Namma Metro work on at K.R. Circle

Metres below the busy K.R. Circle in Bangalore, a handful of men, using sign languages, are coordinating the efforts to burrow a tunnel through hard granite rock, moving a few millimetres a minute, a far cry from the fast-paced vehicles zipping above.

Remaining patient for most part of their back-breaking shift that runs into almost 12 hours each day, they move about operating the tunnel boring machine that is at work for the Namma Metro from Central College Station to Vidhana Soudha, piercing the rock slowly but steadily.

Their sign language, however, is not part of their professional work, but is to break the language barrier, as Thai nationals are working with Indians from across several States, without a common language to communicate. “Most of our communication is through sign language and very little English that we both commonly understand,” said Boonnom Sarachai, an electrical supervisor from Thailand.

“If we fail to communicate with sign language or in English, we show them the equipment and what to do with it,” he said while stating that they do not interact much with each other apart from work-related issues.

Sarachai is among the 60 people from Thailand who have been working in the East-West underground section of the Namma Metro here.

“Indian workers, who have been deployed on the site, are mostly helping the Thai workers who are operating the machine,” said R. Balasubramanian, Senior Resident Engineer of BMRCL’s General Consultants.

“There have been times when only a few operators, who were certified healthy, were present during the tunnelling work due to compression issues.

“Changing of discs of the cutter head is quite a skilful job that only the Thais undertake. It requires acclimatisation in the pressure chamber,” he said.

For their part, Indian workers are learning from their Thai counterparts on the nitty-gritty of the tunnel boring machine.

Joginder Pal (45) from Jammu, who has been in the project since February 2011, said that it had been a good experience for him as it was for the first time that he was working in a tunnel project.

All his earlier experience were with the national highways.

“I have learnt a lot,” he said, as another co-worker Vijay Prasad (37) from Gaya in Bihar, nodded in agreement.

The underground work, in a slightly elevated temperature inside the tunnel, takes such toll on the body that after the12-hour shift, the workers prefer to rest rather than go out.

“I have not been to any places of tourist importance or have watched a movie in almost one-and-a-half years of my stay in Bangalore. At end of the day, we are so tired,” said Sarachai, who loves chicken curry and poori when he is not having his Thai dish (prepared by the cook that they have brought from Thailand).