09 February 2009

Sleepless nights

Winter has already fast forwarded to summer and it’s too hot to sleep with the window closed. But in my sleep I hear a constant tap, tap, tap and a whistle being blown outside my window. It’s the night watchman making his rounds!

Security seems to be an obsession in India. All the houses have metal bars across the windows and often balconies are also closed in. Apart from feeling like I’m in a prison, I’ve often thought of the potential fire safety issues of being caged in like this. Apparently this is to deter thieves and monkeys. I’ve never seen monkeys in my neighbourhood, but I have in other parts of Bangalore, so this seems plausible.

Our landlords strongly encouraged us to put a lock on our front gate when we first moved in. With two locks on our front door, we didn’t think this was necessary, but every evening they carefully lock their own gate with a chain and padlock as an extra precaution.

Security guards are conspicuous in India and are probably never out of work. Every building, business and shop has a security guard stationed at the door, day and night. Every apartment building also has one. I can’t visit a friend without being asked to fill in a register with my name, address, phone number, reason for my visit, time of arrival and departure. Perhaps this is sensible given the current security climate but of course with increased security comes less privacy and more hassle.

Some households have their own private security guard stationed permanently outside their home on a chair or sometimes in a small shelter. Walking home at night, I often see these security guards fast asleep on their chairs!

In my neighbourhood, a collection of households each pay a small monthly fee which is pooled and paid to the night watchman for his salary. He starts his shift around 10pm and roams the streets until sunrise, tapping a wooden stick on the ground and blowing a whistle… protecting us and our property from thieves and external menaces.

I hear the tap, tap, tap and shrill of his whistle in my sleep without it disturbing me too much. But my poor husband spends many sleepless nights thanks to the night watchman we are paying to protect us. He complained to our landlord who is in charge of ‘supervising’ the watchman. He told us that other neighbours have complained that they don’t hear the watchman! Which led us to wonder what the point of the whistle and stick is… Is it to deter potential thieves? Or is to let us know he is there and doing his job?

In the end we asked the watchman not to blow his whistle when he passes our house. This works for a while but then he forgets, or another watchman takes over who has an even better pair of lungs. Maybe if we pay him a little extra he’ll remember?

Above photo courtesy of Ravages.


Anonymous said...

Your tapping watchman brought on a surge of nostalgia.

I remember the warm nights (we travelled from the Hill Stations to Bangalore every vacation) - the streets would go dark and you'd hear the "Tak Tak Tak Pheeeeeeeeee".

And no it didn't deter the thieves - one night a brazen chap was trying to pull the shirts hung on the rack with a long stick that had a hook on the end - through those metal bars. My dad stealthily moved over to the window and caught the unsuspecting thief's hand. He got away - but the stick is still there at my Grandpas!

Another time my Grandpa caught a thief in the backyard and finally let him go without calling the police!

I must remember to keep an ear out on my next trip to Bangalore.

Anonymous said...

This post had me laughing out loud! I love reading your blog. You give such a vivid "view" of the little snippets of life. Love the pics too.

Isabel said...

Hi Anu: Yes, even with bars on the windows and a watchman with a stick, thefts can still happen... I fail to see the logic of the watchman blowing his whistle... any thief will hear him coming!

Thanks for visiting honeybee, please come again!

kroswami said...

had me grinning for the longest time!

Anonymous said...

That had me wondering too - apprently it's a warning - supposed to serve as a deterrant!

Sherri said...

I enjoy hearing about the daily, or shall I say nightly, nuances of India. Funny about the whistle - that would annoy the hell out of me!
I haven't visited your blog in a while - life comes with its hectic times and I am only now starting to catch my breath. I will catch up on all your posts though now.
Take care,

Anonymous said...

What words... super, a remarkable phrase

Unknown said...

Oh my... I'm in Siliguri right now and this is happening at 3AM as we speak. I googled reasons for this and came across this post. Guess that clears it all up!