The “Bhangarwala”


Wanna get rid of old stuff or junk? Get in touch with the bhangarwala! The few years I stayed in Mumbai while attending college, I was always aware of the Bhangarwala, would hear their calls, and would see them wandering the neighborhood, like a cat on its prowl. I was a little curious about them, but never paid any attention to them at all. It was only recently that I have had several interactions with them and have greatly benefited from their services!

If you break down the term “Bhangarwala”, it makes for an interesting analysis of the word.  “Bhangar” means several things in different Indian languages. It could refer to “old stuff in the house”, “gold”, or even “scrap”. The term “wala” refers to person or man in Hindi. So the Bhangarwala is the person who deals in scrap or old house-hold stuff. It’s like a big pawn shop on wheels!

As part of the house renovations, we had the choice of either just thrashing our old furniture and cabinets as debris or engage in the delights and pains of dealing with the Bhangarwala. It was really an amazing experience. When you need a Bhangarwala, they miraculously appear with their flimsy carts made of tin and aluminum. Here is an image of the cart that is so common amongst the streets of Mumbai, any part of the city:

The cart upon which the Bhangarwala transports all kinds of items (don't miss the paan stains on the building wall!!)

The cart upon which the Bhangarwala transports all kinds of items (don't miss the paan stains on the building wall!!)

 

Her is the side view of the cart – rather flimsy looking piece of contraption, but does the job with efficiency and ease!

 

The Bhangarwala will take anything you need to get rid off…. My first attempt at recruiting a Bhangarwala was quite successful and effortless. I walked out of my rental apartment, found out the main street where they all hang out, and sought the services of one Bhangarwala who happened to be in the area. He followed me to the renovation site, and when I showed him all the stuff I needed to get rid of, his eyes lit up, like a child in a candy store. I had plenty of goodies for sale…..old cupboards, dining tables and chairs, a kitchen sink, cabinets and dressers, metallic scraps and electrical wires, doors of bedrooms and balconies, brass taps and bathroom fittings…these were some of the goodies that were up for grabs. But it was not as easy as it may sound.

The Bhangarwala said he would take all my wares, but I had to engage in the process of negotiating and renegotiating. Some of these negotiations took over an hour where each party would assess the goods, name a price, debate on it, and then reassess and re-evaluate, and the entire process would begin, again! It was really tortuous doing all of this in the heat of the day, where I was on the verge of wanting to just give in, but my Mumbaikar spirit just gave me the strength and spirit to stick to and get the price that I thought was fair. What was spooky about this all is that I had several Bhangarwalas who, upon hearing that things were being sold from my apartment, would almost stalk me every time I came to the renovation site. They would wait by the entrance of the building and ask me questions like when I was planing on selling my windows or when I was planing on getting rid of the bathroom pipes. It was a really bizarre experience seeing several of these men interested in wanting scarps from the house.

Here is some of the stuff that I got rid off in one day and got a decent chunk of change for them:

Old windows, bedroom doors, aluminum frames, metallic pipes and wooden frames

In India, we really give the word “recycle” a whole new meaning. I would have never thought that such old stuff would be sold and would fetch me a decent sum of money – it was really incredible how these people scout for old scraps like vultures, creatures with a keen eye. It is also amazing to note that this “scrap” will be resold to another party who will most likely re-furbish these things and sell it for a slightly higher price. What a lucrative business!

Here is a close up of the stuff again:

Of course, the bhangarwala did not load all of this on his puny cart. He called some of his own men and organized a truck to carry all the furniture and materials and paid for the truck himself. I watched with great curiosity and admiration how these men work so hard at looking for a good deal and are so persistent at their job – convincing you to sell your stuff to them and only them!

To date, I have still got a call or two from one of the bhangarwalas who bought my stuff, inquiring if I am ready to sell my windows. And when I tell them “not yet”, they tell me in strict confidence, “Please sell them to only me, as I will give you the best price. Whatever any other person is giving you, I will give you double the price.” When I am ready to get rid of my windows, I will call up this bhangarwala, and we will go through the entire exercise again of negotiating and re-negotiating, until both parties are satisfied with the decided monetary amount for the windows. Until then, I can relax knowing that if the bhangarwala does not give me a price I like, I can find a 100 more bhangarwalas at my service!

The bhangarwala showing off his newly purchased goods

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