Some Indians are better off invisible
By Priya Ranjan Sahu | Published: 17th July 2017 04:00 AM |
As my wife spreads all the newspapers, piled up over months, before him, he bundles them into separate packs and then lifts each pack with a hook attached to a small weighing machine. He then offers my wife some money at the rate he fixes for the raddi, puts all the packs in a gunny bag and quietly leaves.
It has been around six years since the raddiwala first came to my house, but I did not have much interaction with him. It was up to my wife to deal with the man of short height—clearly a result of malnutrition in childhood—dressed in an oversized shirt and a lungi folded up at the knees.
On his recent visit, my wife was not home and I had to attend to him. I dumped all old newspapers before him. As he got busy, I tried to strike up a conversation. He mumbled a name I couldn’t get, but it was a Muslim name. The 32-year-old hails from a village in West Bengal, “15 minutes” away from Kharagpur by local train, and has been working as a collector of old newspapers in Bhubaneswar for over a decade.
He had to leave his village because the little patch of land his family owned was not productive and there was no job. He left behind his wife and two children in the village because his wage of around `200 per day was not enough to bring them to Bhubaneswar. The owner of the godown, where he deposits the old newspapers, has kindly allowed him to stay in the premises.
“I visit my family every two months,” he said. “I will go back for good to start a small business after saving enough.” As he kept talking while tying the papers, I clicked his picture on my mobile phone. Suddenly, his body language changed. “No photograph, please?” he said, politely but firmly. In the next instant, however, he profusely apologised to me. Perhaps my bewildered look made him think he had offended me and owed me an explanation.
Once, he said, someone took his picture which then appeared later in a small newspaper along with a write-up. Few days later, a group of youth accosted him, accusing him of being a Bangladeshi and snatched a week’s income away from his pocket. They kept extorting him for another week till ‘babu’ (godown owner) came to his rescue and informed the cops.
“Sir, I am as Indian as anyone else,” he said emphatically, voice choked with emotion. “But poor people like us are easy targets. We have to be extra careful these days. If something happens to me here, my family will starve.” As I scrambled for words to comfort him, he silently collected all his raddi, put some money on my hand and left. I deleted his picture from the mobile the moment he left. Some Indians are better off being invisible.