Sunday, May 26, 2013


Readings from the raddiwala

Some of the best books and comics in my collection have come from the ubiquitous raddiwala, but more about that later.

The raddiwala is roughly an old paper mart or a scrap dealer whose main business is to buy old newspapers, magazines, and books from residential and commercial premises. He also buys all kinds of other used stuff that you no longer use, like faucets, stoves, copper wires, utensils, and iron pipes, to give you an idea. Most of these items are recycled and at some point find their way back into your home, as brand new items. You wouldn’t know.

Mumbai recycles everything, even school notebooks and textbooks after your kid has passed out of an academic year, an annual ritual. The city has become one big recycle bin.

The raddiwala usually operates from a small shop often wedged between bigger shops on either side, selling fancier stuff. Like the omnipresent paanwala (betel leaf and tobacco seller), the raddiwala is found in all lanes and bylanes of Mumbai, as he is in every part of the country. His shop is easily distinguishable by the row of magazines and plastic containers hung from the corrugated iron roof. The raddiwala sits on a flat cushion or a wooden bench in front of a pair of weighing scales and a room lined with heaps of old newspapers. He usually lives in the hole in the wall, with his wife and kids.

The raddiwala is an important part of the commercial milieu of Mumbai. He comes from a poor background, mostly from the northern Hindi speaking belt of the country, but he can be enterprising too. He often deals in old newspapers and new mobiles at the same time and he may also have a chain of raddi shops across the city.

The current rate for old newspapers and magazines is Rs.9-10 per kg (less than 25 cents). It varies according to the ‘going’ price in the recycle market. The raddiwala weighs your old papers, calculates, and pays you cash on the spot. No questions asked. 

Most houses in Mumbai prefer to call the raddiwala home. He comes over to your place on his bicycle with a dirty sack and portable weighing scales in tow. He ties up your old newspapers into a neat bundle, hooks it up to the scales, and turns it towards the light so you can see the reading and calculate, lest you feel you’re being cheated. The exchange of paper for money is usually preceded by a little haggling over the price offered or the reading of the scales or both.

In Mumbai, people cultivate their raddiwala in the same way they cultivate their barber, grocer, vegetable vendor, and tailor. You seldom go elsewhere. The more you buy from the same place, the better the bargain and treatment you’ll get.

The raddiwala has been my favourite haunt for secondhand books for many years, though they’re much smarter nowadays, selling the used novels they get in their raddi to professional secondhand book dealers who know their value as well as you do.

Nonetheless, I have bought some fine books and comics from raddiwalas in the past. My most memorable acquisition from the raddiwala was half-a-dozen vintage Phantom and Mandrake comics under the erstwhile Indrajal imprint published by Bennett Coleman & Co. Ltd, owners of The Times of India. I bought them for Rs.50 ($1) only to have them eaten by termite a few months later.

Three purchases from the raddiwala I cherish are the 160-page The Science Fiction Book: An Illustrated History by Franz Rottensteiner, a hardback illustrated edition of Futuredays: A Nineteenth-Century Vision of the Year 2000 by Isaac Asimov, and Cows of Our Planet: A Far Side Collection by Gary Larson. They cost a pittance.

On the face of it, these books may not seem much. They do when you buy them from the raddiwala.


  1. Prashant: Thanks for an interesting post on a part of life in your city. We have no equivalent in rural Saskatchewan. We take our newspapers and and other paper to a depot operated by a local agency for the disabled and they bundle for recycling. For towns without such depots the paper ends up in the garbage.

    1. Bill, you're most welcome. I don't think I have seen newspapers and magazines end up in the garbage. Just about everything in the Indian household is sold in the recycle market. In fact, Indians are loath to throw out anything without first checking if it can fetch money. Even if we throw out stuff, local ragpickers and scavengers pick them up from the garbage and sell them to recycle godowns, usually located in the slum areas.

  2. Yes indeed, this was really a fascinating look into your experiences. Nothing like that here but it goes to show the richness of this world and its varied cultures. Good food for detail in stories.

    1. Charles, I'm glad you enjoyed it. There're many fascinating aspects of life in Mumbai. The "raddiwala" is only one of them. A couple of such old paper marts near my place regularly stack books though I haven't found anything worth buying in the pile. I usually desist buying from them because the books are often dusty and soiled. I have been lucky a few times, though.

  3. What an interesting story. Thanks for sharing it.

    1. Thank you, Patti. The "raddiwala" collects heaps of paper that are regularly transported by "tempos" or small goods carriers/lorries to the recycle godowns. I don't know how the trade works but everyone benefits including the householder selling them.