Friday, November 23, 2007

On the road

Roadroller driver Anthony Shiby works diligently to give the roads a smooth look

By Shevlin Sebastian

On Monday evening, the sun has already set, when I climb in behind driver Anthony Shiby, 34, on his road roller at Valanjambalan, on the stretch towards the South bridge. It is the peak traffic hour: Cars, buses, jeeps, auto-rickshaws, two-wheelers and trucks are moving in a never-ending flow on both sides. On one side, empty tar drums placed at intervals with a rope linked to all the drums act as a barrier for the traffic.

Shiby presses the starter button, shifts the gear and the roadroller moves forward. He leans to the left, to ensure that the wheels are going over the gravel chips and the tar spray. As the 8-tonne vehicle, which consumes 15 litres of diesel every day, keeps moving forward, worker Kunjumol, pours water, with a plastic mug, on the three rollers. “This is to prevent the tar from sticking on to the rollers,” says Shiby. The bucket is kept on a step of the vehicle and Kunjomol is always dipping into it and wetting the rollers.

Shiby reaches the end of the patch, a distance of 30 metres, then shifts the gear into reverse, and now he is looking back to ensure that he is going in a straight line. When he reaches the end, he shifts the gear and starts moving forward again. This time, he is leaning on the right. Shiby rarely sits straight: either he is leaning to the right or the left or looking back.

“At this moment, it is not that hot,” says Shiby. “But during the day, the heat from the tar on the road, combined with the heat from the engine and the metal roof makes it very uncomfortable.” As he expertly brakes at the end of the stretch, Shiby says, “11 a.m. to 3 p.m. is the toughest period.”

Back and forth he goes, at least 20 times each way, till the road begins to have a semblance of smoothness. At one side, workers are busy mixing the gravel chips in a machine and are getting the tar spray ready for the next stretch of road.

Meanwhile, cars honk and a policeman tries to bring order with stiff movements of his arms. So, how difficult is it to work in the middle of so much traffic? “I have got used to it,” says Shiby. “We get a lot of help from the policemen, who try to ensure that the traffic moves in a smooth manner. Without their co-operation, it would have been difficult to get the work done.”

He says most drivers are also co-operative. “But the ones who curse me the most are the bus drivers,” says Shiby, with a smile. “They have time deadlines to meet and they think I am slowing them up.”

Soon, Shiby finishes the work on this section, and steps off the vehicle. And while he waits patiently for the gravel chips to be put on the next patch, he talks about his beginnings.

Shiby became a driver by accident. His uncle, who was a driver for contractor T.J. Mathai, initiated him into the profession. He has been a driver for 14 years now and earns Rs 500 a day. “The road repair season is from November to May,” he says. “We usually don’t work in the rainy season, although, sometimes, there are some patches that need to be repaired.”

Standing nearby are two men who are keeping an eagle eye on the work that is being done. They are an Assistant Engineer and an overseer of the Cochin Corporation (both do not wish to be identified).

Asked why the roads break up so fast, the overseer says that after a road has been repaired, it needs at least fifteen days ‘rest’, when no vehicle should travel on it. “Forget 15 days, we are unable to give the road one second of rest.” He says it is not possible for the Valanjambalam road to be closed, since there is no parallel road to Vytilla. “If the roads are concretised, it will last a long time,” says the Assistant Engineer (AE). “Undoubtedly, there is a huge initial investment.”

What about the perennial suggestion that, instead of disrupting traffic during the day, road repairs could be done at night, as it is, in metros like Delhi and Mumbai? “There are no proper street lights in Kochi,” says the AE. “You cannot see properly. So, we cannot point out the mistakes being done.” Later, a worker says, “Maybe, the officials don’t want to miss out on a good night’s sleep.”

Meanwhile, Shiby has started work on the second patch. It is now 6.30 p.m. and darkness has already appeared on the horizon. “I will finish off this patch, and that should end the work for this section,” he says. The stretch, from M.G. Road, in front of the Medical Trust Hospital, to the South Bridge, took eight days to finish. So, where is he going tomorrow? “I am told it will be the Thammanam-Pullepady stretch.” And though a cynical public might look with contempt at the way road repairs are done, Shiby is satisfied with the job he is doing.

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

No comments:

Post a Comment