For over half a decade, 69-year-old NS Rajappan has been on a great mission of collecting plastic waste from the Vembanad lake and other streams of Kumarakom in Kottayam district, Kerala. He is paralyzed below his knees but uses his hands to move around.
Every day, he would hire a small country boat early in the morning and sets out to collect the plastic waste using a stick or his oar. Mostly, Rajappan collects the plastic bottles that were dumped in the waters. “I won’t get much from this. A boat full of plastic bottles mostly weighs less than one kg. For every kilogram, I will get Rs 12 only. But, somebody should remove the waste from the water. I have been living around these waters my entire life. So, I am doing what I can to remove the waste,” said Rajappan.
He says that rowing a boat is easier for him than moving through the roads which is why he chose this job. Rajappan collects the plastic, clean them, dry them, and neatly organize them in sacks. “Maybe after two or three months a local agency that collects the plastic would come and take them by paying me,” explained Rajappan.
Rajappan lives in a partially destroyed small house alone and his sister who lives nearby provides him food. Rajappan claimed that the house used to be in a good condition but the floods ruined it all two years ago and he lived in a big boat there during the time of the floods.
Rajappan got poliomyelitis when he was a child which paralyzed his legs. As he couldn’t do regular, daily wage works because of his health condition, he used to do whatever job he gets. But, after the coronavirus-induced lockdown, the plastic waste in the waters got reduced. Though his income reduced considerably because of that, Rajappan is happy. He says that the waters are mostly clean. “My livelihood is in trouble. However, somebody will help,” added Rajappan with hope.
For many years, locals used to see Rajappan rowing in and around the Vembanad lake with his tiny boat and thought he was fishing. But, recently, a photographer Nandu KS from Kottayam threw light on his story by posting a small video of Rajappan’s work on his YouTube channel, which went viral on social media.