Security Guard Wanted: Bangalore.

MUST HAVE HIGH BOREDOM THRESHOLD AND ENTHUSIASM FOR SUBORDINACY

In a tall, silver building in the IT Corridor of Bangalore, a young man sits at the end of a long, dark corridor. Next to him is a fire door, and his single duty is to ensure no one uses this door unless there is a fire. There are no fires and so he sits, in full regalia, guarding this door all day, while the creative minds of the Bangalore IT industry engage themselves in solving the endless complexities of life in the 21st Century.
A friend of Kaveri’s told me about this young man one night in the pub. I couldn’t get him out of my mind. I imagined his stifled yawns, the games he’d play, the thoughts that would skid over his mind, the memories that would repeat again and again; the attention he’d pay to the rattle of keyboards or female laughter securityguardfrom the offices beyond, the idle interest aroused at a cockroach running along the ceiling.
And he is just one man among the thousands of bored security guards of Bangalore, guarding dark corridors, shopping malls, building sites, apartment complexes and private residencies.
Nowhere else in the world have I seen so many of them. When you go to the supermarket, they collect your bags before you go in. In the supermarket they shadow you, standing at your shoulder as you fill your basket. When you go out they check your receipt is stamped by the cashier. And these are the most fortunate of security guards, for they are actively doing something, however apparently menial.
Most are doing very little at all. Like the man in the corridor. Or the gangs of men at our apartment complex.
They slouch in groups of three or four at the entranceway, bored but never fully relaxed, always ready for the obsequious grin or salute. Down below in the shadows of the car park, they stare at walls or watch me pass; up on the rooftop they sit, cap in hand, looking out over the city, their eyes tracing the flight of a solitary kite in the evening sky.
One might consider it an easy job, but it isn’t. They are always waiting. And waiting for something they do not want to arrive. You can see it on their faces, the anxiety and the boredom. They are living in those little empty spaces we commonly experience for a moment, between doing things. And they are living in these spaces all their working day.

*

Is it so bad to be bored in India? I read yesterday that one third of people here live on 20 rupees (about 25-30p) per day. And they will dig ditches, shift earth on their heads and generally work hard for those few rupees. Security guards don’t work as hard as that. And I’m sure they earn more. In fact I’d imagine, for some families, having a son as a security guard is a step up, a point of pride.
And there is a real need for security in India. Theft and burglary are common. Few middle class people live without a gate and a guard at the entrance.
Kaveri says it never used to be like this. There were gurkas at the school gates, security at prestigious institutions, but never these scattered legions. But then they came. More and more of them over the last few years, growing in number with a growing middle class who could not keep pace with a poor and hungry class who grew at an even faster rate.  They are gratefully employed to stare at walls and shift from foot to foot and find quiet corners to yawn in.
No, no one can doubt the need for security in a country of such breathtaking, and casual, inequality. And so it goes that a generation of men stand and sit away their lives.
And yet this is not the whole story. Because one can’t help admire the genius with which the Indian middle classes inflict subservience on these men in hats and brass buttons. There is a point, often, when security shifts in meaning and you realise that the guard is not merely there to secure you from thievery, but to secure and consolidate your superiority. With his fixed grin and his salute, he is not only protecting you from crime, but being lower than you so you may feel higher and swell with wellbeing.
It is an equally sedentary, deadening role.
As for the young man down the end of the long dark corridor: what is he but a shadow to the VDU glare, the thing you are not so you may remind yourself better what you are, where you stand in the hierarchy of human beings in shiny prosperous Bangalore?
It’s all very earnest of me, of course. I wonder how long it will be before my squirming unease at the grin and salute from our apartment security guards will give way to my own grin and facetious salute, as I feel grateful for their bored hours, secure with security, and thankful to them for reminding me of my great height, my sure footing above the depths below.

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