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This couple struggling to stay afloat

Karthik Subramanian

Just one misstep, the consequences can be severe for the visually impaired

CHENNAI: Jaffarullah Khan's white cane sinks deep into slush as he wades through water on SIDCO Industrial Estate in Ambattur on Saturday afternoon.

The recent rain has wrecked the roads in the area where his telephone booth is located.

There are several potholes along the stretch. Just one misstep and the consequences could be severe for this visually challenged man.

Yet Khan, 48, and his wife S. Mariammal, with only 20 per cent vision in her right eye, walk along carefully. They keep to the middle of the road to avoid the trenches on the sides, even while several vehicles come dangerously close to them.

The telephone booth itself is marooned in water. During last week's rain, the booth capsized and some of their friends from the nearby factories and a tea-shop helped them set it up again.

The couple have made several requests to the authorities to relocate their PCO.

They suffer on two counts — the telephone booth is located in a low-lying area, and, more importantly, most of their clients from the industrial area no longer use the facility.

"I have been operating the booth here for the last 20 years. Five years back, I earned nearly Rs. 3,000 a month. But these days people have mobile phones and don't need us anymore," says Khan. The couple live at Arikambedu near Avadi.

Khan leaves home by 6.30 a.m. to catch a bus to Avadi, then a train to Ambattur and eventually walks to his booth.

His wife prepares their only meal of the day and, following the same routine, reaches the booth by noon. When it rains, they travel together.

"If only our booth was located near a bus stop, life would be much better," says Khan. How much do they earn every day? "These days even Rs. 10 a day is a big boon," he says.

The phone number of the telephone booth of Jaffarullah Khan and Mariammal is 26256252.

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