He would wake up at the time I usually started my first lap. Every morning I would find him sitting on the same bench, after probably spending the whole night out in the open without even a cover. He could have been anywhere between 24 to 40 years of age, his unkempt look and dirty attire did not reveal anything. I would often wonder about his life. Where did he come from, how did he land up there every night? What exactly did he do after getting up? Did he go wash up and have chai or just go straight to work at the garbage dumps?There was something about the way he sat after waking up, the way he would look thoughtfully yet distantly at the morning sky behind the tall buildings all around. In his eyes, I found so many questions from life and that restlessness which I knew so well. Sometimes I could sense a quiet acceptance. And every day before I could finish my third round, he would be gone. After a few weeks I noticed that he had stopped sleeping on that bench by the park and I could not find him anywhere. A few days after that even I stopped going for my morning jogs.
In those days, I had fixed views about rag pickers who went foraging in the dirtiest of the places, people I would be embarrassed of as a citizen of the country. Lowest and most unhygienic in the economic and social ladder, these waste pickers are actually doing us tremendous service – by not letting the cities get overtaken by plastics and other things we keep throwing everywhere without any care.In India, almost 75% of the stuff that we use, from newspaper, bottles, cellphones, tv etc gets recycled…which is amongst the highest in the world. And this is mostly done by these waste pickers, which in fact is a big step in mitigating climate change. Apart from this, they save crores of Rupees of the city’s municipal corporations by collecting and segregating these recyclable wastes.
My restlessness and questions about life eventually led me to my current work. For that rag picker, it probably will never go beyond the city’s garbage limits.