On the paper trail
If he didn’t land at your doorstep at the end of every two or three months to pick up old newspapers, milk covers, and old bottles, you would have one hell of a heap at home! If he didn’t sell what he picked up, further to wholesale recyclers, we would have a city more mired in waste than we already are. He’s that essential link in the all-important paper-in-paper-out chain.
He’s one of the many nameless faceless people in the city, cycling the streets with hope, screaming “Paypaaaaar, paypaaaar…”. Of course, 60-year-old Sagadev, in his career spanning 35 long years as a newspaper raddiwallah, has realised that handing out his cellphone number is an easier way these days to ensure you get a fixed quota of old newspapers from “regular” customers. India is perhaps home to this unique concept of raddi, and this unique profession of the raddiwallah.
Like many of migrant workers who come to Bangalore with hope of a livelihood, Sagadev hails from neighbouring Tamil Nadu, from a town called Kottapadi in Dharmapuri district. Like many migrants, he has land back home, and his family lives there. So one wonders why he does this.
“Our crop is completely dependent on rain. How can I survive only on that? When I was young, I used to graze cows in our village, then sell their milk in Hogenakkal. But business slowed down. My doddappa, who was in Bangalore, lost his only son around that time. I was 25 then, and he took me under his wing and trained me in the one profession he knew — collecting old newspapers,” says Sagadev, explaining his entry into the profession.
He covers about 20 homes each day — his memory stores away when a particular house may be ready with their pile for him next. “I know when to ask…I just know,” he explains and grins. The day I meet him, his haul includes a medium-sized pile of newspapers, an old plastic children’s tricycle, a huge cardboard packing box. “Paper, plastic, old iron — I’ll buy any of those. These days wholesalers don’t buy those glass beer bottles from us, so I’ve stopped buying them from customers. I also buy the large tin oil cans. I mostly go to individual homes, hospitals, offices, and ladies’ hostels — they always have lots of paper to dispose of.” Malleswaram, Sadashivnagar, Vyalikaval, Jalahalli are the areas he frequents. His grubby and muddied hands sport a badage. “Last week I picked up an old washing machine someone wanted to get rid of. When we buy old appliances like fridges or mixies, we have to pull it apart — the copper, iron, plastic has to be sold separately. That time I hurt my hand.” Of course many people who move home first give their maids a go at what they want to have. “What is left over, comes to us,” he laughs.
These days people are wary of letting a stranger into their home. So he sticks to his regular customers, around 160 of them, many of whom he’s known now for 20 years. These people in turn introduce him to new people who come to stay in their apartment building, or other relatives who want to get rid of their raddi. He also washes windows of large homes during festivals, to make some extra cash.
Sagadev offers great insight into what happens to our raddi once we hand it over to him. “Newspaper can’t be recycled because of the strong ink. Notebook paper, even if written on, can be. Some newspaper is bought to make paper covers. But most of it is further sold by wholesalers by the truckload to Tamil Nadu. It is used there as a base to dry dyed clothes and saris. Deepavali is the only time when newspaper rates go up, because it’s used in the manufacture of firecrackers. This year, because of the fire in Sivakasi just before Deepavali, paper resale rates really spiralled up.”
In Bangalore he lives in the basement of an apartment building, locking the gate, switching on the water-pump motor for residents, and in return getting free space to stay and a small salary. Every Sunday he goes “home”. What does he think of the two states he lives in, fighting over Cauvery water? “When there’s no water for people here in Karnataka only to drink, how can they give it to Tamil Nadu? Only if there is an excess, you can give, alwamma?” he simply dismisses it.
(I AM is a weekly column on the men and women who make Bangalore what it is.)