The Arts

Photo Essay: The Afterlife of the Lifeless at Mayapuri Junkyard

What happens to the vehicles you see wrecked and abandoned on the side of the road? Sreedeep captures one of the places they end up at – the Mayapuri junkyard, a strange world of clutter and order, destruction and reuse.

1. afterlife upclose 1
What happens to those vehicles you see wrecked and abandoned after an accident on the side of the road? Where do old, outdated vehicles go after they finally stop exhaling black fumes and generating rattling noises?
2. afterlife upclose 2
Mayapuri in West Delhi is one of the places they end up at after doing their rounds in auction houses across the country. The junkyard is an enormous hub of retail units that sell reusable machine parts extracted from abandoned vehicles.
4. dismantling - till hammers and cutters do us apart 1

Here, vehicles and machines are dismantled and functional parts extracted and resold. The dismantled parts substitute for bruised and damaged parts of operative engines and bodies at much cheaper rates. The entire system is in keeping with the indigenous Indian system of “jugaru” solutions.

5. dismantling - till hammers and cutters do us apart 2

As you find yourself a spot in Mayapuri, most likely as a customer looking for cheap replacements or, as in my unusual case, an inquisitive onlooker, the space consumes you with its paradoxical systemisation of clutter and its strange sense of morbidity.

7. operational breaks - rest in peace 2

The experience of being in Mayapuri starkly contrasts with our everyday experience of the sanitised, immaculate and unblemished. The world of Mayapuri is completely untouched by the bulldozers of beautification that maintain the order of the world we take for granted.

6.operational breaks - rest in peace 1

Mayapuri is a graveyard, but one of unnatural deaths. It is an enormous shelter of the afterlife of the lifeless. Skeletons of machinery that once had life surround you. Cycles of use, reuse and recycle are never-ending here, you realise as you pause to wait and watch, or pass yet another wrecking exercise.

8.last rites - skeletons on the move 1

As you move through this afterworld, the smell of musty grease and mobil clings to your nostrils. A metallic soundtrack of scratching, denting, beating, hammering and dumping drowns out your footsteps.

9. last rites - skeletons on the move 2

You witness how every part of every body is broken down to its last reducible usable quotient.

3.organic separations - taking stocks

Mayapuri embodies our refusal to dispose rather than a desire to preserve. This refusal relates to the needs of low cost urban infrastructures that encourage and support informal channels of production, circulation and consumption. It serves those who cannot afford the branded and the new.

This project was funded by The India Photo Archive Foundation as a part of the Neel Dongre Grants for Excellence in Photography.

Read a review of World of Recycle, an exhibition by all eight awardees of the grant.

Sreedeep is Research Fellow at the Centre for Public Affairs and Critical Theory, SNU.