Policeman M.A. Damodaran handles the chaotic city traffic with skill and a smile on his face
By Shevlin Sebastian
“There have been many times when film star Mammooty would stop the car at Madhava Pharmacy Junction, roll down the glass, and greet me,” says Assistant Sub Inspector M. A. Damodaran, 54. Whenever he is physically handling the traffic, Damodaran catches the eye with his decisive gestures and visible enthusiasm. More times than not, he ensures a smooth flow of traffic.
On a Sunday morning, he looks relaxed, as he stands near the Medical Trust Hospital crossing, holding a Motorola walkie-talkie in his hand. “Sunday is usually an easy day,” he says. “There is heavy traffic from 10.30 to 11.30 a.m. because a lot of people from outside the city come for shopping.” He says most of the jams occur during the cinema show times of 3 and 6 p.m., outside Shenoys, Kavita and the Savita complex and outside parks, which is where most families go for outings on Sundays.
Damodaran points towards the Dwaraka hotel crossing and says it is a most difficult junction for a policeman. “There is an up and down traffic, there are two U-turns there, and a crossing from left to right,” he says. “Don’t forget, the Medical Trust crossing is less than 100 metres away.” So, there are plenty of vehicles coming all the time from all directions. “If the constable’s concentration lapses a little, a jam will form in no time,” he says.
At West Traffic station, Damodaran, with 17 years of handling city traffic, is the most experienced. He is also one of the best: On August 15, he won the Chief Minister’s Police Medal ‘for excellent work and devotion to duty’. Says former Kochi Commissioner of Police P. Vijayan: “Damodaran has a positive attitude and is very energetic. Whenever he is manning the traffic, be it at Kaloor or Vytilla, there are no traffic jams.”
When asked on how he handles jams, Damodaran, his eyes widening in excitement, says, “If, at a junction, all the vehicles are ranged against each other and there is no place to move, you should look quickly at all the four sides and see if there is a small gap anywhere.”
If he detects a gap, the ASI will ask a couple of drivers to reverse into the opening. “Suddenly, a space will open up at the centre and I will allow two vehicles from one side to go across,” he says. “The ideal method is to release the vehicles on each side little by little. You have to understand that you cannot solve a jam immediately. It has to be done gradually. In the end, the traffic will start flowing smoothly.”
On most days, Damodaran arrives at the Traffic West station by 7.45 a.m. for the 8 a.m. shift. This lasts till 11.30 a.m. Then there is a break for one and a half hours when he returns to the station. He relaxes by taking off his shirt and washing his face and hands, and having lunch. The second shift is from 1 to 5 p.m. “We can leave at 5 p.m., but if there is a jam, we will have to stay till it is cleared. So, on some days, I do go home late.”
Damodaran stays at Tripunithara with his wife, Soudhamini, 45, an Anganavadi teacher, and daughter, Priyanka, 10. They live comfortably on his monthly income of Rs 15,000. When asked about the most difficult season to work in, he says it is during the monsoons. “The traffic moves slowly, because of the rain and the bad roads, and there is a strong possibility of jams.” Plus, the constables are standing in the rain and getting wet. “After the morning shift, we try to dry out the socks during the break, but after that we have to wear it again,” says Damodaran. “So, for hours, we are in wet clothes, and socks and shoes.”
It is a tiring job in any weather and, yet, he says, that even though he is entitled to take a day off every week, he hardly takes it. “In fact, out of 48 days in the year, I probably take 10 days off,” he says. This is amazing, because he is not even talking about casual or privileged leaves. Things are bad for the others also; most constables get a one-day leave after 20 or 25 days. And all this is because of the extreme shortage of constables.
Says Circle Inspector D.S. Suneesh Babu of Traffic West station: “We have a total of 259 constables to handle the traffic in the city. You will be amazed to know that the strength of the force has remained the same since 1991, even though the traffic and the size of the city have increased several folds.” Apparently, the state government has been unable to take a decision on increasing the number of constables.
But nothing fazes Damodaran. Day in and day out, he is there on the roads, a smiling, intense man, whose passion is to untie the Gordian knot that is the Kochi traffic and make the roads as smooth as Hema Malini’s cheeks.
(To reproduce this article, permission has to be obtained from The New Indian Express, Kochi)