It is a sultry Friday afternoon and reports from the central control room say the power demand for the day has touched an all-time high at 2.36 p.m. The telephone hasnt stopped ringing at the local assistance centre in east Delhis Preet Vihar with complaints of power cuts pouring in,some callers angry,others almost pleading. While officials at the centre jot down complainants addresses and problems in a log book,they also keep tabs on the computer that gives out more alerts on power outages in the area. Manohar Kumar,the linesman of the area,knows it will be a hectic day at work,but he is smirkinghe is on a day shift. Night shifts in this residential area are worse with a large number of air-conditioners adding to the power load.
Within minutes of a complaint being registered at the centralised call centre or the assistance centre of the locality,Manohar is out on his bicycle with a canvas bag carrying all his equipment tightly strapped to the carrier. He also carries a paper slip with the complainants name and address,but the 26-year-old boy from Bihar says he has never had problems getting to the right address. After all,he has been fixing power problems in this densely populated residential area for a full four years and confidently claims to have visited almost every household or shop here.
Manohar,who dropped out of school before he could complete his matriculation,opens up a mesh of wires and cables with the ease of a professional. It was in 2004 that I first started learning electrical work from my elder brother. Like me,he too studied only up to the elementary level and came to Delhi from our village in Bihar to work as an electrician. It took me about four years to learn the job and there were instances when I would simply hand out the required equipment and stand aside and look. The work is complicated but you learn with time, he says. Now a skilled linesman,Manohar is trailed by an assistantin most cases years olderevery time he heads out to fix a complaint.
The discom organises regular short-term training and refresher courses for us and that has helped me brush up my skills. A similar course held recently had sessions on personality development and communication skills. They told us that we are the face of the company and that if we do not behave well,it will bring disrepute to the entire organisation, Manohar says with a hint of pride in his voice. There have been several occasions when we have had to deal with angry consumers. But we have been told to keep our cool and politely explain the fault and rectify it. We understand why consumers react the way they doafter all,a minute without electricity can get anybody angry. But I must say that in most cases,consumers are friendly. The summer months are particularly hard for us. First,we have to spend hours in the sweltering heat,locate the address,identify the problem and then fix it. People realise how difficult our job is. It is worse when we are on duty at night. We have to grope in the dark in those meshes of wires and cables and rectify the problem, he says,before asking to be excused. I have some more complaints to attend. It is a busy day. Very hot,you see.
Along with the assistant linesman,we trail Manohar through the congested lanes of Preet Vihar to the DDA market,where he has a complaint to attend to. The complainant,a doctor running a dispensary,had insisted that a linesman be sent immediately and Manohar had to skip his lunch and rush. Before this,I had to attend to a complaint at one of the houses where a wire had burnt. I fixed that and came back to office hoping to quickly eat my lunch. But this looks urgent, he says.
Once at the spot,Manohar opens up the control panel boxes only to find that the problem is not with the main cables but in the internal wiring of the dispensary. Thats not for the discom to fix and the doctor will have to call in an electrician to fix the problem. But on a request,Manohar agrees to check the fault. While this problem is internal,I think the electrical jumper cables feeding this shopping complex must be tightened so that similar problems do not occur at our end, explains Manohar,disappearing for a minute to switch off the power supply to the area. He knocks on the door of a house nearby to confirm if the power supply has stopped. This is to cross-check that this particular pole no longer has live wires. It is a risky job and we have to take all precautions.
He pulls out a bundle of ropes,quickly fastens it around his waist,climbs up the electric pole,tightens the overhead cables and makes a quick dash down.
In these few minutes,the assistance centre must have been flooded with several calls from this shopping complex. It is unbearably hot,so you cannot blame them either. But I have informed the assistance centre that I am switching off the connection to fix the overhead line,so the callers will also be informed, Manohar explains. Time to get back to office,but he suddenly remembers: Oh,I forgot to get the acknowledgment slip signed at the dispensary. Its an acknowledgment that says their problem has been fixed and that I did my work well.