The markets, which have been around for three generations, provide raw material to artisans in the city who make a whole range of bamboo products.
It takes Ramesh less than five minutes to make a jaali, a grid-like structure made of bamboo that is used as a part of the scaffolding at construction sites. A resident of Chamarajpet, Ramesh has been making bamboo products since he was 15 years old. He deftly nails the poles together at a speed that makes you flinch as the hammer hits the bamboo. He earns Rs 15 for each jaali he makes.
Ramesh nails poles together
Ramesh is one of the workers who make bamboo products at the Bamboo Bazaar on Sultanji Gunta Road, near the Cantonment Railway Station. The street is mostly filled with stores selling refurbished wooden works from demolished buildings, with three bamboo shops snuggled together at one end.
AM Ameenullah, who owns Bamb Woods Industry, one of the three stores that give the market its name, says the bamboo they use comes directly from the Konkan villages near Sawantwadi in Maharashtra, while the neighbouring shops buy their bamboo from the New Bamboo Bazaar in Kalasipalya.
Shahid, a bamboo trader at the Kalasipalya market, says, “We used to get bamboo from Shivamogga and Chikmagalur earlier, but that has stopped in the past few years. Now, we get our bamboo from Sawantwadi and Nelamangala.” According to him, the reason for the drop in imports from within Karnataka is the decline in bamboo cultivation in the region.
Shahid and Ameenullah are both operating a business that has been in their family for three generations, like most other traders in the two bazaars. While traders from both markets claim to have a 70-75 year history, everyone agrees that the Kalasipalya bazaar is actually the older one. A newer bamboo bazaar has come up in Yelahanka more recently, says Shahid.
The artisans who work at the Cantonment bazaar make a variety of bamboo products, including jaalis, mats, blinds, fencing, furniture, and even funeral biers. They usually take orders from construction businesses, hotels and restaurants, but also serve individual customers. The stores even provide bamboo poles on rent, for setting up tents.
Shafiullah works outside one of the bamboo shops on Sultanji Gunta Road from 8 in the morning until it’s too dark to work. He sits facing away from the traffic, dabbing red paint with a piece of cloth on the bamboo blinds he has just finished making. Shafiullah says he gets paid Rs 15 per square foot for the blinds.
While the Kalasipalya market is bigger and has more shops, it has fewer artisans. Basha, who works at one of the shops that provides bamboo poles for tents and podiums, moved to Karnataka from his village in Yemmiganuru taluka of Kurnool district in Andhra Pradesh about 8 years back.
“At first I worked at construction sites in Hoskote. I moved here about 3 years ago for better wages,” Basha says, while covering bamboo poles in tricolour cloth for election campaign tents for the Congress party.
Bamboo poles for campaign tents
Although the New Bamboo Bazaar at Kalasipalya does not directly employ a lot of workers, the traders do provide raw material to independent artisans. Some of these artisans work and sell their products on a stretch of pavement near the KIMS hospital on KR Road.
Products on display
Muthulinga is one of them. “My grandparents came here from Mysuru. We have been making bamboo products in our family for more than 30 years,” Muthulinga says, while rapidly interlacing bamboo sticks to make blinds. The workers on this pavement also sell baskets, handheld fans, mats and blinds, among other things made from bamboo.
Muthulinga at work
Traders from both markets complained about the slump in business in the past year because of GST. When asked if the rising trend of sustainable lifestyles had any impact on the demand in these markets, the traders responded that such businesses preferred to source bamboo from Assam and other parts of the north-east, since the bamboo there had longer sections between two nodes and looked shinier after the finishing process.
As Ramesh makes and tosses jaalis away with lightning speed, he says he doesn’t have a fixed time for returning home.
“Some days I work till 7 or 8 pm, some days I go home if I’ve made about 400 rupees,” he says.
Shafiullah says his children aren’t interested in bamboo work and prefer working in an office setting. Ramesh, whose children are still in school, isn’t keen on passing his work on to them either.
But as Muthulinga works in the business for longer and longer, his cousins Abhi and Rajesh, who are on their school summer break, help him with the stones and thread used to tie the bamboo strips together. “This is our family work. The children grew up learning it, so they can always do it if they want to,” says Muthulinga.