While living in the UAE, a search for a suitable flat within one’s budget entailed a long search. As soon as you found a place that was suitable, you looked for the watchman or nathur to find out if there were any flats available. Even if there was no ‘to let’ board outside, you knew that you had to speak to the man with inside information. He could tell you if anyone was moving out soon and he would keep you informed for the price of a small commission.
Somehow I never went through a real estate company as I had a friend who preferred doing her own search after zeroing in on the area where she wanted to live. So, we visited numerous buildings and were lucky enough to find something we could afford.
Befriending the watchman
I soon realised the importance of befriending the watchman who was a fount of valuable knowledge. He knew where to find a locksmith as the first thing you did was to change the front door lock for safety purposes. He could guide you to the nearest laundry or tailor and was very often a handyman himself, able to tackle small repairs if needed. He was on call from early in the morning till late in the night.
There was one particular watchman I will never forget. He was a short, wiry man who was always willing to help. He had one son back in his home state and he dreamt of being able to bring his wife and son to the UAE for a holiday. His dream came true after I moved out of that building and just seeing the happiness on his face when he told me this was priceless.
They supplement their modest salary by washing cars and running errands. On Fridays, they take a well-deserved rest and their tiny room is usually full of friends as they cook a special meal together. The aromas filtering out of the room were enough to make my mouth water. That is when I decided to make a contribution to their ‘party’ by providing some chicken or mutton.
Forced to leave
These workers often go home once in two years or so and being away from their families is hard. One of the watchmen I knew hadn’t been home for six years. He had realised that buying gifts for family and friends was an expensive proposition and decided that saving money was more important in the long run. Eventually he was forced to go home when he fell sick and was laid off as he couldn’t cope with the workload. He was heart-broken as he was forced to leave before achieving his goals. All I could do was offer monetary help.
Back home, the watchman in the building where I live is also a godsend in times of need. One such example is when the lift stops working and the generator, too, is out of action. All I have to do is call him or his son to bring me milk or fruit which I have run out of and these are delivered to my doorstep. The thought of walking down five flights of stairs and then back up is daunting to say the least. In the recent rain and subsequent flooding in Hyderabad, it was the watchmen who suffered the most as their accommodation is usually in the basement. This meant that all their possessions were soaked and they were kept busy pumping out the water and cleaning up while their families had to wait for help.
I salute these hard-working men who do their best to make our lives comfortable and are on call 24/7. Despite their working conditions they are, for the most part, helpful and not given to complaining.
Vanaja Rao is a freelance writer based in Hyderabad, India