Diwali comes early for Thane colony amid hail of bullets
Usually, when people hear gunshots, they run away. In Vartak Nagar, they run towards the bullets. As the police practise shooting at the nearby ground, locals make a killing afterwards by selling the bullet casings. The bullets are their bread and butter and, sometimes, even their vegetables.
Diwali is one of the busiest times for the business, says scrap dealer Bindu Ashok Gupta. She buys bullet casings from collectors like Chandrabaga Shelke (centre), who go bullet hunting in the hillside. Pics/Datta Kumbhar
Whether they want money to buy vegetables or sweets for Diwali, residents of Thane’s Vartak Nagar simply go on a treasure hunt at the nearby ground that is used as a firing range by the Thane Police, Navy and Air Force.
Take 78-year-old Chandrabaga Shelke, for instance, who spends four hours in the field every day, searching for spent bullet casings that she can sell to the scrap dealer at the end of the week, taking home an easy Rs 1,000 to Rs 2,400. Shelke is one of the veterans; she has been collecting the pellets for at least the last 30 years and has managed to put food on the table for her entire family thanks to her weekly earnings.
“Earlier, I would earn Rs 1,000 every day, as I would find 2 to 5 kg of bullet parts within a few hours. But others also started doing the same, so now I manage to find the same amount in a week. After selling it, I usually buy vegetables for my family on the way home,” she said.
Shelke added that she has three sons, all of whom earn well, but she continues to collect bullets because she doesn’t want to depend on anyone else. “It also keeps me active as I spend my free time between 2 and 6 pm searching in the fields. I also give some pocket money to my seven grandchildren.”
On any given day, you can find several people sifting through the rolling green hillside. From a distance, it looks like they’re farming. Laxmi Vasant Bhoir (50), a housewife goes there every week with her three daughters. “I have been coming here for more than a year. It’s just a source of some pocket money for us, and the cash we earn is useful for the extra expenses through the year. Now that Diwali is coming, we will spend the money on new clothes and sweets,” she said.
Shamsuddin Shaikh (21) earns Rs 400 every day in his job as a labourer, but on his days off, he still likes to head to the field to earn a little extra cash. “I have a weekly off on Monday but don’t like to sit idle at home. Instead, I spend my free time collecting the bullet remaining parts and earn Rs 200 to Rs 300. My holiday is not wasted and my mother too is happy as I can give her money for daily expenses,” he said.
For others, like 16-year-old Ramkishan Yadav, the bullet hunt is a convenient way to add more firepower to the Diwali celebrations. “My father has bought new clothes for me but refused to buy firecrackers. Why should I harass them to spend more? Instead, if I spend just two hours on the ground for a couple of days, I can earn around Rs 500 and by lots of crackers for Diwali. Today, I collected 1kg of bullet scrap. One more day, and I will meet my target and be able to buy 1,000 cracker chains for the entire week,” said the Std VII student.
Since the firing doesn’t always take place every day, Yadav keeps his ears open for the sound of gunfire and hotfoot it to the firing range. “I don’t go on daily, but only when I am in need of cash. I go there once or twice a week,” Yadav added.
Like him, there are other youngsters who also wait eagerly to hear the crack of a bullet. “After returning from school, two of friends and I spend an hour collecting the scraps and earn about R20 to buy kites from the local shop,” said 12-year-old Kiran Sonawane.
The scrap dealers
The bullet business is not just booming for the collectors but also for the scrap dealers who buy it from them. The most popular one is Kamlabai Ahir (65) who was among the first to start the business along with her husband. Since his demise, however, she has been running the business alone. “We have been in this business for around four decades. The police is well aware about it, as we are doing nothing illegal. We are simply picking up the waste from the ground and selling it in the market,” said Ahir, who sits in a corner with her weighing machine.
“Sitting at home, what else can we do to earn easy money? We purchase the metal for Rs 120 per kg and after getting a good amount of it, we resell it in the market for Rs 400 per kg. We earn Rs 5,000 to Rs 10,000 every month,” added Ahir. Ironically, monsoon is the dry season for this business, as the firing comes to a halt due to the rainfall.
On June 2014, a 5-year-old girl from the locality swallowed a bullet part that she found in ground while she was playing there. The victim, Kishori Santosh Yelemkar initially didn’t tell her parents what had happened but later began to complain of a stomach ache. Her parents found out the truth from some other kids, and the girl was admitted in Kalwa Chhatrapati Shivaji Hospital the next day. Little Kishori eventually passed the bullet out of her body naturally, 40 hours after she had swallowed it.
Prashant Dalvi, Std IX student
Whenever I there is a school holiday, I go bullet hunting. Just 100g fetches R12 and I can buy Chinese bhel for myself and my parents.
Kancha Rathod, Std V student
I earn Rs 70 to Rs 80 every day and give it to my family. Many people do it on a daily basis and earn a good amount. But sometimes people take advantage of the fact that I am younger, and snatch my collection and sell it.
Bindu Ashok Gupta, Scrap dealer
People approach us to sell the bullet parts and we weigh it and give them cash accordingly. During the summer and Diwali vacations, most of the kids spent their time collecting bullets and we get a huge quantity then.