As I tripped across wet streets this morning to office, I noticed a pair of youth diligently collecting plastic water bottles into a bag. Elated that plastic was finally being collected for recycling - against the dire pronuncements of those first world gurus - I paused to have a chat with Raj (21) and his brother Dheeraj (13).
Just outside the plush YMCA Tourist Hostel, New Delhi the siblings were working to gather a kilo of plastic which would fetch them Rs 11. 'The going rate is 10, but at the place we give it at New Delhi station, we get 11.'
Raj and Dheeraj are from Mirzapur, Allahabad. There is no work like this there Raj says. Only in Delhi you find such heaps of plastic waste.
They make about Rs 60 a day, sometimes more, within which they have to manage their khana-peena'(food and drink). At the day's end they sleep on the footpaths outside YMCA where lodgings are at over Rs 1200 per night.
Sometimes they go to sleep on the platform at New Delhi Station. After I gave the duo Rs 20 for taking their photos, Raj eagerly showed me the special identity card issued by IRCTC identifying him as a 'loader.' Actually, the card was someone else's and Raj had pasted his name over the other boy's name on the identity card. He had also put his own photo. This allows us to sleep otherwise 'police pareshan karte,' Raj said.
What struck me about Raj and Dheeraj was the dignity with which they carried out their task. Immigrants to the city, though Raj has lived here all his life, they still remembered a father back home who 'dug wells' (maybe I got that wrong).