Cycling around Mandir Marg in central Delhi I came across this man wandering down the road with a broken speaker dangling on a string. There are very few sights in the city that surprise me, but there are plenty that baffle me. This one ticked both boxes.
The gentleman in the picture is trying to make some money. That was pretty easy to deduce.
When I saw the big white bag over his shoulder I was pretty sure it would contain some empty plastic bottles and loose paper. There might also be bits of plastic, Mother’s Dairy milk pouches and perhaps the odd glass bottle.
If he was lucky, the gentleman may have found some newspapers too. Newspaper, a prized commodity in the world of waste, commands a price of 10 INR a kilo. It takes about 30 plastic bottles to earn about the same amount of cash.
This gentleman is known as a rag picker. He wanders the streets looking to make some money from other people’s waste. In the waste hierarchy, he’s pretty much at the bottom of the pile. The waste he gets his hands is what nobody else wants.
Usually it is young boys carrying the tell tale white bags. Men do the job too, but they are not seen as frequently.
But this gentleman stood out. It was the first time that I’d seen a man or boy carrying a broken speaker on a string. Why? I stopped my bicycle by his side, smiled, pointed to the speaker and made an quizzical expression to try and convey my confusion.
The man smiled back. He looked at me blankly. I was about to enter into a very difficult conversation. It was one of those days where my limited Hindi was failing me.
I decided to give it a go regardless. Here’s what I found out.
The speaker is magnetic. As the man walks down the street he dangles the speaker by the kerbside to pick up tiny shards of metal. He then collects the shards and sells them to make some cash.
Simple. But where does the metal come from. He pointed to the car and buses passing by.
Was he collecting the tiny shards of metal that had fall from cars, vans, buses and trucks? Maybe. But he also pointed to the exhaust of a parked car, suggesting to me that the fumes contained the metal that he was after too. I know Delhi’s air quality is bad, but this took things to a new level.
I wanted to know more. How much he had collected? How much was it worth?
Today was not my day. We couldn’t converse well enough with one another to have a decent conversation. My Hindi had let me down. It was another experience that made me realise that I should get back in the classroom and start learning.
Maybe one day, when my Hindi is better, I’ll have the chance to meet a man carrying a speaker and ask some more questions.