At just below seven degree Celsius on Thursday night,Ninu K. Nair and K. Harikrishnan were living a dream.
We have been in Delhi for four months now. We first came here for the Commonwealth Games and every time we went past India Gate,I would wonder when I would be able to visit the place, says Ninu. Now,its as if we live here, he says,looking at a darkened India Gate from his patrol point near the Kasturba Gandhi Marg-side entrance.
Forty two personnel from the Charlie Company of the Central Reserve Police Forces 5th Battalion guard the premises ahead of the Republic Day parade. They work in two shifts of about 12 hours each.
We have dinner at 6 p.m. at our camp in Malviya Nagar,and reach here by 8, says Ninu. In the morning,they go back to the camp after they are relieved of duty by their colleagues. We go back,have our breakfast,and sleep till late in the evening, says Harikrishnan. That helps us stay awake through the night. Its like having a jet lag, he says.
Ninu is from Palakkad district of Kerala,Harikrishnan is from Andhra Pradeshs Nalgonda. Though both speak fluent Hindi,they speak Telugu to each other. I am the only Malayalee in the group,and picking up Telugu is somewhat easyyou just have to add ra at the end of every Malayalam word, says Ninu,who is 27 and has been in the force for eight years.
We never feel drowsy when on duty. We chat through the night and listen to music on our cellphones. Also,there is something happening all the time. It is like a picnic, says Ninu.
Its 10.50 at night,and a truck laden with concrete pillars and manhole covers approaches the barricade. Harikrishnan waves it down. Ninu approaches the driver,one hand on his INSAS rifle. Pass. Pass kiske paas hai? he asks. The driver has not heard of such a thing.
The Delhi Police has issued passes for entering the premises. The system was started three days ago. Its only going to get stricter. Starting January 13,the public will not be allowed in here. Eventually,the Army will take over from us, explains Harikrishnan.
Meanwhile,Ninu was trying to verify the credentials of the contractor who was responsible for the material. We come here everyday, tries the driver. Then show us the pass, retorts Ninu. That goes on for quite sometime.
Harikrishnan,into his 19th year in the force and in line for a promotion to Head Constable soon,steps in. Call your contractor, he instructs the driver. The contractor claims to have the pass,but he is in Khan Market. The contractor drops the name of a security personnel,and Ninu takes the driver along to cross-check.
We have never had any problems here. The crowd thins after 10 at night,when the lights are switched off. Families drift in,and sometimes youngsters come in groups to celebrate birthdays. They cut the cake,and even offer us a piece, says Harikrishnan. He joined the force as a 21-year-old,and his wife and three kids live in Secunderabad. Ninu returns,and the truck is allowed to go through.
Three layers of clothing and combat boots given as part of the Commonwealth Games gear mean that the men are comfortable through the night.
However,tea is a worry this night. Policemen have been ordered by our superiors to supply tea,but last night they told us they will not be coming anymore. They told us that they were being given only Rs 400 for the tea,but they end up spending Rs 600, says Ninu.
An olive Army Gypsy approaches the barricades. It is someone out on a night ride. You will have to park outside and walk, says Ninu. The Gypsy backs away. Less than two minutes later,it speeds back in,this time going through the gap in the barricades without permission.
Both Ninu and Harikrishnan watch. What can we do? shrugs Ninu.
The deep rumble of an Enfield bike and two policemen approach,carrying flasks of tea. It is fifteen minutes past twelve. Thought youd never come, Harikrishnan hollers.
Ninu opens up over tea,and talks of how he was supposed to be named Nishadto rhyme with his elder sister Nishas nameand how his father decided on a girly Ninu on a whim. I wanted to go to Saudi Arabia,but gave the CRPF physical exam to test myself, he says.
A family drives in for a late night view of India Gate. The father coaxes his toddler to run to Harikrishnan,the constable bends to offer his hand to the girl. In the background,five noisy youngsters stand in a line and salute for a picture to be clicked by one of their friends.