Saturday, May 21, 2011

No smooth ride this

When the boats are late, on the ferry route between Ernakulam and the Vypeen islands, the lascars are at the receiving end of passengers' ire

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photo: (From left) Lascars M.K. Sulaiman and K.R. Rajan

M.K. Sulaiman, a helper (lascar) on the ferry between Ernakulam and the Vypeen Islands remembers his colleague, Ajayan, doing a rescue act. “A woman, in a bid to commit suicide, jumped off the boat,” says Sulaiman. “Ajayan immediately leapt from the boat and saved her.”

Usually, people fall when they are embarking or disembarking. “I throw a lifebuoy at them,” says Sulaiman. “But if the passenger finds it difficult to hold on to it, I will jump into the water.”

Sulaiman also jumps in for other reasons. Frequently, weeds and plastic packets get stuck in the propellers. It is the lascar’s job to remove it.

“We do not have any goggles or an oxygen cylinder,” says K.R. Rajan, another lascar. “We have been asking for this equipment for a long time.” So the lascar wears a white towel, takes a deep breath, and goes down. “The river is deep and, sometimes, we have to do this job at night,” says Rajan. “So, it is risky.”

However, recently, the state inland water transport department, which runs the ferry service, has started giving the lascars a ‘risk allowance’.

Indeed, the job is not easy, and the working hours are long. One shift begins at 1 p.m. and ends at 9.30 p.m. Thereafter, the lascars spend the night at the jetty. They sleep on cardboard packets or sacks, and begin work at 6 a.m. the next day. The shift lasts till 1 p.m. and then they go home. “It is, in essence, a 24 hour job,” says Rajan. Then they come to work the next day at 1 p.m.

The lascar’s job is to keep the boat clean and to tie and untie the rope around the pillars of the jetty when the boat arrives and leaves. It is a routine job, but, frequently, they are at the receiving end of the ire of passengers.

When the boat is late in arriving, the people will shout at the lascar. “Many passengers, especially from Fort Kochi, behave badly with us,” says Rajen. “Many are drunk or high on drugs.”

If there is an engine breakdown while travelling between the islands, the boat will float for a while before help comes. “This is another occasion when passengers get angry,” he says. “However, because of mobile phones, we can contact other boats and get help quickly.”

Another area of contention occurs when tickets are being issued. The moment one hundred tickets are sold, the counter is closed. This rule was implemented in the aftermath of the boat tragedy at Thekkady in 2009, when 45 tourists drowned when a boat capsized, because of overcrowding. But when the passengers are denied tickets, some of them have broken the grill of the counters, and the police have to be called. “That is part and parcel of our job,” says Sulaiman. “Whatever happens we have been told not to react.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

No comments:

Post a Comment