Every Friday at around 6 a.m, Rekha, 55, shows up in south Kashmir’s Shopian town with a bale of cast-offs and a folded cot.
On a pavement, right in front of historic Jamia Masjid, she unfolds the steel frame of the cot and settles her merchandise–faded jeans, pullovers, vests, caps–in an apple-pie order.
Rekha, a native of Gujarat has been setting up a stall in the weekly Friday market of the town for over a decade.
“For last 10 to 12 years, I have been setting up a stall here. This market fetches me Rs 500 to 700”, says Rekha. She says that she has not seen the market of this kind anywhere in the entire Valley. “It is small, beautiful and well worth a visit”, Rekha adds.
While the decades-old flea market draws dozens of vendors from across India, a good number of local sellers also run their stalls in the market.
From worn clothes, refurbished shoes to brand new cushions and bedspreads featuring elaborate detailing, the market offers a host of things to the shoppers.
The vendors could be seen shouting out their wares throughout the day while the people from across the district keep flocking the stalls.
“Despite the biting cold, the market remains abuzz with shoppers throughout the day till sunset“, said a local vendor while tucking his hands inside the warmth of his armpits.
The district, largely comprising well-heeled apple orchardists, has a population of around 2.66 lakh, which provides a good customer base to the outside vendors.
Like Rekha, Pooja too hails from Gujarat and has been vending the used goods since past many years in the market. She says that she earns enough to provide for her family.
For a Srinagar based vendor, most of the customers in the area are kind and spring for the things without much haggling.
“This is the uniqueness of this market”, he said.
According to him, at least a hundred vendors depend on the market for their livelihood.
The shoppers say that affordability is the key reason, which attracts them towards this market.
“Last year, I purchased a used branded shoe for just Rs 300 and I still wear it”, said Javed Ahmad, a shopper.
Another local Mohammad Ashraf Hamad, said that the Friday flea market was being organised even before 1978 when a devastating fire reduced the town to rubble.
“The only difference that I can see today is the shifting of market’s location”, he said, adding that it used to be organised in front of a graveyard in the main market rather than the present location.