Weathering monsoon blues in line of duty

Rain or shine, for these people, call of duty takes precedence

While rain evokes romance for many and proves a fertile leitmotif for the artistic, it’s, however, an inevitable ‘occupational hazard’ for another spectrum of people. While the more privileged dream of sipping a cup of hot tea or curling up in bed with a good book to the background score of pitter-patter of rain, it may not be so idealistic for others making their ends meet. Whether plying their trade deep in the seas or at busy traffic junctions, rain is never an excuse to down tools for them. MetroPlus speaks to some in Thiruvananthapuram who weather the rain in the line of duty.

Thaju Biwi | Runs a tea stall

Thaju Biwi

Thaju Biwi  
| Photo Credit:
Liza George

My husband, Ajmal, and I have been running this push cart tea stall at Sasthamangalam for the past 20-odd years. I recall waiting eagerly for the monsoon as a child. The rain was such a relief after the warm summer. We kids would long for heavy downpours as we would be able to bunk school. I would splash, play and relish the rain, something my five-year-old grandson, enjoys doing now.

However, these days, the rains are a bane, as it affects business. People rarely step out once it starts to drizzle. But then I don’t blame them as we don’t have an awning above our stall to keep our customers dry. But then even if we did, the strong wind that often accompanies the rain would get them wet.

We do not open our stall once the monsoon sets in. Over the years, we have learnt to predict the weather, sometimes, even better than the weatherman on television. The rain last year was a dampener to our business; we barely managed making ends meet during the period as we do not have any other source of income. My husband has arthritis and so when the cold sets in, he is often in pain. It’s also tough to push our cart in the rain. The rain is often romanticised in songs and in films, but in reality, for people like me, who are dependent on the weather for a living, it’s all bleak and grey.

Prakash G | Traffic policeman

Prakash G regulating traffic at Chenthitta

Prakash G regulating traffic at Chenthitta
 
| Photo Credit:
Harikumar J S

I survive the rain with full-length raincoats provided by the department but traffic usually gets thrown out of gear when it pours. I need to ensure that my walkie-talkie does not get damaged in the rain as without the device, communication between traffic cops is not possible, which can lead to a lot of confusion. That’s a challenge and I keep the equipment inside coat pockets and hold it close to the body so that it’s also audible. However, despite the hooded coat, it’s inevitable that we get drenched sometimes but you still have to stay firm since we are on duty. We are granted a uniform allowance by the department and can purchase rain boots. However, even if we are wet, changing the uniform and shoes after duty can be a problem.

Perhaps, monsoon is that time of the year when traffic police need to be on their toes as you never know when the skies open. But we get ready as soon we perceive the clouds darkening. I’m currently assigned with the South Zone and posted in Chenthitta region, a busy junction that connects the arterial routes of Thampanoor and Karamana. But my deployment keeps changing within the zone.

N Maniyan | KSRTC bus driver

KSRTC bus driver N Maniyan

KSRTC bus driver N Maniyan  
| Photo Credit:
Harikumar J S

Rain or shine, duty time means hitting the road. It feels a tad risky to drive during the rain but that’s my job. However, over the years, I have learnt how to safely negotiate the roads during monsoon fury. Scheduled trips cannot be called off owing to rain. But in the rarest of cases, we drivers have the right to pause during a trip if visibility becomes dangerously poor, but that hardly happens. I currently ply the Thiruvananthapuram-Thenkasi (Tirunelveli district) route, which is about 125 km one way. I drive slower during the latter part of the trip as we enter high-range terrain where I have to be extra cautious, especially if it’s pouring.

Of course, potholes pose problems and roads turn slippery during rain, apart from sudden or unpredictable braking by vehicles in front, but there’s nothing much a driver can do about it. But one aspect I want to point out is the High Court ban on use of air horn. Though the prohibition clearly has legitimate grounds, electric horns may not always have the desired effect, especially during rainy season, as most of the cars drive with windows rolled up for air-conditioning.

Bindu | Corporation sanitation worker

Bindu A

Bindu A  
| Photo Credit:
Athira M

There is nothing rosy about the monsoon for a sanitation worker. I have to use double the force on the broom to sweep away the damp litter and leaves from previous showers. By the end of the day, my shoulders become stiff.

