Another day, another dhalao

26 Feb

When I arrived in Delhi monsoon was still in full swing. The days were hot and muggy and you could only sleep with a fan or air conditioner.

A few days after I’d moved into my apartment, I decided to treat myself at the local ice cream parlour. The icecream was great but, at 80 rupees a scoop, definitely pricey.

On my stroll home I passed my neighbourhood dhalao, or waste collection centre.

Neighbourhood dhalao south delhi

Kailash Colony, South Delhi neighbourhood dhalao

It was getting dark, so I was startled by something scrabbling through the rotting food scraps, crumpled packaging and broken bits of crockery.

It was a man.Ragpicker sorting waste

He stopped his sorting and turned towards me. We looked at each other for a moment.

It would be weeks before I understood the vital role he played in recycling my daily domestic waste.

I didn’t yet know that my ice cream cost around the same amount of money he would earn on an average day.

It would also be some time before I would learn about the Delhi government’s plans to remove the dhalaos (and his workspace) from the city.

And I certainly would never have predicted that one day, a couple of months from that moment, I would smash a glass bottle in my kitchen, then fret about how to dispose of the shards.

Because I would know then that Delhi’s recycling is often done by people with bare hands and no protective clothing.

But I wasn’t concerned with any of this then.

I just glanced away from him and continued walking.

He turned back to his work.

And I ate expensive ice cream.

Ragpicker collecting recyclables

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