Pujas bring bonanza for Bengal ragpickers

From Prasanta Paul

KOLKATA Oct 23: They have long given the term "professional hazards" a new meaning; and the Pujas just provide them with another opportunity to prove it once again. Hounded by people, mistaken as thieves more often than not and chased by dogs at their very sight all the time, they welcome the Pujas like thirsty crows, for, the pickings this time are the highest.

Meet the ragpickers of this eastern megapolis who are, indeed, a boon in disguise, even though the rich are ready to consider them as part of rubbish and garbage dumps. Ask any one of them, of any age; all of them would unanimously say the Pujas bring a bonanza for them. Like most of the people in the state who would like to put their fever and fret, woes and worries in the backburner for the time being to take part in the mirth and merriment, the pickers' stress and strain are rewarded with a wholesome picking.

"Many throw away old stuff in the house for which we eagerly look forward throughout the year," says Sajal,11, who lives in a filthy ghetto under the rail bridge close to Sealdah station, one of the busiest suburban junctons under the Eastern Railway in the city here.

"Last year, I got an old watch which fetched me Rs 70, a fortune which I have never dreamt of even," Sajal recalls. And invariably this year, Sajal has renewed his sojourn in the same locality with an added vigour. Another boy of the ghetto who fished out a cell phone from a roadside dump in a complete knocked-down condition a couple of days ago, does not know what he would do with it. "Sir, will you take this?" he asks the DH correspondent, thereby revealing the puzzled state of his mind. When told that it is badly broken and several of its components inside are missing and could have a scrap value at the most, the shine in his eyes is replaced with tears.

His father proudly shows up a soiled shirt which the boy was "gifted" by someone when he went for pickings in a locality. "Not every body ill-treats us; there are a few who even give us prasada (fruits & other offerings to the goddess)," he says.

"However, the best thing that we all enjoy here is the free lunch served by the puja organisers here during the four days of festivity," he says. These pickers who pick up almost everything except really useless material, often help the municipalities and corporations keep the roads and lanes clean. If the children earn between Rs 15 and 25 after a day's toil, their parents somehow make up and the materials are sold to the middlemen who in turn, resell them to factories, mills or recycling units.

And if one is unimpressed by Sajal's or his neighbour's tales, one needs to take the trouble of making it to Topsia and Tiljala in the eastern fringe of the city housing the biggest dumping yard of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC), where a large number of Sajals could be seen scavenging with a fiery gusto, notwithstanding the stench of the garbage.

In fact, those who fail to visit some localities owing to shortage of time, descend here early morning; for, the returns they find are always worth it, they claim. Because, the pujas tend to "liberate" the "souls" which in turn, lead to an unusual stress on clean-ups. And the more the cleaning-ups, the better for the ragpickers !

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Referred by:Balram Sampla
Published on:24 oct, 2001
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