The Garbage Collector


Unlike the West, where there are three (or more) huge bins for different types of waste and specified days of a week where each bin gets emptied, in India this ritual has not caught on completely. The bins have been distributed in some housing societies and are functional but in most they have come with the instruction to not use them till further orders. In a few societies more than a year has elapsed since then! The present garbage disposal system still has us putting all kinds of waste into one bag, which is collected from our doorstep on a daily basis. 

I live in a colony which has twenty one blocks, most of which have five floors and four to six apartments on each floor. It is a well maintained complex, run by veterans who reside here. The place is green with loads of trees dotting the entire area. Parks and grounds for the elderly and children have been made with great care. Plenty of benches and shaded bus stops can be seen by the roadsides between the blocks. A little gazebo exists as well and it is pleasure to see elderly gentlemen sit there after a morning walk and chat before getting back home. It is not a new colony so latest amenities aren’t available and it isn’t a posh area either but hats off to the administration that keeps reinventing itself to keep this a happening place! Since the colony was made with veterans in mind, this neat society has everything one needs at an easy distance.

The garbage system in the colony is also a well oiled one. In fact, it is the most punctual system of all. At sharp nine, the shrill call of “Kachra” (Garbage) can be heard. This is repeated five to six times or maybe more at brief intervals till they finally leave the block for the next one. This call is for the benefit of those residents like me who haven’t tied their bags and left them by their doorstep. Being a non vegetarian, the garbage often has bones and interesting food for the a few stray dogs who love ransacking the contents and messing the place. So, I seldom keep the garbage out and wait for the call, personally handing it over to the lady who comes to collect it. They never ring the doorbell, for the houses are too many for them to ring and wait.

The team of garbage collectors consists of about twenty women and six men and they are controlled by a small, serious looking man from Bihar. A most sincere and hard working man, Mr. Ram Dulari, has no time to smile but nothing misses those hawk eyes behind those severe glasses. A task master, he orders a fall in every morning by 0800h by the first building of the colony which happens to be where I reside. It is a common sight for me to see this on my morning walks; a little man with close cropped salt pepper hair and a no-nonsense look, standing on the raised ramp of the garage with six lanky, bored, over smart and ready-to-sham men semi-standing to his left, against a half wall and twenty bright and happy colourful saree clad women to his right. The women seem happy to be there, with their tiffin-boxes in hand as though they have come for a picnic while the men, look as though they are stifling yawns and invectives at once. Mr. RD barks out his instructions; on rare occasions I have heard a few groans from the women and rarely, an odd heated argument but usually within half an hour of having got their attendance marked, the tasks are distributed and the crowd disperses.

My heart goes out to these immaculately dressed women. Their sarees are draped so neatly and their hair usually oiled and braided, with flowers on some of them. Theirs is no easy life but the smile is always there. Mind you, most of them have husbands and grown up children and grandchildren since they marry very early and have to cook their breakfasts, pack their lunches, clean their utensils, sweep the home, wash clothes (this usually happens very early in the morning because water comes as early as four in the morning, which is once every three days- on other days they use what they have saved up in drums) before they reach the colony dot on time. Their work starts at sharp nine as mentioned earlier and they leave at five in the evening after strenuous work.

After collecting garbage from all blocks, the three teams of three go from floor to floor sweeping the corridors and washing them twice a week. Due to shortage of water, this ritual has now been reduced to once a week. The remaining women begin sweeping the roads of the entire colony, collecting leaves and stray wrappers that have made their way to the roads. On days where leaves are less and grass/weeds need to be pulled out, from the parks where children play, Mr. RD commands them to address that. On some days, they are directed to clean cobwebs from all garages.

The men do the heavier tasks, cleaning gutters and drainage systems if the need arises and there is a dog poop collecting squad. In developing countries such as ours, people are so poor that they would do any job so long as they can run their families. I have a lot of time for our workers, most of whom appear arrogant and cocky; hardened by the tough life they lead. They are also responsible for loading all the collected garbage on to the garbage truck and disposing it off on a daily basis.

This is the scene of the colony where I live and it is a comfortable life as compared to the hardships faced by people who live in poorer areas. The workers who have to clear sewers and work in garbage dumps have a tough row to hoe. An occasional death while cleaning sewers is reported in the papers, which is usually disregarded under all that juicy gossip.

These people usually go unnoticed. If they are given attention, it is to find faults with them or get some job done. Their names are seldom remembered and they are spoken to as near objects. There are a few of them, who, if you give an inch would probably take a mile (which is also a desperate measure) but unlike the assumption that most are like that, the truth is that those are a small number. One smile, a kind word, appreciation or least acknowledgement of their effort or just a simple thank you can go a long way to make them feel good about themselves. They want to be treated with dignity too and it does make a whole lot of difference to their hard lives.

I am rewarded with eyes filled with warmth and broad smiles when I go for my walk even as I feel overwhelming gratitude when I see them at work and a bit guilty when I pull a long face when dusting is due!




  1. Very nice write up! Thanks to these people our houses and surroundings are always clean.. hats off to them!!!

  2. It's so good to read about the immaculate system of cleaning being maintained in your society. You are right when you say that these helpers do look forward to our politeness and understanding. Dignity of labour should be understood by us all. Well worded blog and one which leaves me introspecting

    1. I agree completely. Dignity of labour is a must and it is about time we leave all this caste and class system behind and just work hard giving one another the respect we deserve. Thank you dodo d...

  3. Very well written. Totally agree. ..Dignity of labour is a must....soooo thankful to our helpers.

  4. Hey Darl! This blog will be nice to be shared at local n national level media. Thumps up!!!


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