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GUARDING THY PEOPLE Behind the sweets of Diwali lies the sweat of halwais working on the festival day, not to forget the grit and gumption of doctors, cops and fire-fighters.
GUARDING THY PEOPLE Behind the sweets of Diwali lies the sweat of halwais working on the festival day, not to forget the grit and gumption of doctors, cops and fire-fighters.

While we all celebrate, NANDINI NAIR takes a look at all the people who work while we play

Festivals mean celebration. To all but a few. Essential services continue at a diminished but operational level. But for some people it's a day of extra vigil. Police, fire, rail, medical services and even confectioners have to work especially hard to sustain the festivities. Surrounded by two red water tankers of 4500 litres, Deepak Kumar and Rajendar Singh regard Diwali as a "day of stop". It's a day when they can never get leave. They are firemen. Hailing from Sonepat, Singh, a fireman, has not celebrated Diwali with his family for 12 years. Shakti Gupta, PRO, AIIMS, says that extra staff is not required in the burns ward as most injuries tend to be eye injuries. Dr. Vishwa Prakash, Unit Head of the Plastic Surgery Department at Safdarjung Hospital, says that he and his 14 colleagues are unable to celebrate Diwali. For seven years he has been on call on the holiday. The department receives around 200 Diwali related cases. While 80 per cent are minor, 20 per cent require admissions and even plastic surgery. He says earnestly, "Our celebrations are treating the patients."

Sweet makers

For Jagdish Aggarwal, Managing Director, Bengali Sweet House, Diwali means profits and toil. He speaks eagerly while attending to bills and overseeing business. His 120 employees will work till the evening of Diwali. He, however, has other concerns, "This is a black Diwali." Because the future of other shopkeepers hangs in the balance, he doesn't see any cause for celebration. Sundarji has been working at Nathu's Sweet House for 42 years. In the week before Diwali he employs a hundred other staff to help with the rush. Unable to quote figures, both say that their business increases "manifold" during Diwali. Pre-Diwali, Sarojini Nagar market is festooned with streamers and hiving with activity. A noticeable change since last year's attack is the complete absence of firecracker shops. Within this crowd, a policeman watches from a macchan, while others frisk shoppers and search cars. A plainclothes policeman says 40 policemen are currently guarding the market. On the day of Diwali he hopes to celebrate with his family as soon as the market shuts. Anand Mohan, DCP, New Delhi, says, "Being a policeman is a 24-hour job." Holidays and festivals are meaningless to them. To compensate for all the lost holidays he says that a thirteenth month pay is given. The police force is now emphasising on making the public aware. The constant messages from loudspeakers create public awareness. "We are trying to sensitise shopkeepers and employees so that we can have 1000 pairs of eyes. They are familiar with the environment and are the best people to realise if there is something wrong." Sanjay Bhatt, a Sub Inspector, says policemen are fortunate if they get three-four hours of sleep. In service for eight years, he has barely spent any Diwali at home.

Extra trains

To facilitate the festive rush of passengers, the Indian Railways runs special trains. Northern Railways runs 360 extra trains (around eight trains a day) during the Durga Puja period. The entire visible and invisible staff of the Railways is under immense pressure. For those running the trains, working in the yards, patrolling tracks, bridges and culverts, Diwali is seldom a holiday. For the festive melee, four extra companies (of around 100 men each) of RPF (Railway Protection Force) have been deployed in the Delhi area. The firemen of Connaught Circus say they receive around 30 calls during Diwali, mainly for small electric fires. Singh says fondly of Kumar, "Yeh aag par aise jhapatata hai, jaise sher bakre par." (He jumps on a fire like a lion jumps on a goat.) With ramrod gait Singh asserts, "Aap Diwali manaate hain, hum rakhwaali karte hain." (While you celebrate, we keep watch.)




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