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 48, Sargana

9:30 a.m.: Shyamdev Mandal sits on the machan in his courtyard with another gentleman, who looks approximately 30 years old. He is clad in a jacket and a pair of jeans, and wraps a muffler around his head. Shyamdev Mandal informs him of his plans to look for employment outside Sargana.

“Do you have a place in mind,” Shyamdev’s companion asks.

“I will go wherever Mahadev takes me,” Shyamdev replies cryptically, referring to the popular deity Shiva. But adds promptly: I only know Delhi and Kolkata, so it will have to be either of these places.  

At that moment, Gyanesh joins the conversation. Looking towards his son, Shyamdev adds further: “Of course now I have a third place where I can go- Kerala!”

Gyanesh looks on, alarmed.

Post 47, Sargana

12:15 p.m.: Gyanesh is sitting at the counter of his father’s shop, wearing a sweater and a pair of jeans. He informs me his father has gone to the market in Ranigunj to purchase provisions for their shop. I accept his invitation to sit by the counter and chat about his time in Kerala. With a longing look in his eyes, Gyanesh tells me of how much he misses working and living in Kerala, even though he did not know the language very well: “I just loved the fact that I was independent. Nobody to stop you from doing the things you wat to do. Nobody to interfere in your daily affairs. Life was very comfortable”, he says.

Post 45, Sargana

10:30 a.m.: Gyanesh Mandal is managing his father’s shop. He sports a red-coloured T-shirt over which he wears a sweater. Shyamdev Mandal sits on the floor of the courtyard with the paddy, sorting the grain from the residual. He is particularly cold since he wears a jacket atop his sweater and wraps a shawl around himself as well. Both father and son ask me about my family background. They are particularly keen to know about my marriage plans and whether I planned to live the life of a vagrant researcher for ever!

Post 43, Sargana

11 a.m.: Gyanesh and his mother Savitri sit at the counter of their shop. Gyanesh’s face is tucked in a muffler and he sports a red-coloured sweater and a pair of jeans. He tells me he purchased the jeans from a stall at the local hatia earlier this year: they cost about INR 300.

11:15 a.m.: Gyanesh confesses that he is anxious about the exams scheduled to begin on March 1. They have to study Sanskrit, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies and Hindi for these exams and he is getting extremely nervous about them.

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 40, Sargana

10 a.m.: Shyamdev Mandal is sitting at the counter of his shop with his friend Krishna Hembrom. Shyamdev Mandal is wearing a checked shirt and a pair of trousers while Krishna Hembrom sports a faded blue sweater and a pair of blue jeans. The chillam, a regular fixture during their conversations, is conspicuous in its absence!

They are talking about demonetisation. Shyamdev Mandal is vociferous in his defence of the measure: “Of course, there will be some difficulties. It is a major decision and we must be able to bear some pain. We must do it for the country.”

I ask him how his sales are doing. He replies: “Sales have dipped. Where I earned INR 1000 earlier, I now earn INR 500 (there is slight pause)… in fact INR 200.”

Krishna Hembrom takes our leave.