A chowkidar-recruit was posted at the bank entrance to shoot anyone who dared enter at night. All went well till he spied the town’s wealthiest businessman trying to break-in one night with his burly bodyguard. Bowing before the businessman, he said politely, “Excuse me, saheb, I’m new to this job — whom should I shoot? You or your bodyguard?”
Nowadays, chai-gallas and chowks are agog with chowkidar conversations — ups and downs, joys and sorrows and qualifications and disqualifications. While its socio-political and economic nuances have been discussed threadbare, its subtler scriptural and spiritual lights have been eclipsed and could be reflected upon.
Devoid of electricity and security systems, the image of a “guard” or a “watchman” was important in the ancient world, with the Bible having over 180 references. Chowkidars protected rulers and elders, as well as their possessions and documents. Egyptian pharaohs, Babylonian kings and Indian rajas have been served by conscientious chowkidars. Guards also watched over prisoners. Thus, in a positive perspective, the chowkidar symbolises power, protection, security and watchfulness.
Societies with a high number of chowkidars and security-men are presumably more corrupt and dangerous; for there wouldn’t be a need for chowkidars if there weren’t cheats and robbers active in them. Moreover, a deeply spiritual person wouldn’t need protection; for, St Paul writes: “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that God is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him.”
In direct contrast to the honest chowkidar, there’s the wicked watchman ever watchful for indulging in devious deeds. “The eye of the adulterer watches for dusk,” and the “murderer watches in secret for his victims”. Not surprisingly, Judas who betrayed Jesus “watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over” to his torturers.
Jesus often warns about the careless chowkidar who allows thieves to break in at night due to drowsiness or drunkenness, and the crafty chowkidar who does not raise an alarm in danger simply because he is an accomplice: a “partner” in crime.
Over and above the abovementioned references to chowkidars, two are most crucial: God is a chowkidar since “God watches over us and will neither slumber nor sleep.” Indeed, “the eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.” Besides God’s watchfulness and protection, you and I are called to be chowkidars — guarding ourselves from the wiles of the world through a deep awareness of what goes on within and without.
If you and I were conscientious chowkidars — not by grabbing power to presumably protect others, but by guarding our senses, cultivating a spiritual sense of security, defending the weak and protecting mother earth, what a wonderful world we’d have! There would be no need of guns and chowkidars. We’d feel supremely secure in God alone.