friends

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 33, Sargana

8:45 a.m.: Shyamdev Mandal cycles towards Sargana hatia. He informs me his son Gyanesh is at home, guessing accurately that I am looking for him. At Shyamdev Mandal’s residence, however, his daughter tells me that Gyanesh has gone out to meet friends. She asks me to wait.

9:30 a.m.: Gyanesh rides into the compound of his hut on a red-coloured Bajaj Discover motorcycle, with his friend riding pillion. He is wearing a yellow striped shirt while his friend a T-shirt. Both wear jeans. Neither has a helmet. Gyanesh steps down from the bike and waves to me, indicating that we go inside the shop adjacent to the hut. His friend leaves. Gyanesh spits out the betel leaf and tobacco flakes he has been chewing as he takes his place at the counter of the shop, asking his sister to step aside. She promptly obliges and disappears down the road. He begins to tell me about his work in Kerala.

10 a.m.: Gyanesh decides he wants to dry out the jute fibre his family have harvested the previous week. He continues to chat while he sweeps the compound clean before he lays out the fubre. The jute crop was harvested a month ago, soon after Ganesh had returned.

The plant was cut and tied into bundles. Sheafs of jute stock were then immersed in the nearby pond for nearly three weeks: the bark was peeled yesterday after which the fibre was removed. It is now time for the fibre to be spread out in the sunlight so it can dry.

Post 23, Sargana

11 a.m.: Shyamdev Mandal and I chat on the phone. He informs me that he has gone to meet some friends to ask them for help. He will be back in the evening, he assures me.

4 p.m.: I am at Shyamdev Mandal’s house. His wife, Savitri, is sweeping the space adjacent to their hut, the room where the shop will be set up. Their son, Jitendra, tells me that Shyamdev has gone to the nearby market to procure some items to stock in their kiosk once it opens.

4:30 p.m.: Shyamdev calls me on the mobile, and tells me he is delayed. He is with his wife’s brother, and will return later than he had planned to. We agree to meet tomorrow.

Post 2, Sargana

2:00 p.m.: I am at Shyamdev Mandal’s house, but he has stepped out. His friend Krishna Hembrom is also waiting for him. Between puffs of his bidi, Krishnadev tells me that he is here to discuss election strategy with Shyamdev, since they are both supporting the same candidate.

2:45 p.m.: Shyamdev returns. He has been at the local bazaar purchasing groceries for the house. But he is only too eager to discuss politics with his waiting friend, so he comes straight to the point. The candidate they support for the post of the President of the local council (the Panchayat) must win. She is the only one capable of responding to the needs of the poor. Her husband iterates between Punjab and Bihar in search of work, so the couple understands what needs to be done to improve poor people’s lives. He asks me to carry a message to my hosts….