The ATM Guard With a Dictionary

The ATM Guard With a Dictionary


August 7, 2015

Tisha Srivastav walks into an ATM in Bengaluru absentmindedly and has an unlikely encounter. For a city which has been in the news for cases of alleged theft and molestation at an ATM, read on for a more pleasant discovery.


One usually walks into an ATM, mentally speaking to a machine and calculating exactly how much money one has to withdraw and for what. This one time, I was distracted twice over. Having just said bye to someone I knew was behaving differently, yet I couldn’t put a finger on what was wrong.


A little confusion and oncoming Math, not an ideal combo. ENTER literature, by the ATM door. I notice the guard on duty, first a little blankly. As I pull the ATM door open, I notice not just his early senior citizen slightly shy look, but that he holding a bit of a double decker down with his hands. A book upon a book. The one on top is a novel and there is a clearly much used dictionary below it. Now the classical way I was taught to read, was exactly this. Pouring into a dictionary just when one got stuck on, uh what does this word mean? I exclaim in curious delight and want to bond with this reader at what is a fairly unlikely spot. A door half open, by a SBI ATM.


He opens up quite spontaneously, hearing me speak in a familiar Hindi accent. Jaipal Yadav from Meerut, his engineer son works in an office in the same tech park where I used to. Yadav has been by his own calling, not a day off in his life kind of man. A retired marketing manager from the hotel industry, working since 1975 and very used to 16 hour days. Also used to cooking his meals himself, even before he lost his wife, he adjusts to different places quickly. As long as he finds a way to not remain idle. It is this characteristic usefulness and desire to help a friend out, which had landed him this job.


His friend runs SMS securities, which looks after this ATM. Friend offered a day shift but Yadav chose the night. A bit taken aback and mentally trying to grasp this flattening of hierarchy, where a once marketing manager has no qualms about becoming a security guard, I ask why he chose the night shift.


His answer is simple. ‘I enjoy it, very few folk come to the ATM very late at night and it gives me so much time to read.’ He continues, ‘By the time the night shift is over, I get home and I get ready to drop my granddaughter to school. Then I go off to sleep until it is time to pick her up. No faltu time for bakwaas, at home or elsewhere.’ As my admiration at how other people make use of their time without a sense of complaint or fatigue grows, I recall how exhausting many nights shifts used to be in my days as a television reporter. And how much we cribbed, even as the work was fulfilling.


I check myself and ask him how the night shift here is? After all, he is manning an ATM at night, off 100 Ft Road, Indira Nagar. Where every second inch of real estate is turning into a restaurant or showroom with late night revellers and is now possibly second only to MG Road, in turning into a go-to hub for youngsters. His take is ‘Agra to Bikaner, I have done late night shifts, Bangalore is by and large, very peaceful after a certain hour. And barring the odd drunk, no one bothers me.’ We continue chatting about which authors he likes, the other Yadav running UP and mutual North South learnings. Until one local guy arrives and tries to join the chat by saying ‘Guard duty dangerous now. Many attackers still not caught’. I smile at the stranger, unaffected by his prying concern and marvel at a small lesson I have just received. One can learn at any age and anywhere, taking time to make time for it. The guard at this point, thinks it is an appropriate moment to return to his book. I withdraw the cash I came for, do a full Namaste and walk out thinking – for someone like me, who believes the pursuit of Sarasvati must precede the pursuit of Lakshmi, this is geographically speaking an entirely appropriate meeting. Where the security guard with a dictionary and a book comes first and then the money from the ATM.


Over the last one year, it is a pleasure to look out for him, chat about books with him and invite him home to take more books, all by way of stopping at an automatic teller machine. An encounter which always reminds me that cities have so many stories of voluntary migration, of incredible and ordinary folk who have something worth sharing. Sometimes it is good to stop, look and ignore the GO sign.

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