who was running a scrap business. Salam saw opportunity in this. He soon left his job and started his own business.
It proved to be his calling. From the get go, he became immersed in running his shop. So much so that he did not quite feel the need to get married. “I got married only nine years ago,” Salam said.
But it was more than just passion that compelled him. He had to support his younger brother and sister find their footing in life. “I helped my brother open a tea stall at my village (in Rangpur) and funded my sister’s marriage,” he said.
Once everything was settled — siblings and shop — Salam finally had the time to get married to Shahanaj, some 35 years younger to him.
“I’m happy with him. He is a good person. I like taking care of this small store,” Shahanaj said. She has become something of a co-owner over time.
It’s not an easy job. “After sorting out breakfast and lunch, I come here by 9am and go home at 8pm to make dinner,” she said. But it’s not an issue for her. “I consider him and the business an important part of my life.”
Asked if she wants to learn how to repair electronic gadgets, she shook her head in the negative, but not without a smile.
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