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.