The men who make your Diwali bright

‘More people drive rashly on Diwali’
There is nothing interesting about my Diwali,” says 30 year-old traffic cop Sameer Parab. In the six years that he had served the Mumbai Traffic Police, this father of a two year-old daughter doesn’t remember a single festival day that he has spent at home throughout. “I know I won’t reach home before 10 pm,” says Parab, who has been manning the traffic flow at Parel. Though he aches to be with his wife and daughter at their Worli house on the day, he will be on the field and expects a regular schedule. “It’s just that on days like Diwali, a lot of people drive rashly and we have to be on the lookout for them. Also, there are people who burst firecrackers on the road and we have to ensure that traffic stops for that time and there are no injuries,” he adds.  Other traffic officials added that they also conduct drunken driving checks during the festival, which will add two more hours to their duty. “There are 96 officers under me and none of them have asked for leave,” said R Gidde, senior police inspector, Bhoiwada Traffic Police Station.

Illustration/ Amit Bandre

Driving through the show
On an average, 50 year-old Ganesh Avhad works 6-8 hours a day. The BEST driver, who stays in Tardeo, is posted at the Colaba bus depot. While he doesn’t know his Tuesday schedule for sure, he knows he will be driving happy revellers to their destinations that day as well. In fact, in the last 15 years of service he doesn’t remember celebrating Diwali even once. But, he says, he makes it a point to spend at least one half of the day at home. “This Diwali I may get done by the second half of the day. My children usually wait for me to return home after which they start their celebrations.” As he speaks, he is prompted by his colleagues to talk about how tough it is to convince their families about working on such an auspicious day. “But now, our families have realised that our job is public service,” he adds. While away from home, BEST drivers don’t completely miss out on the festivities. The canteen and offices are decorated, sweets are exchanged with colleagues and drivers try to greet each other when they get the chance. As far as firecrackers on the roads go, Avhad says he stops the bus and waits for the fireworks to die out before moving on.

‘People feel safe because of us on Diwali’
It’s been 20 years since 45 year-old Laxman Ramkrishna Hadkar celebrated Diwali. Hadkar, a fireman at the Colaba Fire Station, says his family has grudgingly accepted the situation. “This year I am on the second shift which starts at 3 pm. So, my Diwali will be celebrated in the morning by spending time with my family.” He says he works 8 hours a day and is glad to just get a day off in the week. “We celebrate by wishing our colleagues and sharing the sweets which we get from their home,” says the Mulund resident. “We pray at the temples that are present in almost all the fire stations in the city. The best thing about working during festivals is that when we meet citizens, they thank us for being around as our presence makes them feel safe. That’s our motivation.” He says two years ago, there was a fire near the Priyadarshini grounds at Kurla in a circus. “There was a major fire and all the animals went out of control. Luckily, we reached within five minutes of the call and managed to save everyone. No one was injured, not even a single animal,” he adds, eager to return to work.

‘Watching the fireworks keeps me happy’
My day on Diwali is almost like any other,” says Shrikant Katurwar, a Central Railway motorman who has now got used to spending festivals away from family.  “In the 12 years that I have been a motorman, I have spent a few Diwalis at home. However, when I am not at home, I miss them a lot,” he smiles. There have been occasions when 45 year-old Katurwar tried to be at home but didn’t manage. “Initially my wife would get upset that I wasn’t home or hadn’t turned up on time. Now she deals with it better,” he says, adding that this year he is trying to ensure that he will reach his Byculla home at least for the evening puja. “There are motormen who don’t celebrate Diwali either because they are Christian or Muslims, or some other personal problem. We try to adjust our schedules so that they work during such days and the rest get to be home,” he adds. “A few years ago I had to run the train during Diwali, I kept myself happy listening to crackers and eating the sweets that colleagues and passengers offered. When strangers extend greetings to us, it feels great.” 

 ‘Saving someone on Diwali is our way of celebrating it’
The Sion hospital canteen is crowded. Taking a break in between his morning and evening-hour shift, Dr Amit Chakraborty, a registrar in the general surgery department, says this is his first meal since breakfast, which was early in the morning. Ask him about Diwali preparations and he smiles. “I work seven days a week without any designated weekly holiday. On an average I work 10-12 hours a day in shifts and the hours between the shifts are considered an off.” He won’t say it in as many words but being a doctor — especially in the general surgery department — getting the day off during festivals is rather difficult. On an average, there are one or two cases of burns in the city per day. On Diwali, during the few hours that everyone steps out to burst crackers and enjoy the fireworks, this number goes up to 10 to 15 cases — mostly paediatric burns due to fire crackers. “For three years I haven’t had the chance to go home to Nagpur for Diwali. My parents call and tell me that I am being missed.” He says, “We do not decorate our hostel rooms or the hospital premises because we hardly get time. Generally we have Diwali pujas inside the operation theatre but that’s the extent of it. We just wish each other and share sweets if possible.” But there’s light at the end of this lonely tunnel. “When I cure people of burns or save lives and prevent tragedies, I feel I am celebrating  the festival.”
— compiled by Shashank Rao, Naveen Nair, Chetna Yerunkar and Vedika Chaubey. Pics/ Sameer Markande and Atul Kamble 

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