Where old news sells

It was in the year 2005 that my wife and I went on our first-ever visit to Singapore, a country significant for its orderly life, cleanliness, rule of law, and safety, markedly for women.

My first Singapore morning saw me sipping the hot morning cuppa from an elegant green cup, standing on the balcony of the apartment where my daughter and son-in-law then lived, overlooking the ship-spangled bay, high above the inviting, verdant East-Coast Park, a prominent landmark of the city-state.

A heavy thud on the floor outside the front door awakened me from my reverie while the teacup nearly flew out of my hand. What had collapsed, I wondered. As I hastened to the door and opened it, a large pile of newspaper lying on the floor greeted me. I bent down to pick it up with an undemanding effort with which one lifted the daily back home.  But it was so bulky and heavy that I had to exert myself to recover it. It numbered 130 pages, with supplements and all, weighing two kilos at a guess. The masthead proclaimed it was Strait Times, Singapore’s prime morninger.

I made a mental calculation of the Singapore dollars that a monthly collection of the newspaper, nearly 60 kilos, would fetch when sold to the old newspaper merchants, whom we call raddiwalas in Mumbai. I blurted out my mind rather loudly. My daughter, who heard me, said amused, “No, unlike in India, old newspapers have no ‘raddi’ value here. Periodically, we take them down to the lift-lobby and dump them in the recycle bin from where they are taken away.”

I couldn’t, for a moment, bring myself to believe that old newspapers have no value in Singapore. But in Mumbai, the ‘enterprising’ raddiwalas see business opportunities in them. So we preserve them, store them in a safe corner of the house, and never leave them unprotected in rains for they promise money.

Raddiwalas buy not merely old newspapers these days. They deal in, it would seem, everything under the sun! Empty phenol and glass bottles, old metallic and assorted items that we accumulate in the house are grist to the recycle mill to which these raddiwalas contribute immensely.

Earlier, the shopkeeper from whom one bought groceries himself bought the raddi for a pittance. He used them for packing. Using newspapers for packing had an unhygienic aspect to it. Thankfully, grocers realised that and ceased to make use of them for swaddling for good.

There was a time when one carried the newspapers to the raddiwalas. But those days are dated. Now they visit houses periodically, assuring the residents of their ubiquity. They come with electronic weighing scales and spring balance, which have supplanted the old manual weighing apparatus.

Undoubtedly, they are doing us a favour by taking away trash from home, paying handsomely. Still we haggle with them for higher prices, threatening to call someone else. And that someone else is only a phone call away! Often the threat works for there is stiff competition among the raddiwalas which is the hallmark of their business.  
In fact, there is scarcely any need to squabble with them about the price, for what the raddiwalas offer would not be peanuts. That indeed is the delightful facet of competition!

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