Delhiwale: Pecking at trash, making a livelihood

Though it is only early morning in this market lane, it is already midday as far as Raju is concerned. “I start working by 11 or 12 in the night,” he says.

In his 20s, Raju makes a living by picking up reusable stuff people throw on the streets, which he sells to recyclers. Pointing at the huge sack he is standing next to, he says, “It has all the trash I have collected today.”

The waste collector lives in nearby Yamuna Bazaar, a north Delhi locality that is snuggled on the banks of the Yamuna. His house is actually a shanty — “not a home of bricks!” he repeats twice, as if his life depended on making this point clear. Gesturing towards the sack (he has briefly kept it on the pavement table of a tea stall that hasn’t opened yet), Raju says it is filled up mostly with plastic bottles, plastic bags, plastic jars, paper bags, and discarded masks.

He himself is not wearing a mask.


He responds by not making any comment.

Raju’s shirt is slightly torn on the front. He shrugs. There’s also a safety pin clipped to the shirt. “It is for emergency,” he says, without detailing the kind of situations that might warrant the emergency use of such a thing.

Whatever, he agrees to give a sense of his daily life. “I’m a very busy man,” he notes, explaining that when the city starts to fall asleep late at night, and streets begin to get empty, he launches into work. “I carry the sack on my shoulder and walk along the lanes of mohallas and bazaars, picking up things from the garbage and pavements that might be recycled.” He gets into action a couple of hours after his dinner. “ I started this work some years ago…. initially I would be scared of street dogs, who always tend to bark at us kabadi wallas.” For protection he would earlier arm himself with a lathi, but has put it away. “Now I am more experienced with the streets… I scare the dogs by barking back at them, in their own language,” he says in a serious tone.

Raju says he’s a Delhi native, and that his father was a tea seller. “Both my parents are dead, and my older brother has been laapata (missing) for many years.” He has a younger sister who stays at home, he says. “She’s the one who cooks for me… I would have been a free man if I didn’t have to take care of her.”

Now another waste collector arrives and both men get busy talking to each other in a low voice. They seem to be discussing their lunch plans. Soon afterwards, Raju turns his attention back to the huge sack. He spreads his arms around it, as if around a tree. He lifts it up and begins to walk further along the street.

Now, he informs, he shall go all the way to Yamuna Bazaar to sell the collection to a recycler. “Afterwards, I’ll spend the rest of the day at home.” He starts to walk extremely fast and disappears from view within moments.

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