21 July 2011

ATM Watchman

There is a profusion of watchmen in our lives. Like potted money plants, they are present everywhere, nestled to one side of any space and seeking little attention. Well, unless he has a whistle and is a parking lot watchman; then he makes a racket.

But I am writing this as an observation and concern. My building watchman works crazy 12 hour shifts; sometimes 24 when the person to replace him doesn't arrive. However, I see my building watchman busy, pottering about in the parking lot, sometimes directing people, sacredly protecting the residents of my building from pesky door salesman and keeping tabs on the newspaperman, the milkman, the maids, the dogs, the cats... But what of the other watchman?

I am particularly struck by the ATM watchmen. Some lounge indoors, in the full arctic blast of the AC but I rarely see them reading anything. They are simply sprawled on a wicker chair doing pretty much nothing. It's not like you can get any advice from them on your bank or your account. He (for it is always a he) stares numbly as you enter, and like a tennis match, his gaze follows you out. In my fertile imagination, I think of this person as a someone who can work with their hands and mind; perhaps repair watches? grow tomatoes? I am quite curious: does this person really want to be a watchman? The ATM watchman also bothers me because whom do they talk to? Sure they have chumps like me go in and out, but imagine having no office colleagues? Also, what is the job description of this person: I don't see this person being able to stop a bunch of hoodlums from doing as they please. He's been sitting on his bum all day long and really, how active do you think that sort of lifestyle is?

Growing up, a watchman meant that something important was happening and he was hired to shoo away the crowds. But in cities today there is an entire platoon of people in gray or blue outfits who are ubiquitous and we do take them for granted. They need jobs, they migrate from villages deep in Bihar or UP or the northeast; I see how economic necessity is driving this market? But shouldn't we stop to think about what we are building - a nation unable to even withdraw cash from an ATM without human presence?

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