In Focus

Helping those stuck get back on 'track'

By A Draft Colaba Correspondent

When Maqbool's cycle developed a puncture, while on the way for a medicine delivery assignment during the lockdown, he was distinctly worried. There was little time on hand as the patient whose wife had ordered for blood pressure pills urgently was sick and any delay would only prove detrimental. Luckily for him, he sighted a familiar worker sitting outside a cycle shop, who promptly fixed the issue. Why, the owner of the shop even gave him a stand-by cycle to complete the delivery while the puncture was being fixed. The essential service would have been impossible to provide without the innocuous cycle shop offering his own. Like Maqbool, thousands of others benefited by cycle shop owners, puncture-wallas and motorcycle mechanics offering crucial services throughout the lockdown.

Hashim Shaikh aka Shammi has been working as a mechanic in Colaba Wadi since 2014. In the initial phase of the lockdown, Colaba's Koli Wada including Sundar Nagari, Sudam Jhopdi and Azad Nagari were completely sealed due to the sharp rise in COVID-19 cases. The police had barricaded the area and only essential service providers were allowed to step out. It was then that many such 'local' essential service workers contacted Hashim to repair their vehicles. "Public transportation was not in operation then, so these people had to use their own vehicles to go to work. Every day I was being called by someone to fix his or her vehicle, mostly two-wheeler," says Hashim.

TRIPLE EFFECT: (From left) Ejaz Shaikh, Hashim Shaikh and Rohit Sharma at their workshop in Colaba Koliwada
With helpers Ejaz Shaikh and Rohit Sharma, Hashim has been working tirelessly since the start of the lockdown. "I re-opened my workshop on 1 June 2020. Almost everyone in the area had some problem in their two-wheeler that lay unused for more than two months." says Hashim. Things worsened when heavy rains lashed Mumbai and more vehicles were left non-functional owing to drained batteries, water logged engines, etc. But, Hashim continued to provide his 'essential' service to frontline workers even then.

Mechanic 'Ajay' who has set up his workshop near MRA Marg Police Station worked day in and out attending to two-wheelers of police officials and essential service providers ferrying throughout the lockdown. Not only did he offer 'timely' assistance to the frontline workers but also to the stream of essential service providers commuting through the area usually abuzz day and night. He also helped several senior citizens in the adjoining settlements by fetching essentials for them.

BOY FRIDAY: Mechanic 'Ajay' not only fixed two-wheelers but helped senior citizens too

It won't be untrue to say one often forgets the significance of mechanics, technicians and handymen who 'fix' critical problems. A mechanic for more than 20 years, Gautam Bala aka Dada too would render assistance to 'stranded' riders during the lockdown. Gautam, who lives with his father, would travel on his two-wheeler when contacted by harrowed riders to their place and repair their vehicles on the spot. "With mechanic shops and garages shut, most such commuters would be completely helpless if their vehicle would stop abruptly due to any problem. They would call me up and I would make it a point to help them...anyhow," says Gautam.

HELP AT HAND: Mechanic Gautam Bala travelled far to help distraught riders during the lockdown

And, even four-wheelers owners faced difficulties when they ventured out for 'essential' work. That's when car mechanic Salim Shaikh was called. Working at Colaba's J K Mehta Chawl for over 27 years, Salim helped hundreds of local essential service workers and defence personnel from nearby defence area to get their cars running. "I would most be called to get private cars with discharged batteries, jammed brake liners, etc. Most customers didn't have money to pay for the repairs and I would also do it for free," maintains Salim. At a time when company offices and garages were shut and "company mechanics remained unavailable", Salim who "didn't take a holiday the entire time," stepped out to help harassed car owners during the lockdown.

CAR CARE: Car mechanic Salim Shaikh helped stranded car owners and got them on track, sometimes for free

Why, even Mohammed Aftab Ansari, a native of Muzzafarpur, U.P. didn't return to his village during the lockdown even when most of his friends beat a quick retreat when the going got tough in Mumbai. Aftab, who lives in Geeta Nagar and has been working at a petrol pump near Colaba Post Office fixing punctured tyres, stayed back to offer what isn't exactly an 'essential service' but one that wasn't of any lesser value. "My family, especially my wife, was worried sick for me. Despite being worried for my three children aged six, three and one, I chose to work...with precautions though," says Aftab. During the lockdown, he would be contacted mostly by police and defence (navy) personnel who'd approach him to fix punctures. "All of them were very happy that I came to help when they needed the most. They were helping the people in the pandemic, how could I not help them?" he feels.

FALL GUY: Puncturewalla Mohd Aftab Ansari helped police, defence personnel during the lockdown

Cycle-shop owner Abdul Hamid didn't get a day's rest during the lockdown. Despite the shop being shut, he found himself being called for service every hour. After all, his residence was bang behind his shop. "I had to help out those who needed to get their tyres fixed or punctures repaired. For miles, they would travel to their grocery shops, medicine outlets and a puncture would mean having to walk while pushing their cycles," he said.

HOME SERVICE: Cycle shop owner Abdul Hamid was a knock away during the lockdown

"So, despite the shop being shut, I had ensured that I had a few workers at hand to provide the puncture and air services to cyclists working at essential goods and services shops throughout the lockdown. Gas delivery workers, food outlet cyclists would inevitably need my services through this period," offered Hamid.