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Amid all the news about the reopening of the economy while the country continues to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus, it’s important to remember all the people who are risking their health to keep us safe and protected. Of course, there are doctors, nurses and housekeeping staff at hospitals, who are working round the clock to fulfil their duties. But there are other, less heralded heroes hidden in plain sight, who can’t work from home and can’t risk losing their jobs and income.

The security guards, for instance. They are the first line of defence in the battle against covid-19, standing outside a hospital building, a grocery shop or a shopping mall, checking temperatures of visitors with laser guns and offering sanitizers.

We spoke with K.K. Gautam, a 35-year-old security guard at Safdarjung Hospital’s special covid-19 block, who has been doing his 9am-6pm job every day since the beginning of March, about how he’s confronting the stark realities of life in a pandemic and adapting. Here’s his story. Edited excerpts:

I was nervous when my boss (at Security & Intelligence Services India) told our entire team we had to report to work every day from early March. The section of Safdarjung Hospital I had guarded for two years was suddenly turned into a covid-19 ward. The roads were empty (because of the nationwide lockdown), but our hospital was always full. Every day hundreds of people would come, looking scared and asking for directions to the covid-19 ward. After showing them the way, we would sanitize everything, from ourselves to the open area the visitor had covered. Those moments were very scary. I used to think to myself, “What if I get covid-19 while checking the temperature of that visitor? That man was coughing a lot."

Many times a thought kept bothering me: “What if I catch the virus just by standing outside the hospital gate and give it to my family?" It’s been seven months of thinking about these same questions every single day. I take all the precautions needed. Our office has organized several awareness campaigns, but this fear doesn’t leave me. My wife and parents tell me I should stay at home. If I stay at home, how will I protect my country? I believe it’s my duty as a security guard to wake up every day and stand outside my hospital to protect the people inside and outside it. Our doctors and nurses are also out there, fighting. Why should I hide?

I wanted to join the Army while growing up. Though my father was a journalist and grandmother, a school principal, I always thought of myself as doing a “uniform job". Part of the reason was Border (the hit 1997 Hindi war-drama ). That film inspired me to dedicate my life to serving the country. I must have seen it 100 times.

After finishing school in my hometown (Chitrakoot, Uttar Pradesh), I applied for the Army twice, but failed. Then I tried to apply for a job in the police force. But that didn’t work out. So I decided to become a security guard. It offered a uniform and a chance to serve my country.

It’s surprising that many people still think it’s not a respectable job. Every day when I get ready for work, I feel like a solider getting ready for the border to guard a hospital that’s fighting an enemy it can’t even see.

The other part of my job that’s very dear to me is to take care of the 350 guards who report to me. It’s definitely not easy to stand for 9-10 hours every day, wearing PPE kits, and not get stressed. Though there has been extensive research, there’s still a lot we don’t know about this virus. Some European countries that claimed to successfully defeat the virus are now seeing a second wave of covid-19.

Most of my team members are worried about the welfare of their families and what will happen to them in case they die. During those times I remind them how far we have come. Not many people in my team have contracted the virus; only about 70 I think. And all of them have recovered. It’s all about resilience at the end of the day. And, of course, lots of sanitization.

I even dream about sanitizers. One day I woke up and started frantically looking for my sanitizer. Yes, it does get to you most times, the madness of the times we are living in. What makes it worse is that you can’t even hug your own child despite living in the same house. I regularly do yoga and breathing exercises, drink kadda (a traditional herbal drink believed to strengthen the immune system) and share my fears with my wife. That helps. I’m tired and stressed. We all are. But if I stop, who will take care my country?

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