Post 50, Sargana

10:30 a.m.: Shyamdev Mandal sits on his machan surveying his freshly-swept courtyard. He and his wife have just washed their home with cow-dung, and he is now waiting for his wife Savitri to serve him lunch. The sleeveless sweater he wears indicates he is not feeling as cold this morning as he has in the last one week.

Savitri Mandal serves us lunch: chapattis and aloo bhujia (stir fried potatoes cooked with onions and spices). I protest the generous helpings being offered to me, but Shyamdev Mandal is unsympathetic:

“At your age, I could eat up to ten chapattis. You must take care of your health,” he tells me before a slight pause. “Of course, you are right about worrying about your health. Your paunch is clearly showing. But you can work on that later.”

Over breakfast, Shyamdev Mandal tells me about his initiation into the order of Thakur Anukul Chandra in 2001, when a number of his friends in Sargana were doing so. “I found his teachings fascinating. They preached a convergence of spiritual beliefs and did not demand conversion,” he says, as he asks for another chapatti.