Venkanna, a 35-year-old private daily wage construction worker looks up at the clear, cloudless sky and the harsh sun beating down on him, as he wipes his sweaty face with a semi-wet piece of cloth.
He turns to his wife Sujatha and asks her to sit in the shade for some time, while he mixes the cement with water.
“She has been ill for past few days. I told her to take rest today. But she would not listen to me,” says Venkanna.
The blazing sun overhead is unrelenting, as temperatures rise rapidly in Hyderabad. Hyderabad recorded its hottest day in April in the last decade on Monday, with temperatures touching 43 degrees Celsius.
Bearing the brunt of this staggering heat are those forced to work outside, particularly daily wage construction labourers like Venkanna and Sujatha.
Venkanna, a resident of Begumpet in Hyderabad, his wife and other labourers work for nearly ten hours a day, from 8am to 6pm. For this work, the couple earns Rs 400 each per day.
“What other option do we have?” asks Venkanna. “If we don’t work, we won’t have money to survive.”
With Sujatha feeling ill and needing to rest, Venkanna has to do both his and her portion of the work as well.
“For the past three days, she has been feeling sick. Yesterday she started feeling dizzy the moment we reached home. It could be because of the heat. That’s why, today, I brought a water bottle with us,” he says.
But when they need it most, the water is overly warm and unsatisfying, even though Venkanna had covered the bottle with a wet cloth.
Their only other sustenance is the first and only meal they eat during the daytime, the lunch they’ve packed from home. The couple skips breakfast every morning as they first have to drop their son and daughter to school, and then go to work.
“We manage with the water and food mostly. We eat our lunch early around 11:30 am so that we can take rest for some time after that,” Venkanna says. The site contractor says that the workers get a rest break of one hour between noon and 1pm.
Despite the blazing heat and her ill health, however, Sujatha says that their concern is not so much for their own health.
“We have been working during summers for the past five years. Initially it used to be difficult but now we are getting used to the weather,” says Sujatha, as she washes her face.
What worries the couple is the health of their children.
“Though I warned both of my children not to play in this weather, it’s hard to monitor them as we are at work. I give them Rs 20 every alternate day and ask them to have buttermilk or lemon soda for now,” says Sujatha. For themselves, though, there are no such luxuries to help survive the long and difficult day.
While their children use the money to drink something cold, the couple do not prefer to waste money in drinking anything cold.
“The workers are given one hours resting time between 12pm-1pm,” says the contractor.
As Telangana’s temperatures soar, the heat has already claimed at least one life each from Karimnagar, Khammam, Komuram Bheem, Mahbubnagar, Mancherial, Suryapet and Warangal districts.
Reports say that the state governments of both Telugu states have appealed the citizens to stay indoors and take precautionary measures. The governments have also asked the agricultural and construction workers to work only early mornings.
But somehow these instructions do not seem to have percolated down to the level of civic workers like Yellamma and Rajam, who spend many hours sweeping public streets in the scorching heat.
Yellamma wakes up as early as 4.30am, so that she can get ready by 5am and walk to BS Makhta from her house near Begumpet Police Station. Her shift runs from 6am to 2pm.
A thin scarf around her face the only protection she has from the sun, Yellamma sweeps with the broom provided by the GHMC continuously until 11am, when she stops for a quick lunch. After a break for an hour, she again gets back to sweeping for a further two hours. She sweeps with the broom provided to them by GHMC, covering her face with a thin scarf till 11am continuously to eat her lunch.
By 1pm, the lanes they work in are completely empty as the day gets hotter – the only audible sound is the swish of Yellamma and Rajam’s brooms sweeping up dust and garbage.
Yellamma, who is unsure about her age but seems around 50 years old, tires soon. But, she says, there’s no chance for rest.
“We clean the whole BS Makhta area. If I take rest for sometime, she (Rajam) will have to do my portion as well,” she says, as she continues sweeping.
She also sees no use in complaining about the heat when she has no way to avoid it. “I have been working for past 13 years. I have seen summer, winter, monsoon everything. Now what is the point in complaining about the heat?” she asks.
While the heat makes her sick sometimes, Yellamma still drags herself to work as, she says, she cannot afford to lose even one day’s wages.
With a college-going son, says Yellamma, it’s hard to manage life even with a salary of Rs 12000 a month, along with the money her husband earns from driving an autorickshaw all day.
“My daughter got married a few months ago, but my son is still studying in a college. His expenses will naturally increase. So I have no choice but to work,” she says.
The only problem for her is water.
She doesn’t carry water bottle as it gets too warm to drink because of the heat.
“We clean dirty public places here, but people consider us dirty. Even if we ask for water, they simply say no or ask for a container because they do not want us to use their utensils. I feel bad, but I still ask for water at different houses when I am too thirsty,” she alleges.
From the government, says Yellamma, she has received nothing except a broom and an orange uniform. “We have to make peace with the heat, no one will come even if we fall sick while working,” she says resignedly as she walks on to the next lane of her cleaning route.