Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Paper tigers

Agent T.R. Devadas Rao and his son work sincerely so that readers get their newspapers on time

Shevlin Sebastian

When Dhanesh Rao, 25, arrives at the Rappai’s Fast Food shop, near the Palarivattom Junction, at 4 a.m., a gentle rain is falling. Under the awning, there are two tables, while on the floor lie several packets. These contain the Thursday edition of The New Indian Express. You can barely see anything in the semi-darkness, but Dhanesh has no problems. He slices open the packet, puts the main newspaper on the table and the City Express beside it. Then, he slips the supplement into the main paper with machine-like efficiency. All around the Junction, under shop awnings, other agents, like Balakrishnan, Srikumar, Suresh and Franklin, are doing the same transfers. Meanwhile, as time passes, it becomes clear to Dhanesh that one brand has not yet been delivered.

By 5 a.m., when Dhanesh’s father, T.A. Devadas Rao, 62, arrives on a bicycle, the son tells him about the missing paper. Devadas asks that paper’s agent, Shaji Francis, 43, who is working nearby, to give a call on his mobile. Francis duly obliges and the news is that there has been some problem in the press and the delivery will be delayed.

By 5.10 p.m., the first of the delivery boys arrives on his bicycle. Manu Jay Chandran, 20, is studying fashion designing at Don Bosco, Vadathula, and lives near South Janatha Road. Says Devadas, “Apart from the monthly salary, which ranges from Rs 700 to Rs 1000, I give all the boys a free newspaper and a cup of tea.”

Soon, the others arrive: A.R. Rajesh, Suneesh, Naresh, Varghese, Manu and A.M. Chandran, 36, who has been doing this job for over 20 years. The number of copies each boy takes ranges from 75 to 175 copies. At the Palarivattom junction, apart from 150 delivery boys, 60 agents congregate every morning.

Devadas has the agency for the area from Citizen Road to Koothapady Sastha Temple, which is a distance of 2 kilometres. “By 7 a.m., all the 800 papers should be delivered, since people get busy after that,” says Devadas. “That is why I have seven boys to do the job.”

Dawn has broken, the crows have started cawing, the private buses have started running on the road but the one paper has yet to arrive. In normal circumstances, the boys would have been gone for delivery by 5.30 a.m. “We cannot leave without all the papers,” says Devadas, with a shrug. “Sometimes, these things happen.”

Finally, the van, with the delayed paper, arrives at 6.20 a.m., and there is a rush by the agents to get the copies. Within ten minutes, Devadas and Dhanesh have slipped the supplement into the main paper, all the papers have been distributed to the boys and they are on their way. Thus ends the morning session for Dhanesh, who has a day job in a private firm, and Devadas.

As for the father, he sets out for his next assignment: the collection of the dues. “This is the toughest part of the job,” he says. “Don’t forget, I have to visit 800 houses. Nowadays, both husband and wife are working, so it is not easy to find them at home.”

Not surprisingly, he gets most of his dues cleared on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. “On Sundays, I start at 7.30 a.m. and work till 1.30 p.m.,” he says “On week-days, I go out at 7.30 a.m. and finish by 9 a.m. In the evenings, I go from 5 to 6 p.m. I don’t go after the lamps are lit in the houses.”

It is a steady job and he gets a decent income, says Devadas. So, are there any problems in the job? “Yes, there is one big problem,” he says. “There are no holidays. You have to work 365 days. The four to five days that are off, not all newspapers are closed. And hence, we have to go to work.”

In fact, he says, during the recent Ayudha Puja holiday, it was the first time in several years when all the newspaper offices were closed at the same time, but this was a rare occurrence. “Whether I have a fever, cold or a chest pain, I have to be there at Palarivattom every morning at 4 a.m.,” he says. “But God has been kind to me because in these 30 years I have never suffered a major illness.”

Another problem, agent Francis says, is that it is difficult to get boys to deliver the newspapers. “Nowadays, families are small, there is only a boy and a girl, and the parents want the boy to study, instead of delivering newspapers in the morning,” he says.

Dhanesh has a professional complaint: “Most of the time, we are not sure how many supplements are there. If there is more than one supplement, we are not informed about it earlier.” After the boys have taken the papers for delivery, Dhanesh will notice the packet with the extra supplement. It is then delivered the next day.

Nevertheless, despite these problems and the steady rain, after the boys set out, following a frenzied two and a half hours of work, both father and son have a satisfied look on their faces.

(Permission to reproduce this article has to be obtained from The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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