For the past seven years,since his wife died of a heart attack,Mahipal Singh has got up before 6 am every day and headed straight for the kitchen. With help from daughter Radhika,he has got used to hurriedly preparing breakfast for elder son Karan,then for Radhika and younger son Rohan,wrapping up all the work,and leaving home at 8.30 am to be in time for work at Lucknows Gomti Nagar Police Station,14 km away. Duty hours begin at 9 am for the constable,and its usually 9 pm before he is back home.
The daily 15-hour shift rankled,but Singh knew he didnt have a choice. Till last week,when the Uttar Pradesh Police Department for the first time decided to provide the constables,head constables and sub-inspectors posted at its Gomti Nagar station one day off in a week. This is to be done for two months on an experimental basis,to be replicated at other police stations,if successful.
At present,lower-level police officials in the state get no weekly off. In exchange,they get 30 casual leaves in a year and are granted a months extra salary for working on public holidays,Sundays and the second Saturday of a month.
Singh will tell you its not enough. Not when you are a single parent with a wife fighting a severe illness,not when there are parent-teacher meetings to attend,and not when you have to run a house with three growing children.
On the first weekly off that he got in 29 years of his service,June 13,Singh caught up with all of the above and anything else he could. For once,however,the 49-year-old did it at his own pace.
By the time he got up at around 6 am and came down to the kitchen from his first-floor room,Radhika,20,was already there. She had finished cleaning up the house and they discussed what could be made for breakfast. They decided on rice and dalthe only things available that could be cooked fast. Karan has to leave home before 6.30 am for his job at a call centre.
The two managed to pack 22-year-old Karans tiffin by the time he was ready to leave. Singh next shouted for his younger son to wake up and get ready. Singh wants Rohan,14,who cleared his Class X this year,to shift to another school where he feels he can get better attention from teachers. Finally,he had the time to fix a meeting with this new schools principal. Singh also told Radhika to get ready so that they could fetch an admission form for her for a postgraduate course.
I think I am the father to have attended the least number of parent-teacher meetings at my childrens schools. My father was a labourer,still he provided me education and ensured I was self-sufficient. It is my duty to work for a better future for my children. But how would I know about their progress if I dont meet their teachers? he asked.
The few times he did make it to the meetings,Singh slipped out of the police station,telling his colleagues to cover for him. As there was always a hurry to return to the police station,I often had arguments with people after getting stuck in traffic jams, he recalled.
At 9 am,after a meal of rice and arhar dal,Singh,Radhika and Rohan left home on a motorcycle. Singhs first stop was the office of the principal of Doon Public Inter-College in Vikas Nagar area. The principal assured him that he would consider Rohans admission and the trio then left for Bappa Sri Narayan Vocational Institute in Hussainganj to buy an admission form for MA (Hindi) course for Radhika.
After standing in the queue for about half an hour,Singh managed to buy the prospectus and admission form. Radhika did her graduation in 2012 but she could not get enrolled for a PG course that year as she did not have a residence certificate. I did not get the time to go to the tehsil to get it prepared, he said as they left for their next stop,the Lucknow collectorate,to get an affidavit prepared for Radhika,which she has to submit because of the one-year gap in her studies.
By 2 pm,they were back at their house. As Rohan switched on the television,Radhika told Singh there was no flour in the house. Singh and Rohan left for the nearest flour mill,about 3 km away,to bring back their monthly stock of 30 kg.
Once the flour arrived,Singh realised they had no vegetables. He again left on his motorcycle for the nearby market. By evening,he was done with most of his shopping,and Singh announced he would prepare something special for the family.
I have decided to have something special for dinner on the days of my weekly off, he said as he decided to make paneer pulao,aloo mutter and puris.
Radhika came to help him with the kneading of the flour for the puris but he asked her to go watch TV. From the age of 13,she has been waking up before sunrise everyday and working all day. I feel sorry for snatching her childhood so early but there is little I can do, Singh said,his eyes welling up.
Recalling his wife Ushas death,he added,It was in March 2006. I was posted with the Government Railway Police in Mailani,Lakhimpur Kheri,then. She had to depend on our neighbours for medical emergencies as it was not easy for me to get leave. After her condition deteriorated,we rushed her to hospital but we had to make the rounds of three hospitals before one of them finally agreed to admit her. She died a few days later.
Singh would earlier request his bosses to shift him to night duty so that he could do the household chores in the daytime. Many a times we would not have flour to make chapatis and had to manage with rice and dal for a whole week. After staying on duty for 12 hours a day,where is the time to go shopping? he asked.
At the same time,Singh said he liked his job. There are some good and bad officials in each department. But policemen are branded as bad too often without paying any heed to the conditions under which they work, he said,though admitting that he believes he should have been made sub-inspector at least. This often causes demoralisation.
After Singh was done with the cooking,Radhika helped lay out the meal in their small drawing room. As the four of them ate together,playfully taking helpings from each others plates,Singh asked his son to switch to SAB TV channel. Its comedy serials helped him release tension,Singh said.
As for the next weekly off,his day is already planned. My mother is 85 and she lives in my native village in Allahabad district. I think I will go to meet her, he said. Also on the cards is a visit to the Chandrika Devi Mandir on Lucknows outskirts in the morning and magician O P Sharmas show in the evening,before dining out.
* After it was suggested by Lucknow Range Deputy Inspector General Navniet Sekera,the state Police Department decided to provide one day off in a week to all the constables,head constables and sub-inspectors posted at Lucknows Gomti Nagar Police Station for two months on an experimental basis. They hope this break will help improve their interaction with the public.
*If successful,the leave system is to be replicated in other police stations of the state.
*At present,constables,head constables and sub-inspectors in the state get no weekly off. They get a total of 30 casual leaves in a year and are also granted a months extra salary for working on public holidays,Sundays,and the second Saturday of a month.
*Total number of lower-level police officials at Gomti Nagar Police Station: 99
*Estimated number of lower-level police officials across UP: 1.35 lakh