He was always without any weighing equipment like all of them. I needed to dispose the newspapers and old magazines I had collected over the past few weeks. It always amazed me that the scrupulousness with which I bought them and went through carefully them trying to find something engaging, seldom was fruitful. But I never gave up. Only over the years I needed a reducing amount of sample to dismiss a story as either phony or commercial. It saved time but drew upon my energy. Every browsing was intense, as so much had to be ruled out while worrying about the miss out of the thing I needed.
And the piling up heap begins to cause an anxiety. For you need a suitable scrap-dealer to deal with. Most of them purchased it by kilograms without having weighing equipment. I would say it is always a tough bargain. The shabby looking man with plastic sacks hanging on both the sides of his bicycle, salvaged from scrap, claimed to weigh things with his eyes only. Like someone nearer to truth, he claimed he never could be wrong. And you feel embarrassed to say that your scrap weighed a few kilograms more than he was saying.
Somehow you find an agreeable weight of your scrap with him. Then cost becomes an issue. He will claim that nowadays it is not much in demand. And you thought a sack full of newspapers and magazines is not worth the cost of even a few of them. The inflation is sharp on this stuff. Your best bet is to find a story worth remembering out of it. Or it is only a pain. It has any value for the scrap-dealer only, once you discard it.
But at times you may find a story around it.
The scrap-dealer I had chosen was an old man. He was more energetic than his younger competitors to appear in the street often. Shabby jacket over his dirty dhoti and the slippers clicking in his feet made him look ridiculous, under the all white hair. But he had a mischievous smile playing in his wrinkled face. It was a signal of hope. You cannot do without it. So you looked for him always, instead of the restless youngsters. Some of them thought they will get your scrap without paying anything.
The Old man returned after a few months this time in the street. I waited for him, while the heap grew bigger in my apartment. Add to it were the books and note-books my younger son disposed, after he entered the next class in his school.
He surprised me by offering double than the cost he was paying. I asked if the cost has gone up recently. He said yes with his mysterious smile. Also he weighed my goods with his eyes much higher than I had expected. It was another surprise. But it was long since I had stopped arguing with him over these matters. I thought his effort to make ends meet at his age was a courageous show. For a lot many give up by then. I discovered that even I was beginning to lose energy recently. Though, at times, he asserted that he weighs higher my scrap and pays me higher as well, than his other customers. I felt irritated on his assertion of this nature.
On occasions, frustrated as his attitude, I sold my scrap to other traders. But he kept on calling the street near me. And I returned to him always. On every such reconciliation of us he complained that my neighbors never sell him their scrap.
A recent visit to a street in Putlisadak left me sad. I went there after many years to see how things were. I expected to meet a few people I knew and talk about the old days when I too lived in that street. But as soon I entered the narrow street, I was shocked to find that there was nothing left I had a memory of. The buildings that I was thinking of were gone. It was a horror waiting for me to discover. The faces I hoped to see were not there.
Everything had become so different and new. This kind of newness had always pushed me inside further. I craved for stability in life, but there has always been a surprise to come to terms with. It has been so outside as well as within. So much so, it begins to feel like a continuous agitation. Coiling inwards could be the only response one can think of, instead of becoming a part of a change that replaces people and homes for the reason that the price of real estate property only increases.
One of the recourses is to see the places and people who have withstood the time. But they are few and mostly away from you, where the worth of human relations and emotions is as important as the price of other matters. So finding some kind of stability is what heart looks for. Caring a little if you are actually gaining or losing in other terms like money.
Curiously, I asked his age this time.
‘It is now sixty-four,’ he said, smiling as ever. He was much older to me. I felt a little more curious for his smile even at his age.
‘You have returned after a few months this time,’ I asked, unable to stop myself. Asking such questions invited him to assert if I was only profiting out of the business. So I was anxious as well. I wanted to be near him for his stability and yet far: for I had a business too, to do with him.
‘I had gone for pilgrimage this time,’ he said with a broadening smile. And he was almost laughing soon. ‘Badrinath and Rhishikesh, I had seen them both, by the grace of god.’
‘Oh, you are a lucky man.’ I had to say. I marveled at his piety. He lived a very hard life undaunted and was true to his faith. He was almost untouched by any grief or loss. Or he had overcome these feelings. He never betrayed if he had a qualm.
‘But I could not go to Keadrnath, as it was higher in the hills and I was short of time and money,’ he further said. It was not only to look polite. He genuinely thought so, I guessed.
“That is fine. You should talk about what you have done. Why the regret for what you could not do?’ I asked. We had agreed on the price and weight of the scrap and he was briskly putting them in his sack. he stopped his hands.
‘What to do, life is like that. I have fulfilled the dream of my lifetime by going on this pilgrimage. It happened suddenly, when on reaching my village I discovered that many people from there were going. I too joined them. I thought it was a lifetime’s opportunity. I have no wife, as she died a long time ago. I worked to grow up my two grandsons and two granddaughters. I have to collect the dowry for my granddaughters. In India, in our caste, marrying them without a dowry is impossible. You still do not have this ugly system here in Nepal. But I am afraid it will come here too. I need one lack rupee for each of them. It could be more for a better groom, who is in some formal job,’ he said.
‘But you have two grandsons too. They will certainly bring a dowry from their marriages. So you will not be at a loss’ I tried to assert.
‘Yes that is true,’ He smiled. ‘My son too comes to this street. He too is a scrap-dealer like me. But since his family is at home he is often away. So I work hard. I will be not going home throughout the summer, which is very hot in our place. It takes a full day by bus to reach there and costs a lot too,’ he said.
‘You are paying me much higher than earlier. I think it was six rupee a kilo then now you say it is ten,’ I checked.
‘Yes. The rate of scrap has increased a little. Also, having visited the holy places like Badrinath and Rhishikesh, I cannot short change my customers now,’ He added.
I had nothing to say.