Saturday, November 21, 2020

Deepavali in a scrap yard

G Bootheswaran works at a scrap company in Sungai Besi, Kuala Lumpur. This year marks his eighth Deepavali celebration away from his family in Chennai, India, as the Covid-19 pandemic increases his workload and keeps country borders closed.

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It’s hard and heavy work, and Bootheswaran often works alone as local workers have been reluctant to come on-site since Covid-19 was detected in the country earlier this year.

He spends his days going through piles of waste, separating paper, plastic bottles, cardboard boxes, aluminium tins, and old wires which need to be categorised before being sold to third parties for recycling.

Bootheswaran works from dawn until dusk, sometimes continuing late into the evening.

It’s often lonely for Bootheswaran, who has not seen his family in eight years. At work, he finds happiness and companionship in the dogs who roam the yard.

He will spend Deepavali alone again this year, but he still performs his daily rituals in the humble shack where he lives.

His phone is his one line of communication with his loved ones in India. At night after work, he lies on the floor and listens as his wife updates him on their three children.

Bootheswaran gets up bright and early on Deepavali morning and changes his normal T-shirt for one he keeps for special events. Even though he is alone and far from home, he looks forward to celebrating the occasion.

For breakfast, he can do little better than the plain water he has every day.

Before leaving, he pauses to greet his dogs.

Mindful of the occasion, he also performs his prayers and rituals.

Dressed up in his best, and with the face mask that has become an obligatory part of everyone’s wardrobe, he leaves his small shack.

His happiest moments are spent greeting his friends and exchanging Deepavali wishes.

While he celebrates Deepavali alone this year, there is always hope that he will one day be able to reunite with his family and friends.

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