Great todo in the lobby of my building one morning some weeks ago: one of the residents had slapped Joga, our rather frail old watchman. Now in the past, this very resident has insisted that we call him "Captain" and not "Mister"; in the book in which we keep the minutes of our meetings, he scratches out "Mr" and scribbles "Captain" alongside his name. This, because he was once in the merchant navy. "Captain", he believes, carries the respect "Mr" doesn't, respect he thinks he deserves. (Do First Mates insist on being called that? Admirals?)
Anyway, when I went down to try to make peace, the resident said he and Joga were involved in some impossible-to-understand argument over washing his car, at the end of which he had merely "pushed" Joga. I replied that whatever their argument might have been, he had no right to lay a hand on Joga. That was a line he could not cross.
At this, the man said: "I only pushed him, no slap! Will you believe me or a watchman?" Implying, "I, being a Captain, being a higher-class dude, deserve more respect than this mere watchman."
I still kick myself for not saying what I should have: Indeed I do believe Joga and not you, precisely because of the respect I have for him and not for you.
But despite that beginning, this is really about Joga. He is our day-shift watchman, officially on duty 8am on, but always here an hour earlier because he washes several of our residents' cars. (No, he has stopped washing the Admiral's, sorry the Captain's, car). (And we have a night-shift man as well, and he washes several cars as well).
Joga gets off duty at 8pm, after which he walks an hour to the little room he rents in a Juhu slum. The bus would cost him Rs 5 each way, or Rs 300 a month, a substantial chunk of his take home. Not affordable. Thus he walks. Once home, he cooks a meal for himself and his 12-year-old son. Grabs a few hours of sleep and by 6am, he starts on his trek back to our building. His family, like those of so many of his watchmen colleagues in Bombay, is in their UP village.
Every few weeks, the night-shift man won't turn up for duty because he's ill (Joga too, but less often). When that happens, Joga has to do 36 hours at a stretch. His son has to guess that dad isn't coming home, though how he manages for food I don't know. Perhaps in the most efficient way possible: he doesn't eat.
Anyway, three days ago, Joga spoke to me about doing this 36 hour stint.
"Meals are always difficult. The only food hereabouts is off the Chinese cart at the corner, and that taste is not for everybody." (i.e. not for him). "I can't go further away to eat daal-chaval because who will do the duty then?" Who indeed.
"But the eyes," he went on, "the eyes are the worst. They feel like they have sand in them. But I have to stay awake, or people complain. And if I miss a bit of dirt on the cars because I'm tired, they call me, point it out and abuse me."
Oh yes, Joga gets no days off. He's here 7 days a week, on Diwali and Sundays and your birthday and Holi and Christmas and I-Day and every other day in between. He gets a break only when he goes home to his family. Only, it's a break without pay.
Oh yes too, for working like this, for having to put up with inflated Captains too free with their fists, for the occasional 36 hours duty stretch, for the hour long slog to and from "home", for sand in his eyes and complainers in his face -- for all this, Joga takes home just under Rs 2000 a month. A little over a dollar a day.
And oh yes, for washing a car every second day, Joga earns Rs 100 a month. The complaints are a bonus.
And this is how much of middle-class Bombay gives itself "security." And spotless (well, not always) cars.