A roaming scrap-collector who became the junkyard legend

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It took one old car to change the life of a struggling boy who’s today the celebrated scrap-dealer in town.

by Arshid Hamid

Before lending his attentive ear to a street call, he carefully took off his dark shades and placed them on his forehead, like a style icon.

Some moments before, a man pulled over his scrap-filled load-carrier on the other side of the sunlit road, and yelled: “Farooqa, take them! These sanitary pipes are in good shape.”

Sitting like a hawk inside his junkyard, he gawked at the new scrap shipment, before nodding his head, “Looks good to me. Unload them!”

This quick junk deal in Old City’s Babademb is perhaps a small window to peep into the world filled with trash, having its own market appetite in the valley. The junkyard pursuit only compliments an old Kashmiri adage: What’s vomit for some, is food for others.

And who else, than Farooq—the city’s celebrated scrap-dealer in his late forties—understands the worth of this oft-quoted saying in Kashmir.

At his shop, the scrap-dealer carries his own signature style. His carefully combed hairdo and detailed dressing—red shirt, brown leather belt, sky-blue jeans and red shoes—make him a misfit for a junkyard. But then, gone are the days, when Farooq would roam in rags, on the streets of Srinagar with gunny bag full of scrap slung on his right shoulder. It’s the other way around now. And therefore, the man has learned to conduct himself well.

Today, even biggies—whose neighbourhoods and localities Farooq would once frequent—now fall in line before his junkyard to buy their choicest items.

With spring sun languidly warming up another chilly day in Srinagar, the vehicles continued to pull over in Babademb. Facing the Brari Nambal lagoon, Farooq’s shop—a packed house of spare parts of disassembled vehicles—lives by its reputation of being a popular junkyard of Srinagar city. The buyers are growing, so is the buzz.

Mindful of his junkyard’s significance, Farooq put up a thoughtful face while looking at the crowd on a sidewalk loaded with valuable scrap—old computers, washbasins, sewage pipes and other accessories.

“I’ve been dealing with scrap from last 40 years now,” Farooq said, putting up a meditative face amid growing marketplace din. “I was barely 7-year-old when poverty back home pushed me on this path.”

It was during Seventies, when young Farooq wanted to study and make a name for himself. But his family’s constant struggle to make ends meet made his schooling a tall order. And when poverty became hard to bear, he decided to become a ‘Kabaed’—the roaming scrap-collector—for the sake of putting food on his family’s table.

Despite being heroes in their own right, Farooq’s tribe is often being looked down upon and called names—‘Kabead’ and ‘Sourwael’. But as Farooq explained it, only wearer knows where the shoe pinches. He stayed defiant and indifferent to those name-callings and minded his own business.

As a minor, whose contemporaries were still playing and attending school, Farooq would make rounds of new neighbourhoods in uptown Sringagar housing well-off section of society. Those exhaustive forays were driven by ‘better sale’ motive.

He was toiling hard and earning good for his family. But deep down, the kid was unhappy with his regimental routine.

“Then one day,” he recalled, “as I was calling out locals in Nishat for scrap collection, a sudden sad feeling gripped me. I lifted my tearful eyes towards Heavens and implored Him, ‘Myani Khudaye, how long I’m supposed to do this now!’ ”

The plea coming from the ‘burdened heart’ of a child was soon answered.

Shortly, he would bump into a Kashmiri Pandit living in Rajbagh locality. The high-heeled Pandit was selling his 66-model car. Farooq by then had seen his tribe members buying old cars and disassembling them to sell their individual parts. Most of them were doing fine. Craving for a change, Farooq wanted to follow suit.

He bought that Pandit’s classic car for Rs 3300 and took it to a nearby workshop, to disassemble it. “The workshop people bought gear box and other parts of my car for Rs 800,” Farooq continued recalling his life changing moment. Even as his customers repeatedly called out his name, he stayed captive to his bittersweet past.

The on-the-spot sale boosted the kid. Later he would sell other car parts and make Rs 3600 out of it.

And that was it.

The boy seeking the divine intervention to flip his fate was now clear in life. He no longer came out with scrap-filled gunny bag on his shoulder. He would purchase the old wagons and tear them into pieces, before selling their parts in an open market, at a very cheap price. It eventually created his own clientele.

And with that, the roaming struggler of yesteryears became a member of the legendary junk-dealers of Old City.

They were ‘legendary’ because many of them would even bring home the auctioned war-torn military equipments!

Especially after 1965 war, many of these men would line for ‘army auction’ and buy bullet-ripped and old vehicle.

Years later, as Kargil became the new battleground, most of its war-torn junk would be auctioned among the likes of Farooq and others. And keeping the sturdy strength of army vehicles in mind, many car enthusiasts and ace mechanics would seek their parts.

“People from Punjab and Delhi visit me to buy parts of army vehicles,” Farooq said. “They understand it well how auction send most of the junked army cars to the local scrap-dealers.”

After a while, Farooq stepped outside his shop for carrying the weekly auctioning.

On Sunday, people crowd his shop, in good numbers, to participate in the auction of items—mostly kitchen wares. The popular trading has now made the stretch, known to house renowned woodworkers of the old city, a busy and buzzing spot.

Farooq conducts auctioning in a very lively manner—the life spirit, he carries in his personal life as well.

The man has three children from two marriages. He wants to provide the best education to his kids, in order to raise their status in the society that still looks down upon what Farooq is proudly doing. But doesn’t that affect him?

“Not at all,” he said, placing his shades on his eyes. “What you see here is my labour of love. I built it bit by bit and I’m very proud of it.”

But when 2014 floods came, Farooq’s “labour of love” turned muck overnight. As flood waters receded, he also received Rs 2300 compensation cheque from government. He called it a cruel joke.

“But then, it set me thinking, too,” he said. “I had lost everything to the floods and that cheque was a stark reminder for me and others that people can never measure the worth of your toil.”

So, after the deluge devastation, he once again put his foot down, and restarted his trade from a scratch. Post-floods, his shop in Babademb became an instant crowd-puller. Even the elites would crowd his shop to take home the ‘flood-spoiled’ items at a very cheap price.

And since then, Farooq’s junkyard has assumed its own significance in the town. But with fortune, Farooq hasn’t forgotten his roots and has only grown more humble in life.

That’s why he has allotted the front space of his shop to many jobless youth, who sell crockery items on it for living.

“If a person like me who was once wearing their struggling shoes won’t throw my space open for them, then who will,” he said, flashing a pleasing smile. “I believe we rise by helping others to rise.”

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