Delhiwale: For him, waste is wealth
His voice has nothing to particularly set him apart. If you overheard him chatting in a party, you wouldn’t think twice of it.
But suddenly he cries out—“kabadi walla!”
And instantly that same unremarkable voice turns into the universal cry of the trash collector, any trash collector, going about our city’s neighbourhoods asking dwellers to sell him the household stuff they no longer need. This voice has no resemblance to the man’s conversational voice.
How is that possible?
Wali Muhammed shrugs, looking amused.
Calling himself a “kabadi walla,” or trash collector, he says he cycles around south Delhi’s Green Park, his trash collector’s voice echoing off the walls of the bungalows lining up the quiet alleys. Because it is morning and Mr Muhammed has just started, he has nothing to show on his bicycle for now.
But from whom did he learn to make this cry, which sounds like any “kabadi walla” cry in any part of this city? Surely, there’s no training school for it.
Mr Muhammed parks his bicycle on the side of the road, and seems to think hard. “It’s like asking from whom do baby birds learn to fly... they just start flying.” And so, according to his analogy, once a man decides to make his living as a “kabadi walla,” he automatically slips into this booming incarnation when at work. “The main thing is to cry out very loud, announcing who you are so that the people inside their houses”—here he gestures towards the surrounding buildings—“register your presence.”
Mr Muhammed dismisses any hereditary connect to his professional voice. “My father was a farmer.” A farmer without a land, he notes, working as a farmhand on other people’s agricultural holdings in Aligarh district, in UP. There was no bright future in following his footsteps, so the young Mr Muhammed decided to build his future in Delhi. “I started as a labourer, carrying bricks to construction sites.” Only years later, he switched to his current profession.
And now, he says in a satisfactory tone, his son is doing yet something else. “He has a job in a mobile phone company.”
Mr Muhammed makes his rounds from 8am to 2pm, after which he sells his day’s collection to buyers, who deal with recyclable objects.
He now pedals ahead, crying out “kabadi walla”, his voice undoubtedly breaching into the solidity of these houses, probably jolting out at least a few of the residents and making them aware of the existence of their neighbourhood “kabadi walla”.