Humans of Insti: When I Have Nothing Else To Do, I Pray


They are the inconspicuous cogs that keep the IIT-M machine well-oiled and running. Without them, insti would be a much poorer place. Yet, too often, we don’t notice them, or acknowledge their role in insti life. Given their unique vantage point, they have stories to tell – stories that give us a different perspective. We believe those are stories worth hearing and worth telling. Because, after all, stories are what make us human.

(You can find all the articles in this series here.)

I am Zahirul Islam, from Assam. I came here to find work because someone I know used to work here as a security guard. I’ve been here since 2010.

Initially, I stayed in a rented room with six other people in Taramani. Now I stay in Velachery, about a kilometre from the Velachery gate. Whoever is in the room, off-duty, cooks the food. Our shift is of eight hours. There are three such shifts in a day — morning, evening, and night — and the shift we are assigned changes every Sunday. The shift I can be most relaxed in is the night shift. Time passes easily. I don’t feel sleepy till 1 or 2 am. It’s the same even if I’m in my room. I listen to music or watch movies on my mobile. But we have to be on alert.

Saras Security Guard

We have to work all seven days a week. We don’t have any holidays. A security guard working outside IIT would get maybe four days of leave in a month. No such system here. But it’s not such a big problem — I have to work eight hours a day and the rest of the sixteen hours I can relax in my room.

There must be about 180 security guards in the whole campus, all shifts combined. You’ll find that maybe 80% of the security guards here — also, most of the mess workers –.are from Assam because it is difficult to get jobs in Assam.

A lot of people working here as security guards leave after five or six months. Maybe they don’t like it here. The contracts we are on is usually for one year, sometimes six months. We are permanently assigned to a particular hostel. Because then we get to know who the students who stay in this hostel are, who are the Hostel Office staff, who are the outsiders.

Theft is not a big problem here. Sometimes a cycle gets stolen, but such incidents are less frequent now. If something does get stolen and we don’t catch the thief, then all those who are on duty there at the time could get fined for whatever amount the stolen good was worth. But it hasn’t happened so far, thankfully. If we do catch a thief, we hand him over to the Security Office.

I am okay here. No problems. The students — girls or boys — are generally well-behaved. Some of them do talk to me. Some of them call me “uncle”, others call me “bhaiyya”.  Most of you know Hindi, so it’s not a problem. When talking to people like the courier delivery men, it is not easy to manage without Tamil, but I talk in the little English I know.

Girls do come and go in these hostels. They may have some project work or maybe they are just good friends who come here to talk. What else they do, I don’t know! All I know is that there have been no problems thus far.

I did my B.A. Part I at Lumding College, Nagaon district. I had Political Science, Economics, English, Assamese as subjects. Before I came here, I used to take tuition for school kids — classes 5 to 10. English and Maths.

I did not work as a security guard in Assam, as the working conditions are difficult there. It is difficult to get any job, especially for a person like me. There are many educated young men, but even for them it is difficult to get a job. That is why they all come here. There is industry here in Chennai, or Bangalore, Kerala, Mumbai, Gujarat, or U.P.  Here, even if you don’t get a government job, you can get a job in a private company. But there are no companies, no industries in Assam. If you’re lucky you may get a government job. Otherwise you try to make a living by farming. But it is difficult to make ends meet as a farmer.

My wife and four kids are in Assam. I go home every six months or so. I stay there for a few months, then come back here again. My son has passed high school, one of my three daughters is doing her degree, first year. My two other girls are in Classes 9 and 4.

I do wish they all get a good job. But there is nothing for them in Assam.

Perhaps they’ll be able to set up some business.

I wish to go back home, but I will have to continue working here. I’m 48 years old. I’m too old to find any work in Assam. When I went home last September, I didn’t really want to come back. But I have no choice. God sent me here.

Whenever I find the time, I read the Quran. I don’t get to go to the mosque during duty time. But I’m sure God understands. I will keep calling God’s name till I die. I’m sure he listens, wherever we call him from — not just from a mosque or a temple. Whenever I eat, I thank God. When I have nothing else to do, I pray. We are answerable to Him after we die. Those who are rich, those who have a home, who get to eat well, who have little to worry about in life, who get to sleep on a comfortable bed, they should be thankful to God even more than we are. They count their money, they sleep comfortably at night, but they don’t have the time to pray.

But those of us who are poor, though we have many things to worry about and though we lead a difficult life, we remember God all the time we’re awake.

If we lead a good and honest life, rich or poor, we will be welcomed in heaven. We don’t know, we haven’t seen it, but this is what our religion says.

We may belong to different religions, but God is one. There are some people who try to divide us, based on religion or caste. And sometimes there are problems.

But if you have a cut on your hand, you’ll see that the blood is red, whether you’re a Hindu or a Muslim or of any other faith.

We are all the same, we have the same appearance, no difference. All creations of the same God.

– As told to Nithyanand Rao.

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