Peripheral Vision: The Watchman Guarding Your Home
Our series, Peripheral Vision, explores the untold stories of people we encounter on a daily basis.
I’m Bihari Lal Sharma, 46, and I came to Mumbai seven years ago, from a district called Chitrakoot in Uttar Pradesh.
I have a family of eight — four sons, two daughters, my wife and myself. In my village, I was a farmer, but in return for my services, I’d either get 2.5-3 kilos of wheat a month or Rs. 50 a day.
When it was time to get my daughter married five years ago, I had to take a loan of Rs 1.5 lakh. It’s that loan that has landed me in this city, with this job.
At my age, there was nothing else I would’ve been capable of doing. So, I contacted a security guard agency in Mumbai and they called me to their training centre in Chakala, Andheri. Over there, I had to deposit some money, I was told and taught everything and they’d promised me a job after the training was over. But nothing of that sort happened. They didn’t return my money, neither offered a job. So I set out on my own, building to building, asking if there was a vacancy for a security guard. After two months of searching, I got offered a job in a building in Yari Road. I’ve changed several times and now I work two 12-hour shifts. And have no days off.
Since I’m on duty 24 hours, I don’t need a home, so I don’t have one in the city. Everything is available on the job. I sleep for two to three hours a night, and that’s when most people will take a picture and ask how can a security guard be sleeping, but we work hard to make ends meet, while everybody dismisses this part of our job.
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I make Rs. 10,000-Rs. 15,000 a month here, of which I have to pay Rs. 2,200 for lunch and dinner a month. I also had to pay about Rs. 1,000 each for my uniforms in two places so I own only one set for the two places I have to work at. I wash and wear the same one everyday. Sometimes, I also wear another guard’s till my own uniform dries up, and then wash his after wearing it.
I also don’t own a phone. I hardly make money to eat, let alone owning a phone. There’s nobody I need to talk to except my wife. So I borrow someone’s phone and call her for two minutes once a week. What do I have to talk about anyway? I ask her if everything’s fine and if they need money. That’s it.
Last year, I also got my 16- and 18-year-old sons to Mumbai to work. Now they work with a parcel company, to pack and wrap stuff. Ideally they should be studying but we have to work hard to return the loan before they start applying interest on it. We also have to work faster to return it so other kids can get married. It’s a never-ending cycle.
My job involves opening the gates of the residential apartments I work at, check the water and electricity situation. And obviously, keep it safe from unknown persons and vehicles entering. In the past seven years, there’s only been once when I entered into a fight with a couple who tried to enter a building they didn’t stay in and also tried to offer a Rs. 500 bribe to me. I didn’t want to open the gates, or accept a bribe. They jumped the wall, pushed me aside, and opened the gate. I shouted at him, but he started getting physical. I beat him up, but ended up with a cracked skull. The supervisor took me to the hospital and took care of my expenses. The boy did come back looking for me but thankfully, I was still in the hospital.
But as a security guard, even at my age, I can say that I consider safety as being more important than my life. I can say that I can give up my life to fight anyone who is trying to compromise the safety of the building I’m guarding.
My wish is to make money to return the loan, but it’s also my wish for my wife to visit Mumbai. I want to take her to the Siddhivinayak and Mahalaxmi temples, and sit with her on Juhu beach because she’s never seen a beach or the sea. Maybe take her to Marine Drive too.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. As told to Anubhuti Matta.