You now have fire-proof wires; and highly sensitive circuit-breakers. And yet, the calls keep coming in, mostly regarding electrical mishaps in the kitchen
When Muthu was ten years old, his favourite pastime was taking apart the switchboard in his house, and checking the wiring. He was not interested in studies — and decided, instead, to become a holiday-helper in the electrical shop that belonged to his father’s friend. “I got 50 paise everyday,” Muthu laughs. But it wasn’t the salary that drew him there — it was the opportunity to learn electrical skills.
In the beginning though, his only job was to hand in the equipment, while someone senior did all the work. “They did not let me touch anything!” he smiles. It was many years later — after his unsuccessful Class Ten board exams boards — that the real work began, for which he received Rs. 400 per month. This time around, he got to look at drawings, break the wall with a chisel, and lay the pipes for the wiring. And with the years, he picked up enough skills, to become (what he calls) ‘all-in-all’.
Today, 41-year-old Muthu has three assistants, and their monthly salaries together work out to nearly Rs. 40,000. “My dream, even when I was a ten-year-old, was to have a few people working under me… now, that has come true.” Muthu works both in the domestic as well as commercial spaces. House calls , he says , pays poorly, and just covers his assistants’ salaries, but it nets him plenty of contacts. And that’s how he made his entry, five years ago, into offices and factories. “ Electrical work in houses is very simple, anybody can do it. But data cabling for IT and electrical work for industries is difficult. I work with engineers and learn from them.”
Electrical work is rewarding — and there’s plenty of it, Muthu says, that he even works for half-a-day on Sundays — but the unpredictable timings are a dampener. “Electricians are like doctors,” he points out, when faults happen he’s simply got to attend to them. “I get calls even at 11p.m. regarding air-conditioners not working, mains catching fire… sometimes, they plug in a microwave in a 5amp plug-point, while it needs 15amps. That can cause a fire; if the air-conditioner is not serviced at all, it consumes a lot of power; and that can cause short-circuit.” It is very important, he stresses, that the wiring in a building is fault-free, and equipment are used with plug-points of the right capacity.
Muthu says that there’ve been leaps in electrical technology since he started out. “You now have fire-proof wires; and highly sensitive circuit-breakers”. And yet, the calls keep coming in, mostly regarding electrical mishaps in the kitchen.
Muthu travels a long way every day. Ten years ago, traffic and pollution (and a desire to live in an independent house) sent him packing to Perungalathur. But while he enjoys suburban living, he does not have the time to look after the house. “So I give my wife the money, and she does an excellent job. She also looks after our two daughters; both want to be engineers,” he says, with a touch of pride.
Muthu has three siblings, and they’re all well-educated; but their father — a government employee — encouraged him to follow his dream. “ I earn more than my siblings! Today, there are diploma courses too, and people who learn electrical work have good job opportunities. But in any case, you need to work very hard to make it, something people seem reluctant to do.”
(A weekly column on men and women who make Chennai what it is)