One of the features of urbanisation is the proliferation of flats that grow vertically from places that once had houses with a compound wall, flowering plants like bougainvillea and a deep well in the backyard. A realisation came, albeit slowly but steadily, that it’s selfish to enjoy the precincts of a downtown by one family alone, denying several others such a share of situational benefits. One of the interesting features of this residential system is the night watchman.
A typical night watchman past his middle age can doze off at a moment’s notice. Some do it lying down, some sitting or in an advanced stage of hatha yoga, even standing. The first thing on a watchman’s mind before joining work would be whether there is a suitable space for him to spread a sheet and sleep on it, armed with a mosquito coil, mobile phone and a flash light.
Even though it’s incumbent on them to unlock the gate to allow the ingress of homing nightbirds like techies on two or four wheelers, a few watchmen don’t lock the gate, leaving the bikes, scooters and cars and the music systems in them in the invisible care of one of his patron saints. A duty-conscious night watchmen (there are indeed some! ) may go round the flat at frequent intervals, tapping the paved floor with a stick and blowing a police whistle to let the world know he is wide awake. But he would be forced to discontinue the noisy beat if some residents object to the tap-tap and the long toot from the whistle.
The secretary of the apartment complex, if habituated to getting up before the milkman and legging it to his morning constitutional, may find the watchman enjoying sound sleep, releasing the guttural growls of a man-eater on the prowl. A prudent secretary may go past without disturbing him, admiring his ability to sleep in such an inconvenient position whereas he himself can’t often sleep a wink on his comfortable bed, a split air conditioner providing arctic cooling.
The changing of guard between the night watchman and the day watchman may not be as colourful a ceremony as the one at Buckingham Palace in London. But should there be a confusion over the roster, resulting in one of them doing double duty, they would trade abuses noisily. However, things would settle down soon and both would walk away for a glass of tea and smoke, keeping the gates wide open.
Why then employ a night watchman who has nothing much to do but sleep? Barring a few “barn owls”, many sleep fitfully covering themselves from head to foot yet audibly underscoring their presence to cat burglars. Ergo, the night watchman should be there as a figurehead or a stuffed scarecrow.
J S Raghaven firstname.lastname@example.org