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Night watchman

By Nickunj Malik - Feb 08,2017 - Last updated at Feb 08,2017

Nowadays, we have CCTV cameras to keep watch over buildings and offices, but long ago, a night watchman did this job. He was hired to guard a house, community or locality during nighttime and keep it safe from robbers, thieves and other unwanted intruders. 

In cricketing terms, a nightwatchman is an inferior batsman sent in to bat when a wicket falls just before the end of a day’s play, to avoid the dismissal of a better one in adverse conditions. 

Incidentally, the Urban Dictionary — an online collection of slang words and phrases along with their definitions — has a rather crude description of the phrase “night watchman”, the meaning of which my readers can discover at their own peril. 

The night watchmen that were employed by my father when I was small were all men in their mid to late fifties.

They came with little or no training, other than a willingness to stay awake at night, for a regular wage. 

The company that supplied them gave them a dark green uniform to wear, which was a kind of coat and trouser set. They did not provide shoes, so most of these men wore rubber slippers, but what they were all handed was one long bamboo rod, each. 

They used the wooden bar to strike the floor with a loud crashing sound and yelled out “stay alert” every 20 to 25 minutes throughout the night. Actually, what they shouted was “jaagtey raho” in Hindi, which literally meant “carry on being awake”. However I’m not sure whether that sharp cry was to scare the criminals away, or to prevent themselves from nodding off. 

And nod off they did — at the most precarious of times. But when confronted with the truth, they always denied it and insisted they were fully awake. 

My father felt sorry when one of them was found sleeping on a chair, and got a blanket to cover him up. He also rescued the bamboo baton, which had fallen to one side, and placed it in our living room. The next morning the poor chap pleaded with our mother to get his wooden stick back. 

Life came full circle when we moved to Tanzania and were assigned a night watchman. 

His name was Jumma and he had an uncanny resemblance to the security guard of my childhood. It was impossible to count the number of times he slept on the job. 

My husband would pick up his baton when he was snoring loudly, and bring it indoors. I had to return it the next day after listening to his lengthy justifications. I did not wish to get him fired, you see, because he was an excellent tailor. 

What I did not know, till it was time to leave the country, was that he was also an outstanding writer. The letter he handdelivered to me, in beautiful cursive, was an all time classic. 

“Bye Bye Malik family” was the subject of the missive. “I’m hereby saying goodbye as I have heard that you are on your way to somewhere. From today I’m on my annual leave and going to my village so it would be hard to meet with all of you again…” it went on. 

“On your way to somewhere?” our daughter laughed, reading aloud. 

“He’s never been out of Tanzania, bless him!” I exclaimed. 

“Who will do your tailoring? What will you do now?” she asked. 

“First, I will get his farewell note framed,” I stated. 

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