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Then and now: From chowkidar to security guard!
In place of the mild mannered ‘chowkidar’ who often served for years if not a lifetime, now you have the rough, brawny, and uncouth ‘security guard’ who inspires much terror and little confidence. Chowkidar is dead but may his memory endure forever.
WHEN I was in school and lived in Delhi, we often slept on the terrace on the hot, stuffy summer nights. The nights were cool and pleasant and it was still possible on most times to see a sky full of stars. I would drift off to sleep trying to identify the few stars and constellations I knew. The silence of the night would be interrupted by the occasional burst of a car engine and the barking of stray dogs and the rhythmic tap-tap-tap of the chowkidar’s stick along with a shrill puff on his whistle.
Those were idyllic days when crime was little and mostly restricted to petty burglary and nothing more. I never actually saw the chowkidar more than once a month when he came along to collect his wages. He was a genial looking man from the hills, generically referred to as Bahadur and his kindly face inspired no fear or terror but a kind of gentle assurance of protection. The tap-tap-tap of the chowkidar’s stick was a sure antidote against the occasional nightmare and a child’s fears. With my parents by my side at home and the chowkidar blowing his reassuring whistle through the night, a child had nothing to fear.
After school, I left Delhi and came back after a long while. It seemed that an era had passed. Of course, politically, the country had changed a lot. The roots of terrorism were everywhere – Kashmir was boiling, and so was Assam , closer to Delhi , Khalistani terrorists were rising and had garrisoned off the hallowed Golden Temple and shortly when after Operation Blue Star , Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her own body guards, it seemed that the age of trust was over. When the anti Sikh riots happened, the social fabric of trust vanished not just for the elite living in Lutyen’s bungalows but also for the common men. Somewhere along the way, the chowkidar, the kindly, courteous man, who protected every one, harmed no one and knew every man, woman and child on his beat, was gone. His time and role were over.
In place of the mild mannered chowkidar who often served for years if not a lifetime, now you have the rough, brawny, and uncouth ‘security guard’ who inspires much terror and little confidence. Indistinctive and impersonal in his often ill fitting uniform, he swaggers around his beat often around a spiked gate erected artificially over a neighborhood designed in gentler times to be always accessible and open.
These guards know no one and care for no one except for their monotonous security drill but they are mushrooming everywhere. ATMs, housing societies, and office complexes – these all have dispensed with the chowkidar or his morphed cousin in the offices, the Durban and have hired security guards. The chowkidar greeted every one with a warm smile and a salaam but the security guard greets you with a shabby notebook and a cheap ballpoint pen where to get to your best friend’s house, you have to supply every conceivable personal detail that he requires.
Are we getting better security for all these guards? May be, may be not! The crime statistics don’t tell an encouraging story. But even though the guards may be necessary in today’s day and age, and the whistle blowing watch man of yore has been replaced by siren blowing police patrol jeeps and the stiff and starched guards of firms like Group four, provide a kind of machine like politeness, I will still miss the endearing smile and care of the chowkidar whose heart was bigger than his stick and whose bark was louder than his bite. He belonged to a time when innocence, kindness and caring were the norms, and the gentle tap of his stick signified a benign presence guarding us all. The chowkidar is dead but may his memory endure forever.
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