My Father, The Frontline Worker

by Shreya Muley

A frantic text message I sent to a close friend on April 9, 2020:“It’s 12 am and my dad just left. I am so scared, he just got a call. A person has been tested positive here in Dhar.”  I remember watching my father putting on his shoes while the man on the walkie-talkie updated about some containment zone with urgency.

You can listen to how the walkie-talkie updates sound, as follows:

00:00 / 00:35
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My father on the night of April 9, 2020, 12:00 am.

Despite the fear and uncertainty that the lockdown brought with it, it gave my family the chance to be together, under the same roof, as if we could now make up for all the time we did not. I grew up in Indore with my mother and sister. My father, a policeman in the State Police Department of Madhya Pradesh seldom got a chance to live with us due to his field postings across the state.

Over the years, during school holidays we travelled to various small towns of Madhya Pradesh like Balaghat, Mahidpur, Mandsaur and Ratlam to visit my father. 

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My sister (L) and I along with my father from when he was posted in Balaghat district.

 

He couldn’t be home with us for the festivals. Festivals mean more police arrangements, strict public surveillance and my father had his duty as a policeman to uphold. For a policeman, all the days of the week look the same, every Sunday is just another Monday.


When the lockdown began in March 2020, my sister and I moved to Dhar, a city two hours away from Indore where my father was posted at the time.

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One of the many walls painted with Covid-19 related messages by Bharat Vikas Parishad in Dhar, Madhya Pradesh.

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One hot afternoon, I captured my father covered in a PPE kit, leaving the house.

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The dichotomy of inside and outside

 

Initially, seeing my father leaving the house every day even with all the precautions, was difficult. I would bombard him with questions every time he returned home from duty. Often upset and exhausted, he would say, “People are careless and inconsiderate. This is a public health crisis and the police force is bound to be afraid. Sometimes, the staff working under me is unwilling to enter containment zones and I have to remind them of their duty. The tracing and tracking of people who came in contact with a person tested positive is the most difficult part. This is a small place, people here are afraid to shut themselves inside a house alone.” 


A week into the lockdown when the cases rose in Dhar, the Superintendent of Police ordered all the officers to stay at the governmental rest house as going home was getting riskier. My father stayed at the rest house for a week. 

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His uniform and clothes hung in the backyard.

 

When he came home, he would enter the house from the backdoor, remove his clothes outside in the backyard, sanitize every inch of the exposed body and clothes and take a bath before entering the house. We would always be at some physical distance from him but I had never felt as emotionally close to him as I did during the lockdown.


Eventually, the cases in Dhar reduced and my father got some free time. We played badminton on some evenings and on one memorable afternoon, we binge-watched Paatal Lok together.  Playing cards at night after dinner became an everyday affair. I never took the familiarity with my father for granted as this had never happened before.


Every Thursday would be ‘Water Day’ as we called it, the day the municipal water supply would be turned on. It was a weekly chore I assisted him with. We would wake up early, water the garden plants together, fill and store water for our week’s use and have breakfast together. As much as waking up early troubled me, these mornings were the most cherished.
 

In June 2020, amidst the pandemic, my father was transferred to Manasa, a tehsil in district Neemuch and we all moved there. The place being remote and rural, away from the city was quite indifferent to Covid-19 which was a relief as my father no longer had to wear PPE kits.


My father says, “Surveillance is a grimy job. At face value, it looks like lofty authorized power but fundamentally it boils down to a man devoting his day and night, sacrificing his family time, compromising on his personal security and safety to fulfil his duties, just so the orders are followed and people like you don't become the cause of your own or other people's disease. People are unwilling to cooperate.” 

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One of these days, in July 2020 I took this portrait of my father as I observed him bask in the sun after he dyed his hair.

 

2020 will always remain a special year to me because it gave me beyond precious pockets of time to spend with my father. I got a chance to closely observe him in little moments in between and slowly learnt about him as a person. I always thought of the man I call my father as a policeman first and a father later but during the lockdown, I really met my father.

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