'Nine of us share a room, one cupboard' | mumbai | Hindustan Times
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'Nine of us share a room, one cupboard'

At 65, Kanhaiyalal Jain is growing more cynical every day. Dressed in an old white kurta and faded trousers, he sits cross-legged on a low cushion in his scrap shop in Khetwadi, peering through his glasses at the pedestrians hurrying down the busy street outside.

mumbai Updated: Sep 23, 2012 01:30 IST
Aarefa Johari

At 65, Kanhaiyalal Jain is growing more cynical every day. Dressed in an old white kurta and faded trousers, he sits cross-legged on a low cushion in his scrap shop in Khetwadi, peering through his glasses at the pedestrians hurrying down the busy street outside.

Occasionally, he surveys his tiny, 140-sq-ft store. It should be crowded with piles of old newspapers and heaps of scrap metal. Instead, its only contents are some flattened cardboard boxes in a corner, an empty set of giant weighing scales suspended from the ceiling and a wooden chest of drawers for cash, which has been locked all morning.

"In the monsoon, people just don't want to bring their scrap down to sell to us," he says, running his hands through his grey hair and frowning at his wife, Dhuridevi, who sits with him for company on dull afternoons.

Jain has been a scrap dealer for 35 years. Originally from Chavan village near Udaipur, Rajasthan, he studied till Class 11 and married a girl of his parents' choosing at age 16. Since there wasn't much money to be made from the vegetable farms in the state's arid Mewar region, Jain eventually moved to Mumbai with his wife and two young sons. That was 40 years ago.

At first, he worked as an apprentice at a relative's scrap shop, then decided to open his own store.

"I chose this business because it doesn't need too much investment," he says. By buying paper, plastic and metal scrap from local residents and selling it to private dealers at a 2% profit, Jain made enough money for the first two decades to feed his family and educate his sons up to Class 9 at a local Hindi-medium school.

But then more scrap dealers began to open shop and profits began to dip.

"There are now a dozen raddiwalas on this street alone. We are struggling to survive," he says. "In the long run, this business venture has been a disappointment." Jain makes between Rs 3,000 and Rs 5,000 a month, barely enough to support his nine-member family of wife, two sons, two daughters-in-law and three school-going grandchildren.

His day begins at 6 am, when his family takes turns to bathe in the narrow washroom of their one-room chawl home.

"It is very cramped in the house," Jain says. "We have just one cupboard. Each person has not more than four pairs of clothes."

Next, the family heads to their Jain temple in Tardeo, walking the distance barefoot. By 8 am, Jain is at his shop, waiting for customers.

Jain's two sons now help him in the business. The younger, Suresh, opened up a cellphone recharge service in part of the tiny store two years ago, hoping to bring in more money.

"This business is unpredictable," says Jain. "These days, it usually takes five to eight days to collect the minimum 50 kilos of scrap."

Once the scrap has reached this desired mark, Jain separates paper, plastic, iron, brass and copper, then calls the private dealer to send a tempo to pick it up.

Unlike most scrap dealers, Jain does not trade in glass. "Most glass items are alcohol bottles, and my religion forbids me to deal in them," he says.

He doesn't concern himself with where the scrap goes after his store. "I don't know where it goes once it's picked up," he says. "But I am happy that it is recycled."

(This weekly feature explores the lives of those unseen Mumbaiites essential to your day)