Hanging by a thread

Hanging by a thread

Every time an  electricity defect crops up, the lineman struggles between  life and death.

Linemen who handle electricity wires and transformers are in one of the riskiest professions, where a mistake can claim life, and yet the repairs have to go on. The wires have to do what they are meant to do - supply electricity. Deccan Herald spoke to a lineman to understand the challenges of being in the profession. Venkatesh P, a lineman who works in Bangalore West, talks about his typical day.

“If you want to be a lineman, you must know that the job is a matter of life and death,” Venkatesh says in a matter-of-fact way when asked about the most challenging aspect of his job. “People don’t worry too much about how electricity comes and who makes the supply possible. They just want the bulb to light up when switched on. Just appreciating the risk of the job would give us motivation.”

Venkatesh says there’s nothing like office timings. “You have to respond to a call whatever time it is - anytime in the day and anytime in the night. We can’t anticipate when electricity supply would snap or when an incident like a tree falling on the wires would occur. If that happens at 2 am or 3 am, we have to attend to it.

The repair work may spread over three to four days if the incident is very serious and faults are such that it takes time to be set right. We have to go to sleep in the night, well aware that we may be woken up by emergency calls. There is no question of complaining.”

The linemen come to their respective Bescom offices at around 8.30 am and if at all there are no incidents reported, they return home at around 3.30 pm. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t attend to office calls later. “Sometimes, we do return home by late noon, but we may be asked to show up at around 9 pm or 11 pm or even 2 am, whenever an incident is reported. In this sense, there is no strict office timings. Be ready all the time is what we are told,” says Venkatesh.

Not having strict office timings is one issue, but obviously the bigger issue is risk to life during repairs. “We have to learn to climb poles during training sessions. This is necessary because you can’t call in the crane every other time. Once we climb and reach the top, we have to handle wires to see whether they have snapped. Prior to touching the wire, the supply from the electricity station will have to be stopped on all the wires close to the pole. If this is forgotten, touching a live wire can only result in death. We have to live with this fear. One or two such incidents happened recently.”
 How does his family take his risky job? “They understand what a lineman has to live through. I have told them clearly the risks involved in doing this work. They pray for my safety all the time. In such a job, it is good to brief your near and dear ones that any time can be a dangerous time. But luckily, I have so far managed the work, always on the alert. The biggest risk is when handling the wires. The supply line to the particular pole will have to be switched off before we begin work on wires and transformers having faults. Then there’s the risk of the transformer bursting. Again this is unexpected. You should be aware of all these issues before you take up this job.”

On his social life, Venkatesh says he spends time with his family and children on holidays. He also spends time with his big team of linemen, all going out for coffee and meeting on special occasions, festivals and community-gatherings. “We do have a weekly off, but if a complaint surfaces, you have to get to work. All said and done, we at least have a job, though anyone would aspire for it to be risk-free. God will take care of us.”

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