Household waste dumped on the road is the most difficult to clean. During the rainy season, they get washed away. It is a sickening sight — soiled baby napkins, plastic carry bags with food waste and the like. Sometimes stray dogs tear open these bags and everything is strewn across the road. Unless people cooperate, you can’t keep the city clean. Nevertheless, we know that it is our job to clean up the mess and we do it to the best of our ability. I have been doing this for the last 10 years. My duty starts at 7 am and goes on till 1 pm, covering the stretch from the Corporation’s health office at Sasthamangalam to Maruthankuzhi. A male co-worker transfers the heaps of waste into a trolley.

The absence of public toilets is a problem for all of us. We can empty our bladder only after finishing duty. This is bad for health, especially during the monsoon and I have had urinary infection a couple of times. Not all people allow us to use their toilets or even give us a glass of warm water to drink.

Jeromiyas | Fisherman

Jeromiyas

Jeromiyas  
| Photo Credit:
Special arrangement

Fishing at sea when it rains is not new. But rain accompanied by strong winds, thunder and lighting can be scary, especially for those who go fishing in a vallam (country boat). Even though we carry plastic sheets, coats and jackets, we can’t use them when we are casting the net or pulling out the catch.

I have been fishing since I was 14. When I used to work in a fishing boat, we were fishing at sea for several weeks. But we didn’t come back even if it rained heavily because having spent ₹5 lakh to ₹6 lakh on the boat, the equipment and other things, we had to return with fish worth at least ₹10-15 lakh.

Now I own four country boats and 35 people work under me. There’s no question of keeping away from work because we all depend on the sea for our livelihood. For the last four years we’ve been catching fish using thattamadi (boat seine fishing), where a pair of country crafts are used. That is, ropes from the fishing net are pulled at equal angles by a pair of country crafts. When we see a shoal of fish, the crafts move in such a way that the fish is sandwiched between them. We start by midnight or wee hours of morning and spend seven to eight hours at sea irrespective of the weather. We do follow the weather reports daily when we set out to the sea. There was a time when fishermen used to navigate with the help of the stars, but now we have modern technology. GPS, echo sounder and wireless are carried in the boats with us, along with battery to keep it running. Echo sounder helps to gauge the depth of water, feature of the sea bed and identify the fish in that area. We learn to use various equipment from each other.

The worst experience was the Ockhi cyclone in 2017. My boats, with 27 of us in them, were stranded. Somehow, we made it home. We are now experienced enough to know whether it will rain or not. But at times strong winds force us to return home or we lose our way in heavy downpour. During one rainy season, my house at Valiyathura was washed away by the waves.

Shameem AK | KSEB lineman

Weathering monsoon blues in line of duty

The wind and heavy rain damage posts and electric lines and the substation is inundated with complaints. Many calls come in the wee hours of the day, between 1 and 4 am. Usually, it is because of fallen branches or leaves of coconut trees that cause a great deal of damage. When a line is snapped, more than 800 to 900 consumers are affected.

We are expected to deal with the problem within a certain duration of time. But in the driving rain, we find it difficult to clamber up the posts. When there is a delay, sometimes, higher-ups in the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) are contacted and we are under pressure to get the lines repaired at the earliest. The pressure gets to us and it does not help our work. I wish people would understand that our work also gets hampered when it is pouring. The Board has given us raincoats, gloves and all the required tools. We have to reach the transformer concerned and switch off the lines for repair. Everything is drenched and in spite of the gloves we feel a tingle when we pull out the fuse. A lineman for eight years, I tell newcomers that they must be careful and so, after switching off the electricity, they must check with houses in the vicinity to ensure that the supply has been cut. Even inverters and solar power must be switched off when we work on the lines.

We wish the government would insist that cables put in by private players for television, internet facilities and so on are removed or not in the way of the electric lines. It is like a maze on a post and in the pouring rain, with poor visibility, we are expected to grope around, find the right ones and repair it.

Similarly, in multi-storey buildings with several connections, the best option would be one single line from the post with all connections to the building emanating from it. These are simple procedures that would make our work easier and safer.

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