migration

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 11, Sargana

11 a.m.: Shyamdev Mandal is not home. His neighbour, Harinand Ram, who is passing by, tells me he must be at his farm. Harinand Ram is going towards his own farm to transplant the paddy saplings. Once the transplantation is complete, he will leave for Punjab where he loads sacks of grain onto trucks for local farmers who then transport them to the agricultural markets. Last year, he was paid INR 5/6 for each sack he loaded. This year, he anticipates being paid INR 7/8.

Harinand Ram had also contested the elections in May, but had lost. He is determined to contest again.

Post 9, Sargana

4 p.m.: The election results for the position of the Panchayat President are being announced. The votes are counted in a room at the Block Head Quarters, while the names of successful candidates are being announced over loudspeaker. The place is crowded with people, especially supporters of victorious candidates. However, I cannot see Shyamdev Mandal among the assembled people. I soon realise that the candidate he supported, Manya Rishi, has lost: she secured barely 5% of all the votes counted. This is not entirely unexpected: her husband is often away to Punjab for work, and people fear that she may not be able to run the Panchayat without a constant male presence. Indeed, the post is bagged by Purnima Rajak, whose husband owns a small shop in the main bazaar. Purnima’s supporters erupt in joy when news of her success is relayed.

Shyamdev Mandal later tells me he left when it became obvious that Mandya Rishi was staring at defeat.