Power Trip


For a lineman employed to service electrical machinery and attend to customer complaints, keeping the city lights glowing 24X7 is all in a day's work.

On a crossroad off Broadway Road in Bangalore's busy Shivajinagar, a small, open door with a kolam outside reveals dark quarters. Kasturi, a middle-aged figure swaddled in a sari, emerges from within and greets the man in khaki overalls. The lights went out last night, she tells him, and she lodged a complaint a couple of hours ago. Will it be alright? Barely listening, the mechanic, S Varadaraju, gropes briefly inside the electricity meter-box before he decides the problem must lie in the feeder box at the street corner, or, to be precise, in the tangle of wires in a grey box hiding behind plastic and other rotting garbage. Varadaraju clears the trash away with a pair of pliers and after several minutes of peering at the mess, pulls out a nearly-severed white cable. "It's a loose connection," he says, intertwining the two pared ends and taping them up. The electricity hums back to life in Kasturi's apartment. It's a light bulb moment.

Varadaraju is one of 5,648 field staff employed by the Bangalore Electricity Supply Company (BESCOM) to attend to public complaints 24x7, service electrical machinery, enforce bill payment and handle disconnections. A lineman or a mechanic can earn anywhere between Rs 8,000 and Rs 20,000, depending on his years of experience. "I have been doing this since 1983. I still have another 10 years," says 51-year-old Varadaraju, hopping into a blue BESCOM Maruti van. His elder daughter has just been hired by IBM and he no longer works for money, but the thrill of climbing electric poles and fixing faulty transformers never gets old. "Till two years ago, I was on the night shift and there was constant running around because there would be no local help or feedback available after dark. Now things are more relaxed," he says.

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