Post 51, Sargana

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.”

Post 42, Sargana

10:30 a.m.: Shyamdev Mandal is sweeping the courtyard in front of his house. His son Gyanesh sits at the counter of their shop, talking to someone on his mobile. He wears a jacket and a pair of jeans while his father wraps a shawl over his half-sleeve sweater. Since Ganesh’s hands are free (he is using a pair of black earphones), he is arranging the items in the shop while chatting.

The creases on Shyamdev Mandal’s forehead betray his anxiety. He has still not managed to repair the roof, since he hasn’t managed to procure enough straw.

“It is really getting too much for me. I have to do everything here. This shop that you see… I am the only who is doing anything about it.,” he despairs.

He continues: “All I want is for him (pointing to Gyanesh) to study a bit. Is that too much for a father to expect? If he studied and sat his exams, I will be satisfied.”

Lowering his voice, Shyamdev confesses: “We are facing financial difficulties. This shop has required quite a bit of investment. And we have had to do it all by ourselves- the Bank officials have still not approved my application for a loan.”

As Shyamdev goes inside the hut, Gyanesh concludes his conversation on the phone. He then invites me to sit at the counter by him. He has brought a cup of chai for me.

“I long to go away from here,” he tells me matter-of- factly. “There are too many altercations at home. People telling you what to do… not liking what you want to. I want some peace of mind. I just want to leave home… don’t want to stay here any more.”

Post 25, Sargana

8:30 a.m.: I am at Shyamdev’s shop, where he is chatting with his uncle Arjun Mandal. Posters of Shiva as well as of Shyamdev’s guru Anukul Chandra adorn one of the walls. Arjun Mandal commends Shyamdev for his enterprise. He then tells me that Shyamdev lost his father when he was only five. For him to now be the owner of his own establishment, tiny though it is, is a major achievement. Shyamdev asks his son Jitendra to make some chai, although Arjun Mandal insists he must be on his way. Shyamdev prevails. Jitendra jokingly warns Arjun Mandal not to move an inch till the chai is made, otherwise he would be charged INR 5 for one cup.

9:00 a.m.: Arjun Mandal takes our leave. Shyamdev tells me that Gyanesh is scheduled to leave Kerala on October 2 and will arrive into Sargana by the 6th. After that, he will have to decide what he wants to do. If he wants to resume his studies, Shyamdev will be happy to sponsor it- he hopes the income from his shop will be adequate. But if Gyanesh wants to return to Kerala, he is fine with that too. He will accompany his son, while his wife manages the shop.

Credit: Zaheeb Ajmal

Credit: Zaheeb Ajmal