Post 60, Sargana

11 a.m.: Shyamdev Mandal sits on the machan in his courtyard. He is making ropes from a sheaf of jute left over from last year. I sit by him.

“I will also go away after Holi,” he says. “At most, I will stay another month but will leave soon.”

I ask him where he proposes to go.

“My nephew works in an iron foundry. He has been asking me to join him. They pay INR 8000 per month, and I think accommodation is provided,” he informs me and adds, “This foundry is in Madras (Chennai). My nephew likes it there. I think I will join him. What do you think?”

Post 59, Sargana

11:45 a.m.: Shyamdev Mandal is not at home. I meet his long-term friend and mentor Vinay Mandal at the market nearby. He was wearing a blue coloured kurta atop a white dhoti, and sported a gamchha around his neck. Vinay is concerned about my health because he has observed me limp. When he hears that I tripped and twisted my ankle as I was taking my father for treatment, Vinay says:

You have taken on your father’s pain. You are a very good son indeed. After all, we do owe a lot to our parents don’t we? Our father who brought us up. Our mother who nurtured us in her womb for nine months.  But although one can repay their father’s debt, no one can every repay the debt to one’s mother.

A little later, Vinay Mandal talks to the owner of the kiosk in which we are sitting about the lawsuit over the temple. He complains of the time these things take in the law courts and worries that the privileged castes might twist the law to their advantage. Nevertheless, he trusts his lawyers, both of whom have assured him they will visit soon.

Post 58, Sargana

11 a.m.: Shyamdev Mandal is at his shop. He is visibly upset as he prepares his tobacco flakes for his beedi. He hails me and asks me to join him at the shop. The anxiety is reflected in his voice:

You know, somehow, I don’t think the younger one will complete school. I can see the signs, you know what I mean [I confessed I didn’t]. There are signs. I can see them come. He will also not study and follow in his father’s footsteps.

The conversation turns to Gyanesh. I ask Shyamdev if he has been in touch with his son.

Arre, he does not talk to me. He left home because he was annoyed with me, so why would he talk to me. Yes, he talks to his mother and brother. They probably know where he is, but no one tells me anything.

Shyamdev calls Jitendra, who comes out from inside the house

Shyamdev Mandal: Tell me, where is Gyanesh? Where has he gone?

Jitendra: I told you, I don’t know.

I intervene: you must have a number from which he calls.

Jitendra [looking towards his father]: No, I don’t. He keeps changing numbers.

Jitendra walks away inside the house. Shyamdev Mandal continues

The next time he shows his face, I will get Gyanesh married off. If he doesn’t want to study, at least he can get married.

Post 57, Sargana

11:30 a.m.: Shyamdev Mandal’s younger son Jitendra sits at the shop, while I chat with their neighbour Arjun Mandal on the machan in their courtyard. Shyamdev Mandal soon joins us. He has just returned from the bank where he had applied for a loan way back in August of the previous year for his shop. He complains to Arjun Mandal:

Brother, what a bast**d the Branch Manager is. The m*****f***** tells me: come today, come tomorrow. Had I relied on him, this shop would have never come into existence. But the fellow has still not approved my loan. I don’t understand what goes on in his head.

Arjun asks him if he is sure he has submitted all the correct papers.

I gave the m*****f***** all the papers as soon as he wanted them. This was way back in July. He misplaced those, so I gave him another set. I don’t know what he has done to those, maybe shoved them up his ar*e.

Arjun and I nod in sympathy.

There is no end to my worries. Now [addressing Arjun] you know what Gyanesh has done. [Arjun shakes his head]. He has run away [Arjun doesn’t look as shocked as I did when I heard this news yesterday]. The last time, when he went to Kerala- he did so without my permission. It was the same story: he walked away without a word. It’s the same story again. I had wanted him to study and sit for the board exam.

My son was annoyed each time I asked him to study. Arre, was I asking him to study for myself? No, its for him. We don’t want him to lead the same difficult lives that we have led. But the boy just doesn’t understand.

Shyamdev’s wife Savirti appears with some chai, which we all sip quietly.

Post 56, Sargana

5:00 p.m.: Shyamdev Mandal is outside his courtyard hunched with a sickle over a clump of grass, which he is collecting as fodder. The shop is shut. I ask for Gyanesh Mandal, his son.

Arre, he ran away,” Shyamdev replies, without so much as batting an eyelid.

“Ran away!!” I am too stunned to say anything else.

“Yeah, it happened about five days ago,” Shyamdev says, putting his sickle to a side. “He has gone off to Lucknow, or maybe Ludhiana,” he says, tears now welling up in his eyes. “He has called, but doesn’t talk to me. Only to his mother.”

He continues:

“It happened five days ago. He left home without saying a word to anyone. Then he called his mother to let her know he was in Ludhiana. I know what this is about: those exams. He didn’t want to sit for the exams.”

Shyamdev Mandal is lost in his thoughts. I don’t think it appropriate to pursue the conversation and take my leave.

Post 55, Sargana

10:15 a.m.: Gyanesh Mandal sits at the counter of his father’s shop. Two of his friends hang out with him. One of them hands him a bottle of honey, which Gyanesh opens and shares with the others. They dip their index fingers into the bottle and help themselves to their heart’s content.

After a few minutes, they excuse themselves, telling Gyanesh they have to study for the upcoming exams.

Gyanesh asks me how I have been. He wants to know about the book for which I am collecting data, and enquires about the remuneration I receive.

He proceeds to tell me how much he longs to go away: “I am fed up of constant quarrels at home. Indeed, I never wanted to stay home. Kabhi mann nahin lagta tha,” Gyanesh says, suggesting that he did not like staying at home.

My father did not want me to go. He tried his best to stop me. But my brother-in-law was going, and I was determined to go with him. I missed my friends here, those two you just saw. They did not want to come- they wanted to continue their studies. But I had had enough.

Obviously, I made friends while in Kerala. There was this one person from Gopalgunj. Another was from Sasaram. We hung out often, used to go out, have fun. [I enquired if they watched any Malayalam films. He shook his head] No, there was this amazing place near the factory- I don’t remember what it was called- where we used to go to watch the sun set every evening. It was nothing if not breath-taking. I will cherish those memories of the setting sun forever.

Post 54, Sargana

3 p.m.: Shyamdev Mandal sits at his shop, but he looks extremely annoyed.

“I have work to do,” he informs me, “so someone needs to attend to this shop.”

He continues: “I had asked the two boys (referring to his sons) to attend to the shop. But neither of them are to be seen. They must be smoking marijuana somewhere”

Shyamdev’s wife has gone to meet some relatives. He continued, anger oozing from every pore of his visage:

All this (he points to the shop and the goods stored therein) is for my boys. But they just don’t understand, the irresponsible motherf****rs. They were sitting around the whole morning, but have disappeared exactly when they should be here.

Even as he speaks, he stands up suddenly at the counter and steps out of the shop muttering: “I don’t care either. If they are not interested, why should I be? I have loads of work to attend to. Forget it all…”

Disappointment now writ large across his face, Shyamdev begins to shut the door of the shop.