This week, without waiting for A K Antony, we went ahead and increased our defence preparedness.
When I say we, I mean my apartment complex association. Our apartment complex is now getting CCTV cameras as a much-needed support for our security personnel, whose armoury so far consisted of — we had entrusted our entire lives and belongings to this — a whistle and torchlight.
Before I get down to focus on CCTV cameras, let me turn the lens back on the past decades:
Security at apartment complexes in these parts has had an interesting history starting with the appointment of the guys who were not exactly trained for the job but were picked because they brought to the job the robust skill that came with being the husband/brother/son of one of the maids working in one of the houses. Yes, you could say security personnel were chosen for the same reason that Rahul Gandhi has been included as the one of the general secretaries of the Congress.
But those were relatively innocent times in the sense the watchman’s job had just two parts: 1) He had to be the electrician. 2) He had to be the plumber.
Watchmen had to play the two roles because they, electricians and plumbers, are people who never arrive. Especially the latter. Not many will be surprised to learn that the Taj Mahal was originally conceived as a dream house for Mumtaz. But since the plumber didn’t show up for 14 long years, they gave up hope and decided to convert the entire structure into a tomb with no bathroom fixtures.
Apart from plumbing, most watchmen generally picked up a supplementary skill that stood them in good stead in the job, which was to reserve the sturdiest salute for the apartment’s president and the secretary.
As far as actual security went, most were considered good enough if they remained alert enough in the job to wake up after just a couple of honks of your car’s horn when you returned from a late-night party or second-show film.
But soon apartment associations understood that they could not get by for long with ad-hoc arrangements and residential security needed guys with real expertise in the matter, and so they went for people with the specialized skill to sport forbidding moustache.
Back in the late 90s, I lived in a flat where we zeroed in on a watchman simply because he looked the part with a muscular body and a moustache that jutted out of his face like the wings of a ready-to-takeoff Dornier aircraft. He also had an eternal scowl on his face to go with his menacing whiskers. If ever a prototype was needed for the quintessential boochandi whose menace most mothers are wont to invoke when trying to feed their recalcitrant children, he was the one.
This man, who exuded minatory mien through every pore, was, however, forced out of his job three months into it by one of the scariest forces known to mankind —- cockroach. Apparently, the smallish room allotted to him had a few cockroaches and he, having put up with them for a couple of months, finally gave up the job with the words “chinna vayasulendhe ennakku karappan poochi-na bayam, sir. Ovvorru rathriyum inga sethu-sethu pozhaikka vendyirukku.” (I am afraid of cockroaches right from my childhood. And here, every night has been a life and death experience). So ticking beneath that monstrous moustache was the heart of a teenage girl, most of whom readily place cockroaches higher than the blood-sucking Dracula in the pecking order of frightening presence.
By mid-2000s, resident associations started to gravitate towards established security agencies who have brought in the much-needed professionalism by providing watchmen with uniforms and caps. Otherwise, things are by and large the same. The watchmen are still in charge of replacing the main fuse when it conks out.
Security agencies these days mostly prefer to employ people with experience in this line, which is to say they are picking people who are well past their retirement age. For instance, we have a security personnel in our apartment complex who regales us with his stories of valour that he listened to as a youngster during the Quit India Movement.
Anyway, with the introduction of electronic vigilance, security personnel now have a much-needed ally, in that the constantly beamed images generally help the security personnel at the gates to stay awake. Otherwise CCTV camera pictures don’t serve any real purpose because they are mostly spotty and hazy, as if they were sourced from the 80s Doordarshan.
Seriously, I don’t understand why the images that the CCTV cameras supply are so pathetic? Whenever police or a security agency supply a ‘grab’ from a CCTV camera of some alleged crime, I cannot help feeling that I am seeing some visual from a Mani Ratnam movie. Large chunks of darkness and a semblance of light in a corner that is mostly irrelevant to the frame.
I mean would it not have been better if HD technology had been first introduced for security cameras rather than for satellite television? Ask yourself, which is more preferable on HD, pointless serials or security surveillance? I, for one, would plump for the latter. For, I would want to watch in true HD-sharpness that elusive person who can be technically caught only by an ever-alert security camera.
That person, of course, is the plumber.