Guarding lives is one of the noblest of professions, I believe. I am proud that I have been doing it for the past seven years as a lifeguard on Kovalam beach.
It is a hard life, though. When the tourist season is at its peak, we are always on our toes because the beach is so crowded that it becomes almost impossible to keep an eye on each and every person venturing out into the waters. Even as I am talking to you, I can’t take my eyes away from the sea. The moment I find somebody venturing too deep, I’ve got to blow a whistle and warn them. But there are many who refuse to heed the warning and often they end up in trouble. Just like a tourist from Rajasthan whom I saved earlier today. While foreign tourists often stay away from dangerous waves, domestic tourists find it difficult to navigate them.
I belong to Cheriyathura where I live with my parents and siblings. The Department of Tourism recruits lifeguards from among the fisherman community after testing our skill in swimming, besides our physical and mental fitness. There are 31 lifeguards on the beach, with each of us working a 12-hour shift. There are also two supervisors and one chief lifeguard. After our shift we get the next day off. But we all face a lot of problems. In fact, a lot has been written and spoken about our plight in print and the visual media. Primarily, we lack enough safety equipment. We just have a lifebuoy, whereas in foreign countries the lifeguards are provided with a lot of additional safety devices too.
We get Rs. 300 on the days we work. There is no insurance cover; so if something happens to us, our near and dear ones don’t get any financial assistance. We sit in the blazing sun, without a proper shade. Recently, a private firm was kind enough to provide us an umbrella.
I am 31 now, still unmarried. Actually, I am not thinking about marriage at all. There is lot of uncertainty in this job, since I am constantly engaging with the sea, which has its mood changes. So, it’s better to be single, living life by the sea, watching the vast expanse of water in front of me.
(A weekly column on men and women who make Thiruvananthapuram what it is)