Meet the people who keep the city up and running despite soaring temperatures that make most of us resist stepping out of the comfort of our AC rooms. They work in the extreme heat, sometimes without even a glass of water.
1. Phool Jha
Profession: Electricity lineman
Day begins at: Midnight, 8am or 4pm
Day ends at: Midnight, 8am or 4pm
Break: Meal/snack break depending upon shift
Challenges: Has to be on his toes all the time as working on high voltage live wires is risky
Health risks/dangers: Short circuit and major faults need to be handled very carefully
When not at work: Spends time with his mother, wife and two sons
"The idea is to make sure that people's complaints get answered and the problem is fixed as soon as possible. And we come back unharmed at the end of the shift everyday." Phool Jha, 44, came to Delhi 17 years ago to make it big. A native of Katihar district in Bihar, this electricity linesman for BSES has to make sure power outages in peak summer are limited and is often seen climbing dangerous heights to keep the ACs in your rooms working.
“Summer is the worst season as far as we are concerned. Calls become more and as a result our work multiplies. A very important factor that we keep in mind is that the electricity in the lines have to be switched off every single time before you fix any problem. It is the number one rule. I try and teach my juniors that too,” he says.
2. Rishi Pal Singh
Profession: DTC bus driver
Day begins at: 7am
Day ends at: 3.15pm
Break: Half-an-hour break between trips
Challenges: No provision for filling water or to rest in bus terminals
Health risks/Dangers: Problems caused due to air pollution, extreme exposure to heat and dust
When not at work: Does social work and spends time with family
Rishi Pal Singh, a driver with the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC), lies down under a tree to save himself from the heat as he waits for his next trip from Shivaji Stadium bus terminal. After spending almost four hours behind the wheel of a non-air conditioned DTC bus, Singh’s only respite are the plastic sheets which the nearby tea vendor has spread for the drivers and conductors to rest on.
“This terminal is not like the others in the city where there are arrangements made for drivers. In fact, we have to walk down till the stadium to fill our bottles or we have to pay from our pockets to get cold water for the trip,” he says.
The 60-year-old makes two trips, of 50 kilometres each, on his designated route number 273. In summers, “The engine heats up faster, increasing possibilities of breakdown and sometimes even fire,” he says.
3. Vikas Bharadwaj
Profession: Sub-officer (Fire department)
Day begins at: Depends on number of calls received
Day ends at: Depends on of calls received
Break: The time between fire calls
Challenges: Braving extreme heat and risking life for rescue operations.
Health risks/Dangers: Health problems caused by fumes
When not at work: Plays volleyball
"Summer or winter don't bother us much. Our work is to reach accident spots on time and to reduce damage. Even if we are able to save one life, we don't mind jumping into the fire a hundred times." 26-year-old Vikas Bharadwaj, one of the youngest DFS firefighters, has to be alert all day, ready to drop his chores and run to the fire tender at the sound of a siren. Often, he might even have to wear his safety gear inside the rescue vehicle. “The weather does not really affect our work but it surely becomes more difficult to get inside structures which are going up in flames when the temperature outside is already at its peak. By the time we step out of the fire spot, we are drenched in sweat and sludge. Getting out of the fire-suit is a great relief,” he says.
4. Kanwal Pal Singh
Profession: Traffic constable
Day begins at: 8am
Day ends at: 8pm
Break: When one officer goes for lunch the other is on duty
Challenges: Managing traffic in extreme weather and pollution.
Health risks/Dangers: Pollution related problems, joint aches
When not at work: Likes to spend time with friends
A traffic constable at the Parliament Street traffic circle, Kanwal Pal Singh has no option but to stand at the Rajput Road-Rafi Marg intersection and man traffic in the scorching heat of Delhi summers. A splash of water to soothe his face is the only respite Singh has to keep him going. "Delhi has extreme weather conditions. When it is hot it gets very hot and when it is cold it almost freezes you. However, a cop is always on duty and the heat does not stop us from doing our job," he says, adding, "We try to do our job to the best of our ability. It is not easy to be on your toes for 12 hours with no rest at all. However, even after investing so much energy, people are always ready to point fingers at us."
5. Sandeep Kumar (name changed on request)
Profession: Construction worker
Day begins at: Dawn
Day ends at: Dusk
Break: Lunch for 30 minutes and a quick nap if work pressure permits
Challenges: Long work hours with tremendous physical labour often cause exhaustion and fatigue.
Health risks/Dangers: At a construction site, there is always a looming danger of freak accidents. And a hard hat doesn’t protect you from the scorching sun.
When not at work: Spends time thinking about going home after his stint is over
Sandeep Kumar, a 31-year-old migrant from UP (name changed) looks like someone in his mid-forties. He laughs off the observation, saying it’s good to look more mature than one’s actual age. It soon evaporates in a wry smile as he resumes work inderneath an incomplete flyover construction. He nonchalantly says, "Heat is not a major issue actually. We have a job which needs to be done and we get paid for it." His colleagues, however, don't share the same sentiment. "It is nearly impossible to work in this heat. But we have to! A junior labourer makes Rs. 8,000 per month while if you are a bit senior, you get Rs. 1,000 more. We have to think of our families back home. Hunger is more painful than heat," another worker rues.