12 noon: Gyanesh Mandal stands by the counter of his shop. He is wearing a black jacket and a pair of jeans. Beneath the jacket I can spot his maroon-coloured sweater. He has also wrapped a muffler around his head, to protect his ears from the brutal cold. He tells me he has been hanging out with friends in the neighbourhood the last couple of days since his father had gone out of the village on some work.
At this, Shyamdev Mandal emerges from inside the house. He complains about his son not studying as much as he should and wasting his time.
“Our generation never studied. We never valued education. As a consequence, we are suffering. I wouldn’t want the same fate for my son. No parent would. But this boy just does not listen to me. I tell him so much to study, but he refuses to. What am I to do?”
Gyanesh Mandal withdraws to the corner of the counter and looks away.
Shyamdev Mandal remains agitated, however. He turns the conversation to politics:
“The coalition that rules this State is full of hooligans. Have you heard about the murder in Rahariya?” he asks me, referring to the brutal killing of two activists of the Communist Party of India (Marxist/ Leninist- Liberation) in the adjacent village. “The newspapers report they were killed by activists of the Rashtriya Janata Dal. Their chief Lalu Prasad Yadav must have instructed their murders,” Shyamdev Mandal opines. “One of the activists was a Yadav and the other was Musahar. Both were highly regarded for their bravery and for their defence of the poor. Some powerful people were trying to encroach on to the public land. The two activists had led the resistance against such encroachment and have paid the price for it,” he continues.
“Lalu will drown the State Government in a cesspool of corruption and murders,” Shyamdev Mandal continues, alluding to the accusations of corruption levelled against Lalu Yadav, the senior partner of the electoral coalition that rules Bihar. “Nitish Kumar is a good man,” Shyamdev Mandal says of the Chief Minister, “but his hands are tied.”