Sunday, February 05, 2006

Xerox gully

Fashion street is a known place in Bombay as is Khau galli, but Xerox gully is a little lesser known of all these gullies, yet very well known too. Xerox gully (which is what we used to call it, it has a thousand other names perhaps) is a small narrow line of photocopy/DTP shops set up on the west (geographically it is something else, but Bombay knows it as east) of Chembur railway station.

Almost anybody who has passed out of any engineering or medical or business school of Bombay will know this place (and owes many an exam result to this place). Among its portals have passed perhaps Indias best and brightest. If these xerox (for this post, please excuse the incorrect definition, unless I say xerox, it would lose the impact) shop owners photographed the students who came and took their services they would perhaps have the photographs of the high and mighty in Indias corporate rollcall.

So, why is this place so indispensable for students? Because, they have commoditized the business of photocopying and how. At a time when copies would cost a rupee or three in various parts of Bombay, these smart businessmen began offering copies at 25 paise (one fourth of a rupee, 45 INR = 1 USD approx). For students, this was a godsend. Soon notes began to be photocopied, and need I say more, everything that could be photocopied began to be photocopied. When we were studying, people who stayed around that area had the extra responsibility in our class of the "Xerox in charge" (and they were paid auto rickshaw fare) to photocopy notes for the entire class.

Just how did they manage to bring the cost so low? Typical Indian jugaad, I think. The photocopiers are old, perhaps second hand or heirlooms or hand me downs. They are operated without the top light protection cover, among other things. The operator keeps the book (yes, yes, I know, but this is the truth) face down and flips his hand continuously so that the need for the top cover to protect is obliterated. Never has a page been missed! If company executives saw how these machines are operated and how much they withstand, they would give themselves a pat on their back.

In the early morning, when they start their busy day, the machines are started. The panel on the side facing the operator is removed ( it usually doesnt exist) and a lighted match is used to heat a coil on the side. Voila! the machine is warmed up before you can say photocopier. The trick they use to lower the cost of the copy is to dilute the toner (with kerosene presumably). Of course, like the American car example, these copies last exactly the duration of life they are required to (one semester). The utility of the copy for the buyer drops, once after the exams and then again after the results and it serves its purpose well for the duration it is intended to. They are amazingly efficient and despite busy schedules, turn around huge numbers of copies in good time (usually a day or less).

These smart guys also prepare final year project copies and do excellent DTP on (other) good (canon, as they say) machines. They have smartly expanded their market too, not stopping at just "xerox". They also know the "notes" for each semester for most branches of engineering. So, if you cant locate the notes, just ask them. They keep an extra copy for this purpose that they cheerfully xerox and give you when you ask for the "3rd semester electronics notes, whose name I forgot". During this visit, I saw they have diversified into colour xeroxes and whatnot.

Wish I could post a photgraph. I missed taking a snap of it this time.


Niti Bhan said...


You select the most memorable things! This post reminded me of the skinny gully near Bangalore race course which was the equivalent for engineering students - you could also:

1. sell your old books and buy new 'used' books (useful for beer money :)
2. Get your engineering drawings on ammonia paper - the original 'blue print' rather than the newfangled HP plotters
3. obtain previous year's exam questions, proposed 'right' answers and much much more

thanks :)

Sanity Starved said...

Top-notch stuff.

I do not know about your coroporate big-wigs or company executives, but a product designer really does appreciate this level of detail! :)

Thank you.

Kaps said...

I have come across such shops in Chennai as well. They are not concentrated in one central place...they are spread out all over the city.

Hiren Shah said...

Very interesting. To my mind, this is an example of lateral thinking or thinking out of the box. I have a published article on the subject with the Ambanis as examples in case you are interested.