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On duty in half sleeves

Mohammed Aslam Mullick is hard to miss on a busy street on a cold December day, and not just because of his bulk.

Thursday afternoon is the coldest Calcutta has experienced in 28 years but Aslam is in half sleeves on Jawaharlal Nehru Road, waving an arm at vehicles carrying people who look like they would much rather be curled up at home.

Aslam is a green police volunteer. He is wearing a parrot-green shirt, olive-green trousers and a tattered green cap. But he doesn’t have a green pullover. His armour against the chill is a cotswool inner tucked into his trousers. He wouldn’t dare wear a sweater or a jacket over his uniform lest his police bosses pull him up.

So why don’t Aslam and the other green police volunteers have an official winter uniform, just as the Lalbazar cops have their navy-blue jackets and pullovers? Because the police headquarters ostensibly didn’t consider giving them matching warm clothes until the Celsius had dropped to the season’s lowest!

“It’s difficult,” Aslam says with a smile, his right arm swinging at traffic like a pendulum turned upside-down. “The afternoons are tolerable. But it gets unbearable in this attire after dusk. But I have to work to earn, don’t I?”

Aslam, in his late 40s, is a resident of Bibi Lane in north Calcutta’s Cossipore neighbourhood. He is part of a contingent of around 500 green police volunteers who help the city police regulate traffic for a stipend of around Rs 4,300 each a month.

“Together with the home guards, these green volunteers are efficient allies in traffic control,” says a sergeant.

But none of these volunteers has yet received a piece of warm clothing to tide over the winter.

Lalbazar says warm clothes have been procured and will be distributed soon (hopefully before the Celsius rises enough for Aslam to feel more comfortable in his half sleeves).

“We have purchased 300 olive-green sweaters for the green police contingent and 1,000 navy-blue ones for the home guards. Within the next few days, everyone should have a piece of woollen clothing as part of the uniform,” says deputy commissioner of police (traffic) Dilip Adak.

Three traffic guards — there are 25 of them under Lalbazar — were handed sweaters for the green volunteers on Wednesday, which was the coldest day of the season at 11.5 degrees until the Celsius dropped to 10 on Thursday.

Some green cops have so far been making do with the blue jackets given to them four years ago. Aslam had one too but the zipper gave way.

“If you are well-built like him, the frail zipper won’t last,” quips green police volunteer Kishore Gupta, pointing to his burly colleague standing a few feet away.

On a cold, sometimes blustery day, laughter can be warmer than the jacket Aslam doesn’t have.