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'I used to be terrified of heights'

Perched atop a ladder 30 feet off the ground, streetlight mechanic Ashok Pawar ticks 16 items off a checklist that he keeps tucked into the shirt pocket of his khaki uniform. Humaira Ansari reports.

mumbai Updated: Mar 10, 2013 00:55 IST
Humaira Ansari
Humaira Ansari
Hindustan Times

No branches blocking the light: Check. No loose brackets: Check. No cables dangling between lampposts: Check.

Perched atop a ladder 30 feet off the ground, streetlight mechanic Ashok Pawar ticks 16 items off a checklist that he keeps tucked into the shirt pocket of his khaki uniform.

"After 32 years on the job, I remember most of them by heart," says the 51-year-old, laughing. "But it's our job to tick off the list for each lamppost."

To ensure that his slice of the city is lit all night, Pawar starts his day at 4 am. After a quick shower and a cup of black tea, he leaves his two-room Santacruz quarters and takes a 4.50 am bus to Nana Chowk, where he starts his beat at 5.30 am every day.

Touring his jurisdiction of Nana Chowk, Grant Road and Lamington Road on foot, Pawar scrutinises a total of 350 lampposts every day, jotting down remarks on those that need attention and reporting back to his seniors by 8.30 am.

After a one-hour break, he and three colleagues are driven in an open-top BEST vehicle to the lampposts identified earlier as needing maintenance.

At each stop, Pawar and a colleague pick up a tool kit of gloves, bulbs, screwdrivers, clippers etc and climb into the hydraulic crane box attached to the bus, which lifts them to streetlight level.

Pawar then swings into action, changing bulbs, rejoining cut cables, cleaning the plastic covers etc. "By the grace of God, I have never suffered an electric shock," he says.

Way back in 1981, however, when he first started working with the municipal corporation as an 18-year-old, Pawar was terrified of getting into the crane and being whooshed up in the air.

"I would cringe every time I looked down. Everything looked so small," he says, laughing. "I was also scared that a bulb or tool would slip out of my hands and hurts someone."

These days, he has grown adept at clambering about the hydraulic lift. His basic salary has grown as well, from Rs 800 a month in 1981 to Rs 26,000.

His rounds done by 1.30 pm, Pawar signs out for the day and takes a train home from CST. "In the afternoons, I choose the train over the bus to avoid traffic jams," he says.

Home at 2.30 pm, he takes a second shower, then sits down to a home-cooked lunch of roti, sabzi and dal.

After a half-hour nap, he watches some TV and reads a Marathi newspaper. "I need my daily dose of current affairs," he says.

The rest of his day is spent running errands for his neighbours - helping the sick to a doctor, presiding over disputes. "In my area, I have a reputation as a social worker," he says, laughing.

At 8.30 pm, Pawar spends some time with his family, sipping on black tea as he chats with his 19-year-old son, 11-year-old daughter and wife Asha, an insurance agent who works out of home.

Dinner, at 11.30 pm, is roti, sabzi,rice and, occasionally, chicken curry, after which it's off to bed by midnight.

On his weekly days off, Pawar takes his family to Juhu Chowpatty, where everyone binges on pav bhaji, pani-puri and golas.

Set to retire in eight years, he dreams of returning to his scenic hometown of Chiplun in Ratnagiri district, setting up a small business and tending mango trees and rice farms.

"In short, I look forward to leading a happy, peaceful life with Asha," he says, smiling.

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

First Published: Mar 10, 2013 00:51 IST

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