“I have been working as a life guard on the Kozhikode beach for the past two years. I grew up by the sea in Puthiyappa. I am used to swimming and sailing deep into the sea. However, I got my appointment after undergoing a physical test conducted by the Tourism Department at the Kovalam beach. That was seven to eight years ago and 26 of us from Kozhikode cleared the test.
At the recruitment programme, our physical endurance was tested. We had running races and skill tests. For instance, we were asked to swim towards a boat in the sea, take out a two-litre bottle filled with black sand from it, carry it on our back and swim back. The test was done during high tide in Kovalam and I remember many backed out seeing the tide. We were also made to walk 50 metres with a man on our back.
Four life guards are posted at the Kozhikode beach. I believe it is always better to prevent an accident, rather than engage in a rescue mission. When the tide is high and sea rough, we give out ample warnings. In the past two years, no major mishap has happened here.
We always warn revellers against venturing too close or swimming deep into the sea. We know exactly when the sea is changing moods. The sea is particularly rough during the monsoons, so we firmly place the red flag on the shore from June to September. Typically, the tide begins to change when rains are round the corner. One can expect the tide to be rough from the second week of May. Whirlpools are particularly dangerous and if one gets caught in it, getting out is very hard.
Though we constantly warn people, there are always a few who will never listen. To handle such situations, it is always better to have police presence too on the beach. Last year, a few men got into a scuffle with me when I warned them against venturing into the sea.
It is quiet these days as it is the Ramadan month. Otherwise, weekends and holidays are particularly taxing for us. The beach would be packed and four of us are really inadequate then. Situation would be such that one cannot even drop a pin on the beach. Last year, soon after the Ramadan, we had an instance when a few guys were caught in the sea. We had to venture in and bring them back to the shore. There was also an instance when an inebriated man jumped into the sea and we were in action mode again. If someone is caught in the tide, one of us would swim towards the victim first followed by another who would swim with the rescue tube and buoy. We get the victim onto the rescue tube which can bear up to 85 kg and swim back. If the tide is furious, we tie the tube to a rope which is held by one of us on the shore and the victim is pulled in.
We are on duty from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. The days are spent along the beach and it is tough in summer. Last year, a private firm had given us an umbrella, but it is in tatters now. As of now we do not have life jackets. The lifeguards had some time back held demonstrations outside the Secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram asking for new ropes, tubes and buoys, so too life jackets and a jesky. We are now temporary, daily wagers. Though we are in the business of saving lives, we have no life insurance. However, the satisfaction saving a life gives is unparalleled.”
As told to P. ANIMA
(A column on the men and women who make Kozhikode what it is.)