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HindustanTimes Fri,22 Aug 2014

‘I glide about fearlessly, like Spiderman’

Humaira Ansari, Hindustan Times  Mumbai, February 03, 2013
First Published: 01:38 IST(3/2/2013) | Last Updated: 01:40 IST(3/2/2013)

Sriram Agre rides an elevator to the ninth floor of the glass-and-chrome IL&FS Financial Center building in Bandra-Kurla Complex and takes a winding staircase to the terrace.

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On the roof, the 28-year-old straps on an elaborate body harness, dons a yellow helmet and fastens a thick rope to a water pipe. Then he reaches into his tool chest for bucket, brush and detergent, and steps out on to the ledge.

Facing the sky as he leans backwards 110 ft off the ground, he mumbles a short prayer and kicks off into thin air.

Over the next three hours, he and a team of three colleagues will rappel their way across and down the glass façade, mopping and cleaning as they go.

“I was very afraid the first time I did this,” says Agre. “My heart was racing, my palms were sweaty. If I looked all the way down, I couldn’t move.”

Two years on, Agre says he feels like Spiderman. “I glide fearlessly as I chat with my fellow cleaners.”

Born to a farmer and a homemaker in Chiplun in Ratnagiri district, Agre dropped out of school in Class 6 to help his father till the family’s small fields.

At 19, he left home in search of better-paying work and found a job as a cleaner in a Jalgaon lodge, earning

Rs 1,300 a month. Three years later, a cousin advised him to move to Mumbai, where he could earn Rs. 4,300 a month with a professional housekeeping firm.

In November 2010, he quit that job to join One Alliance, a façade-cleaning service that pays him Rs. 8,500 a month. After 30 days of on-the-job training, Agre’s first assignment was a two-storey bank in Prabhadevi.

As his experience grew, so did the height of the buildings he was assigned.

“My only major goof-up so far has been dropping my bucket from the second floor. It landed with such a bang that people mistook it for an explosion,” he says. “The areas below us are always cordoned off, so no one was hurt.”

Agre starts his day at 5.45 am, with a bath and a prayer session in the one-room Diva chawl home he shares with his wife, a homemaker.

After a quick breakfast of roti and chai, he set off for the railway station, where he catches a 7.15 am train. An hour later, he exits Kurla station and takes a bus to BKC, reaching his appointed worksite at 8.30 am.

On average, Agre cleans about 3,000 sq ft of glass every day, with two breaks in between — at 11.45 am, for tea, and at 1 pm, for lunch, a tiffin of roti-sabzi packed for him by his wife.

The weather is a vital element in his work — scorching summers mean that the glass will get too hot to touch, and windy days mean that the breeze will splatters droplets of soapy water on already cleaned glass slabs, doubling Agre’s work.

All this is in addition to the aching back that is an occupational hazard.

Done with work by 5.15, Agre is home by 7.30 and makes a dash to the common tap to fill water for the house while his wife makes dinner — fresh rotis and sabzi or, once a week, fish.

The couple then watches some Marathi TV serials before turning in.

On his day off, Sunday, Agre plays cricket and takes his wife out for a sandwich or bhel puri.

During holidays such as Holi, Diwali and Ganesh Chaturthi, he returns home to visit his parents. “I love gorging on traditional sweets made by my mother,” he says. “And dancing with my childhood friends for Ganpati.”

(This weekly feature explores the lives of those unseen Mumbaiites essential to your day)


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