Thursday, August 22, 2013

A Helping Hand in Kochi's Chaotic Traffic

Traffic Warden Sajitha Zainuden talks about her experiences 

Photo by TP Sooraj 
By Shevlin Sebastian 

On a Monday morning, Mukesh Nair was in a hurry. The train had arrived late from Kozhikode. So, he walked swiftly from the Ernakulam Town station towards the bus stop near the Reserve Bank of India in Kochi. His office was in Palarivattom. Suddenly, Mukesh felt dizzy. The 27-year-old fell and his head hit the ground. Mukesh was having an epileptic fit.

From his mouth, blood and water began to drip out. Kochi City Traffic Warden, Sajitha P Zainuden rushed towards the man. “Nobody had stepped forward to help,” she says. Sajitha placed her watch in his hand. The presence of metal helps to control a fit. But by then Mukesh had become unconscious.

Sajitha then hailed an auto-rickshaw, and, with the help of two bystanders, placed Mukesh on the seat. Then she stepped in and the driver sped to Lisie Hospital. At the hospital, Sajitha took away Mukesh’s mobile, as he was being wheeled into the casualty section. 

“I called the first number,” she says. “It belonged to a friend of Mukesh.” Soon, a group of acquaintances arrived. But Sajitha told them that she would deposit Mukesh’s belongings, which included a laptop, at the Traffic West police station, near the High Court.

A few days later, after Mukesh recovered, he collected his stuff, and, along with a family friend, met Sajitha and gave a gift. “Mukesh told me that the biggest blessing for him was that he did not lose his belongings, which contained some important papers,” says Sajitha. It was, of course, a memorable moment for Sajitha.

Another person who has been impressed by Sajitha is regular bus traveller, Tom Rogers, whose office is in Kaloor. “I stay in Fort Kochi and sometimes when I get down at the bus stop at the Reserve Bank, I stand and observe Sajitha,” he says. “She is a very helpful person.”

Sajitha says that because of the heavy traffic, she holds the hands of the sick, and the elderly, as well as youngsters when they are crossing the street. She does get irritated now and then by women. “I stop the traffic for them and they are busy talking on their mobile phones,” says Sajitha. “They will not listen to me, and try to cross the road, by running across, between the vehicles, which is quite risky.”

Thanks to her pro-active nature, she has become a familiar figure at Kaloor. “All the bus and auto-drivers, local shop owners, residents and employees of the Reserve Bank know me,” she says. “I have been working here for the past two-and-a-half years.”

The traffic warden says that the busiest time of the year is during the Onam season. “There are so many people on the road and so much traffic,” she says. “It is not easy to keep control.”

All this daily activity begins early for Sajitha. Her initial shift is from 7.30 am to 8.30 am in front of the Al Ameen public school at Edapally. Thereafter, she stands near the Reserve Bank and works till 12 noon. After a break for lunch, she works again from 3 pm to 6 pm, sometimes on Broadway, or in front of the Chennai Silks showroom on MG Road.

So, do people obey her? “Yes, they do,” says Sajitha, who, at 5’ 10”, has an imposing personality. “If you talk properly, they will listen. But if you try to behave as if you are a boss, nobody will care.” But perhaps the one drawback is that Sajitha cannot penalise erring drivers. However, she will take down the number and inform the police at the Traffic West station. A message will be sent on the wireless, and the offender is usually caught at the next traffic junction. In case that does not happen, a letter is sent to the residence and the fine has to be paid by the person.

The unusual aspect about Sajitha is that she is a Muslim. “There may be only two or three women like me, in Kochi, who are doing this job,” she says. But her community has been supportive. “In the area where I live, the people are happy,” she says. “They give me a lot of respect. My family, including my husband and 14-year-old son, are proud of me.”

Meanwhile, throughout the month of Ramzan, Sajitha, a devoted Muslim, had fasted, during the day, despite the enormous thirst that arises because she is out in the sun all the time. 

Interestingly, Sajitha says that females do a better job in controlling the traffic than males. “Men tend to get angry quickly,” she says. “But women always speak in a soft and polite voice to the people, especially the traffic offenders.” 

A senior police officer, who is handling these women traffic wardens, but does not wish to be identified, says that their primary job is to help the traffic policemen, who are woefully short in number. “As for Sajitha, she is doing a good job,” he says. “She has to ensure that when the Governor or senior officers of the Reserve Bank arrive, they should have a smooth entry. Sajitha also has to make sure that the buses, which are going to Aluva and Kakkanad, stop at the bus stop and not at any place the driver likes.”

And, by the looks of it, Sajitha has been doing all the tasks assigned to her with commendable dedication and panache. 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

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