CHENNAI: As thousands of cars on Chennai roads pull up their window shades and turn on their ACs with rants about the kathiri heat, the nameless faces whose jobs are ‘on the road’, continue working without the respite of an AC, a fan or even a roof. The delivery boy bringing pizza and chilled soft drinks, the online store salesman bringing summer clothes, the traffic cop regulating the chaos, and the construction workers — all slog under the sun.
“What else can we do? If we stay home, who will pay for our food,” asks Gaja Lakshmi, a construction worker. Her family is working at a small construction site, where they live in a makeshift shelter. “We get two buckets of drinking water from an apartment nearby, even that is provided grudgingly,” she says.
For some, the hottest season of the year is the best time for business. Amudha, who sells tender coconut on a roadside cart spends around 10 hours a day standing in the outdoors, apart from a one-and-a-half-hour journey from Kannagi Nagar to T Nagar, where she had shifted to a few months ago. “I have to come to the same area because I have daily loans to pay and other commitments. And I can’t even move into a more shaded area because I will lose business.”
Traffic cops all over the city, who have a hard time coping with the vehicle snarl are braving the sweltering heat. “It is very hard for us to work in the heat, but if we are absent, then it will be chaos on the road,” says J Gopalakrishnan, a traffic policeman. Those manning the important stretches are provided moveable shelters. “We are also given thicket hats. But all that does not prevent us from perspiring. By the end of our seven-hour duty, our legs are dead tired, if we are not exhausted already by the pollution,” he adds.
‘30 minutes or free’, the promise to customers for delivery, also puts pressure on the bike-riding delivery boys, more so in this weather. “I have to deliver on time irrespective of the city’s traffic congestion and weather. If there are delays, customers file complaints and this will affect my salary,” says 26-year-old Praveen, a pizza delivery boy at a prominent food chain. He says they have no fixed lunch hours and can eat only in their spare time.
Some have been slightly benefited by the water pandals set up by political parties, and officials say they are trying to counter the summer in their own ways. “The department is providing us with Aavin buttermilk and cool drinks. The supply arrives at our respective stations from where a Marshall brings it along to a point. We also try to hydrate ourselves more,” says a traffic cop near Egmore, requesting anonymity.
The heat takes a toll on health too, with dehydration and exhaustion being the common complaints. “Our children have been developing heat boils on and off, but we are unable to do anything,” says Gaja Lakshmi. Adds a policeman manning the Nandanam signal, “Many of my colleagues have complained of varicosity due to long hours of standing to regulate traffic. Some of us are also at the risk of heat stroke. I have repeatedly had complications related to stomach and indigestion.”
Unmindful of the temperature soaring above 40 degree celsius, Chennai region’s 1,800 postmen, including gramin dak sevaks, toil daily in the hot sun. Although changing the timing of delivery of mails would be difficult for the postal department, officials say they have provided the postmen with caps and umbrella to cope with the scorching sun. “We are also planning to supply them water bottles,” says Merwin Alexander, Post Master General of Chennai City Region.