When nights seem unending

Nights are no longer the same in the Ashok Nagar-KK Nagar-Vadapalani area. There is a sense of fear, of the unexpected, especially after the clock strikes the midnight hour. The fear is more ingrained in watchmen guarding homes, colonies, ATMs and offices, and in people for whom footpaths, medians and platforms are home at night. And everybody has reason to be worried. After several murders, most of them of watchmen, and a mystery that still looms large, who wouldn’t be? The fear seems to have even caught people living in large houses, with hardy doors and grills, and a sentry posted at the gate. The so-called psychopathic killer is still at large and even the police do not seem to have a clue about his whereabouts.

Have you ever wondered at the number of people who live on the streets in Chennai? Whose homes are tumbledown huts, raised platforms, or just the roadside? For many years, how many of us have seen the number of labourers – men, women and children – lie on the roadsides and on the median near the ESI Hospital in KK Nagar every night? They may have moved to permanent shelters elsewhere, but there are still hundreds of poor people who have no shelter at night. You can imagine their plight during the rainy season. And here we are, heading towards our 61st Independence Day. No doubt a young nation, but what have successive governments done to take care of the homeless? And if they had, would these people be living in dread of a nocturnal psychopathic killer?

On to the watchmen who ‘guard’ our homes, colonies and establishments. The picture of these watchmen that comes immediately to the mind’s eye is not reassuring to say the least. Most of them are in the twilight years of their lives, symbols of an age gone by. If they were objects, you’d probably call them relics. Theirs is more of a psychological presence than anything else and, now, with the psychopathic prowler on the loose, even that sort of presence has diminished to almost mean nothing.

Many of these watchmen eke out a living during the day and double up as guardians at night. The result: most of them go off to sleep once the gates are closed and wake up only to let people in and out. Most of them do not carry the tools of their trade – they have no sticks, whistles, torches, caps, or even proper footwear. And toilets? Well, they can relieve themselves on the road anyway, who cares? How many employers (agencies, owners of homes, colony presidents and secretaries) ensure that the basic needs of a watchman are taken care of? I have heard of one or two cases, but by and large the old watchmen are left to fend for themselves, even if it means battling mosquitoes. And the money they are paid? Don’t even ask. In today’s world of consumerism, who remembers the elderly watchman? It’s almost as if they are inhuman, a forgotten tribe.

The younger, smarter, uniformed ones you see outside shopping malls and at the gates of factories and companies are of course a more pampered lot. It is time house owners, residents’ welfare associations and smaller establishments took care of the elderly watchmen they employ. It doesn’t need a psychopathic killer to wake us up to their travails.


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