the loneliest walla III: the night watchman

Here is my third essay in this series for The India Tube.


The Loneliest Wallah (III): The Night Watchman
by Dave Prager

Originally published on The India Tube

“Up here!” I shout down to the street, waving my phone to get the attention of my party guests. I also get the attention of the neighborhood guard, who looks up from his post across from our flat. He sits next to our street’s iron gate, which is closed because it’s after eleven—the dangers of the Delhi night, you see, can be kept at bay by an unarmed seventeen-year-old guard with a whistle. Which is why this guy is hired by the neighborhood association to sit all night, every night, no matter how cold it may get.

My guests see me and wave back. They file out of their auto and past the guard and into my building. The guard watches the girls pass while I disappear back into the warm yellow light. Then he settles back in his seat, a cracked blue piece of weather-beaten plastic that once stood proudly in a hospital waiting room. He wraps his grey blanket tight against the cold wind, sits under the dim naked light bulb hanging from the tree, and waits for the opportunity to do his job.

His job consists of two tasks: closing the gate at eleven PM, and opening it when cars come by.

I come back to the balcony to guide more friends to the party. The guard has started a fire using scrap newspaper and plastic chai cups as fuel. I watch him stamp his feet and smell the toxic fumes and wonder if he knows they’re toxic. But it probably doesn’t matter to him, because it’s cold in Delhi in the winter, except for in my apartment, where the wine is flowing and the glasses are clinking and the sound of our laughter drifts over the guard’s head and into the night.

Some time later, I return to the balcony once more. The guard is sleeping, his head slumped left and his body cocooned tightly in the blanket, but not for long: my friend pulls his car to the gate and honks twice to rouse him. It’s well after two AM. A stray dog, sleeping nearby, doesn’t even look up.

The guard trudges to the gate. He opens it. He watches the shiny car glide past. He closes the gate. He wraps the blanket around his body. He trudges back to his seat.

Upstairs in my apartment, somebody turns the music louder.

4 responses to “the loneliest walla III: the night watchman

  1. Every morn and every night
    some are born to sweet delight
    some are born to sweet delight
    some are born to endless night. . .

    –forgot the poet’s name

    life can be a bitch to some of us. And a fairy god mother to others. 😦

  2. Siddharth Agrawal

    This one really is accurate, realistic, and heartfelt. There was a time, nearly a century ago, that the US was like this, and India has a long way to come. It will be a glorious day when the average Indian realizes that there is honor in doing even the simplest tasks for oneself. Until then, and until these gatekeepers are able to find better opportunities, we can only sympathize.

  3. I am enjoying your blog, flickr photos and all a lot. Doing a great job! The lonely wallah watchman reminded me of the lonely watchman in our colony (in East Delhi, MVII ) who would go around the ´hood and scare intruders away by blowing his fierce and dangerous whistle just the moment we were finally about the doze off at 1 in the morning. First the dogs barking poems into the night, and then our whistle man!:-) I shall be back in Delhi soon, but in a new neighborhood in East Delhi (MV phase 1 this time) , can hardly wait to see all the lone security guards and night watchmen again. Cheers, mates!

  4. Loneliness is a recurring theme whilst people-watching, especially in India. You have captured it well here. There are so many lonely wallas: watchmen, bus drivers, fishermen, etc… yet I find that in India, you need only reach out to them spark a lengthy, enriching and fulfilling relationship. Try it!

    I’m loving your blog – I crave the international perspective on my country.

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