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 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 24, Sargana

8:30 a.m.: Shyamdev is setting up the shop as he had planned. I see him lining the window with packets of biscuits. Savitri, his wife, is inside the kiosk arranging other items, such as packets of chai leaves, garam masala (cooking spices), soaps (for bath as well as for laundry), chocolates and honey.

Amazed, I ask him whether his application for a loan was eventually approved. He shakes his head sadly and then says this is from his own savings, and a loan provided by his sister’s husband. The total cost of setting up the kiosk is INR 12000, of which the loan amounts to INR 5000.

“I have been saying for a long time that I want to set up this kiosk. It had become an obsession. I just had to do it,” he remarks.

Vinay Mandal passes by. Shyamdev invites him for chai. But Vinay says he has just drunk some and is in a hurry.

“Do you have to pay interest to your brother-in-law when you return him the principle?” I ask.

“Don’t be silly! He has to live here, doesn’t he,” Shyamdev replies, with a twinkle in his eye, as Savitri laughs

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 22, Sargana

3:30 p.m.: Shyamdev Mandal sits by the machan in his house. He informs me that his application for a loan has yet to be approved. The bank manager wants him to first establish the shop, paint it and stock some items for sale in it. Only thereafter will he approve the loan. According to Shyamdev, the manager told him,

“What if you don’t use the money I approve for a shop? Indeed, what if you disappear with the money- people like you have no address, you keep moving from place to place?”

As a result, Shyamdev is back to square one- with no initial capital to invest. He is now enquiring into the possibility of obtaining a loan from family or friends of up to INR 2000. In the meantime, he will continue to cultivate vegetables in the small plot of land he owns. I ask him whether he cultivated paddy, to which he says,

“I haven’t got the manpower for paddy. If Gyanesh, my elder son, were here, I could have considered. But since he is away, and has no interest in farming, I don’t think it is possible for me to manage growing paddy.”

Shyamdev tells me Gyanesh will be back home in 15 days. His son-in-law is returning on the 25th, but Gyanesh’s leave has been approved for later. Shyamdev’s understanding is that the company is paying the travel fare for Gyanesh, which means it wants Gyanesh to go back to working for them. He says he is more and more convinced that it would be a good deal to accompany his son to Kerala whenever he returns.

Post 13, Sargana

9:45 a.m.: Shyamdev Mandal sits with two of his friends at the machaan (raised bamboo platform) in front of his house, getting ready for their morning smoke. As they pass the chillum from one to another, Shyamdev talks to us about his application again. He has applied for a loan of INR 25000 and is confident of securing it. He badly needs the loan because he dipped into his savings during the legal battle to secure the release of his friend Vinay Mandal. But he also remarks on the possibility of his application being rejected.

“If that happens,” he says, looking into the distance, “I will go back outside the village to work”,

“What work will you do?”, I ask.

“The same that I’ve always done,” he says, “Lifting bricks. Laying them on the cement. I am allergic to cement, but if I have no other work to do, this is better than nothing.”

Shyamdev’s friends leave, and stretches out on the machaan for a bit since his back aches.

Post 12, Sargana

10:30 a.m.: I walk towards the kiosk owned by Tarun Vishwas, where he sells grocery items and also some stationary. I am with his neighbour Madhu Sharan. He tells me about the neighbourhood to the south of his kiosk, where members of the Rajput community live: “They think they are higher than us. But we don’t believe in caste hierarchies.” Pointing to the skies, he says, “Uparwala (literally: the being above, a reference to a supreme creator) has made us all human. Uparwala does not differentiate between humans. It is here, on earth, that human beings create the differences between themselves.”

The three of us sit on the stone steps leading into the kiosk. As we chat about our respective families, Tarun’s son Gabloo strides up past us and picks up the newspaper at the kiosk counter. He then proceeds to sit on the wooden chair by the counter. Madhu Sharan promptly remarks:

“Do you see how young people today don’t care about respect. Just look at the way this boy is sitting on a chair while his elders are beneath him.”

Tarun chimes in and talks about his fear of speaking in the presence of his father.

Gabloo remains absorbed in the newspaper. Tarun changes the topic of conversation to the elected judiciary.

11:00 a.m.: I see Shyamdev Mandal come into view. He is wearing white-coloured shirt and cream-coloured trousers, and riding his yellow cycle. We greet one another. Shyamdev has been busy the last few days not with transplanting but with trying to obtain a loan to start up a kiosk in front of his house, where he will sell grocery items. He hopes the income from the sales will supplement the meagre income from the farm and the more substantial remittance from Gyanesh.

If the loan does not materialise, he says he will go to either Delhi or Mumbai.