Mission Delhi – Deen Dayal, Safdarjung Enclave
One of the one per cent in 13 million.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
He looks up as a firecracker whooshes up into the night sky and burst into thousands of twinkling stars. “A wedding banquet,” Deen Dayal points to the other side of Harsukh Marg, a road in Safdarjung Enclave, an upper-crust residential locality in south Delhi. The open ground, decked up in a striped tent, is lit with electric lamps. Dressed in shimmy sarees, happy-looking women are getting off their chauffeur-driven cars and disappearing into the entrance. “After the dinner is over, I will go inside to make a collection,” he says to The Delhi Walla.
Shielded from the cold by a grey pullover and a cream-colored muffler, Mr Dayal, 40, is the neighbourhood’s garbage collector. Fearing delay, he had called his wife on the cell phone to not to wait for him for dinner. “I will cook here on the pavement and not bother her when I reach home.”
Setting fire to a few twigs, Mr Dayal places a frying pan on the makeshift stove. He takes out a cabbage from a polythene bag and starts peeling it. Two trolleys are parked on the pavement. Filled up with rotting food, vegetable peels, eggshells, empty beer bottles, cardboard pieces, plastic boxes and used sanitary napkins, they are giving off a pungent smell. “A MCD (Municipal Council of Delhi) truck will come to empty my trolleys.”
Mr Dayal arrived in Delhi eight years ago. He started by collecting garbage from individual households but now picks up only from street dustbins. Employed on a contract basis with a private firm that works closely with the city’s municipal services, Mr Dayal earns Rs 3,000 monthly.
“My wife gets enough vegetables to cook, my children goes to the school,” he says.
Every morning at 7 am Mr Dayal leaves his two-room house in Jaitpur, in south Delhi, and takes the 544 blueline for Safdarjung Enclave. There he moves around in a pedaled wooden cart to gather the waste from different collection points. The day ends at 9 pm, unless he gets late, like tonight.
Till a decade ago, Mr Dayal grew dhaan and urad daal on his farmland in Hathras, Uttar Pradesh. “Money came only once in six months after the crops were ready to be harvested,” he says. “Even that was uncertain for in some years the monsoon failed.”
Picking the city’s refuse was a better option than to plough one’s own land. “At least, I get money each month,” says Mr Dayal. He has not severed ties with the village. While the land has been rented out to other farmers, he regularly attends weddings and funerals. “Village life is different,” he says. “In Delhi, when you buy brinjals, you have no clue about their freshness. But in the village, you pluck them off from branches and immediately chop them into a subzi. Even the peas there taste different.” But Mr Dayal have no regrets. “The city’s regular income guarantees my children’s education.”
The garbage collector has six children: Sourabh, Radha, Roshni, Sachin, Shivam and Sonam.
“I don’t know what will be their fate. My father could never have guessed that I would collect rubbish,” he says. “Unlike me, my children must never have to depend on others to read letters. Who knows, if they really study hard, they may get office jobs.”
What if they become garbage collectors?
“No, I don’t want them to take up my trade.”
Is it bad?
“No, it gives me money. But I don’t want my children to end up like me.”
[This is the 11th portrait of the Mission Delhi project]
An honest living
For children’s education
Money is not bad
The trolley is full
Good luck, Mr Dayal