A soul-searching business
Thursday, December 27, 2007
Like Hindu souls, disposable plastic cups are many times reborn in Dharavi. In a spiralling continuum, they are discarded and gathered in, melted down to their polypropylene essence, and re-moulded in some new plastic form. Recycling is one of the slum’s biggest industries. Thousands of tonnes of scrap plastic, metals, paper, cotton, soap and glass revolve through Dharavi each day.
Location is the key to this. Until two decades ago, the slum was next door to Bombay’s biggest rubbish tip. This provided a livelihood for thousands of local dalits, for whom ?ragpicking??scavenging on society’s leftovers for anything of salvageable value?is a traditional employment. The tip has since been shifted outside the city. So too, for want of space, have many of Dharavi’s recycling units. Yet the roughly 6,000 tonnes of rubbish produced each day by a swelling Mumbai continues to sustain an estimated 30,000 ragpickers, including many residents of Dharavi. The slum is also host to some 400 recycling units.
To a devout low-caste Hindu, the recycling process might offer solace, for through its gyrations rejected goods come back in new and valuable forms. At the first turn of the wheel is Ravi, a scavenger waiting outside a garbage wholesaler to unload his day’s labour?a sack of paper and plastic plucked from Dharavi’s rancid alleys. Ravi is balding, has rotten teeth and reckons he is 35.
He says he arrived in Mumbai from Nagpur, Maharashtra, about 25 years ago, after fleeing a cruel stepmother. The journey took him a bit over three years, most of which he spent in prison; he was arrested aboard a train leaving Nagpur for travelling without a ticket. Since he got to Mumbai, he has spent every night on a nearby railway platform, and his days scavenging. Earning around 20 rupees (50 cents) per kilo of plastic litter, Ravi makes between 50 and 100 rupees a day?of which he aims to send 1,200 rupees a month to his younger sister in Nagpur. He has not been home, or seen her, since running away as a child. He explains this act of almost incredible selflessness thus: ?I have no attachment to anyone except my sister.?
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