Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Raddiwallah

One of the first things I learned about how a household is run in India is that the garbage collector comes every morning around 10am. This seemed straight forward and convenient.
I was so naive back then. My first surprise was that the garbage collector does not drive a truck. Don't get me wrong, I didn't expect the barrel lifting mammoths that I see in the US, but I did a expect a motorized vehicle. Instead I saw a very skinny man, riding a very old bicycle, with a very big bag of garbage on the back. Seriously, how does that thing stay on? My elementary school book bag often threw me off balance, that garbage bag is way beyond my skill level. Even with the third wheel, one good corner would finish me off.

But I think we must go back a step or two. Uday takes our dust bin outside around 9:00 or 9:30 every morning. On a couple of occasions I have noticed that he will pluck something out and hand it to Camla who will go set it out back, to be taken upstairs with them later. Then, while the dust bin waits outside for the garbage collector, the guard has a look. He will often set aside 2 liter pop bottles, bags in good condition, or any kind of electronic component. We once had a guard who picked out a few scratched CD's and decorated his bicycle. Then comes the garbage man. Here he is called a raddiwallah, or garbage vendor. He presorts the garbage at his cart, then he takes the garbage from the neighborhood to a shack on the corner where he and several other men (members of his family I believe) sort it into larger piles. The piles seem to go something like this: recyclables, things that can be salvaged, things that can be burned, things that can be fed to dogs and the rest. Since we only pay him $1 a month for picking up our garbage, I assume the rest of his money comes from selling the recyclable and salvageable things.

I have to admit that this has made me paranoid about what I throw out. For the next week, every time you are about to drop something in the garbage, think about how you would feel if the people in your neighborhood were going to see it and know where it came from. The letters and papers that I should have been shredding for years are finally getting shredded. Receipts for embarrassing amounts of money (anything over Rs. 1000, or $25) are destroyed. When I throw out food that we didn't eat before it went bad I wonder what they will think of us. When I am getting rid of old t-shirts that have too many stains, I put them in plastic bags so they won't get gross. Did I need any more guilt or neurosis in my life? Not really.


suburbancorrespondent said...

It puts us to shame, doesn't it? I'm going to try your experiment, though.

Rachel said...

I would cringe if someone saw what I trash. I think it would be a great thing to try to imagine you will have it looked over when it thrown out. We are so wasteful nowadays.

Aunt Carol said...

I have to share with you the fact my friend and I (when I was working) used to walk every morning before work. Well, on trash day we would sometimes race to get some gems out of the trash. We didn't dig but often found some real treasures on top. It was fun at the time. :-)

mr smith said...

I am going to pretend my favorite Aunt didn't just tell us that... :o) As a kid I loved the dump. LOVED it. It was a treat to be able to go and see what people threw out. As an adult in India, now I am more cautious. Same with things at work. They go through the garbage here. Sometimes I will find something printed or copied on a copy of an old email I threw out... or on the back of a naked picture of my brother I tossed - not sure why I had that one. Now I shred like a wild man.

Hunnydu72 said...

First, allow me to tell you that before I could write this response, I had to itemize everything I had in my garbage. Boy, the neighborhood could thrive off me for a month!

Second, I was just getting comfortable with the thought of throwing away food. Here's why: When you grow up poor (Government cheese is delicious on generic saltines, by the way.) you don't throw out anything. Old tinfoil, the ties off sandwich bags, the Ziploc containers that are supposed to be easier to miss if you happen to want to throw one away (As opposed to Rubbermaid containers, which you keep until somehow you melt from microwaving too long or destroy in the dishwasher.) and even the box of Tide. I use all the Tide, then I put dryer lint and used Bounce sheets in it as my laundry garbage catch-all, and when it's over stuffed, then I consider throwing it away.

The point being, I grew up in a world where children were starving in third world countries and you NEVER leave the table without cleaning your plate, and if you do have leftovers you put them in the fridge and eat them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner until they're gone.

Well, I'm living alone now and it's impossible not to overcook, meaning, cook one portion of spaghetti, one portion of oatmeal, or really, one single portion of anything. Even the smallest amount yields more than I can eat. If I finished off all the food I cooked, I'd be 400 pounds, which I nearly was at one point and never want to be again.

Also, I am used to keeping old pieces of clothing and wearing them until they're so worn I look like the person who bought it from Goodwill, rather than the person who bought it from Macy's. If I can't wear it anymore, it can be torn down and made into a cleaning rag, until of course, I have a tall stack of cleaning rags and nothing left to clean. I should just donate it while it's still good or toss it, no biggie.

So, I've been training myself not to have a shot of guilt when I throw excess stuff away. Am I really ever going to use that bread tie? That leftover macaroni and cheese can stay in the fridge, and if I eat it, fine, if I can't, I can't. I've been getting used to coming to grips with the reality of being alone and that I'll never eat everything I make, or use everything I save.

Now, I'm thinking about what the Raddiwallah would think, how he would use my cast offs, and how many uses I could have gotten out of that t-shirt I shrunk so badly last week I couldn't wear anymore.

I mean, really, what would the Raddiwallah think? Sheesh. I'm having a whole new view on my garbage/recycle/cast offs. I'll be finishing off that mac-n-cheese for breakfast.