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Post 28, Sargana

12 noon: I am at Shyamdev Mandal’s shop, chatting with his younger son Jitendra. Shyamdev returns from the bank after yet another unsuccessful attempt to obtain a loan. This is particularly frustrating for him because he has done all the things that the Bank Manager had asked him to do: set up a shop, procure the goods, etc.

Shyamdev tells me that Gyanesh, his elder son, was unable to obtain leave to come home for Dussehra. The footwear manufacturing company where he works has promised, however, to allow him leave during Diwali, which is at the end of the month.

Post 25, Sargana

8:30 a.m.: I am at Shyamdev’s shop, where he is chatting with his uncle Arjun Mandal. Posters of Shiva as well as of Shyamdev’s guru Anukul Chandra adorn one of the walls. Arjun Mandal commends Shyamdev for his enterprise. He then tells me that Shyamdev lost his father when he was only five. For him to now be the owner of his own establishment, tiny though it is, is a major achievement. Shyamdev asks his son Jitendra to make some chai, although Arjun Mandal insists he must be on his way. Shyamdev prevails. Jitendra jokingly warns Arjun Mandal not to move an inch till the chai is made, otherwise he would be charged INR 5 for one cup.

9:00 a.m.: Arjun Mandal takes our leave. Shyamdev tells me that Gyanesh is scheduled to leave Kerala on October 2 and will arrive into Sargana by the 6th. After that, he will have to decide what he wants to do. If he wants to resume his studies, Shyamdev will be happy to sponsor it- he hopes the income from his shop will be adequate. But if Gyanesh wants to return to Kerala, he is fine with that too. He will accompany his son, while his wife manages the shop.

Credit: Zaheeb Ajmal

Credit: Zaheeb Ajmal

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 21, Sargana

11:15 a.m.: I am at Shyamdev Mandal’s home. Shyamdev has just finished his bath at the handpump. He brings over two cups of lemon tea (black tea with a dash of lime). As we sip on the tea, he informs me that Gyanesh has not arrived yet. He infers that Gyanesh will probably not come home anytime soon, but cannot say for sure since he has been unable to make contact with his son-in-law, with whom Gyanesh stays and works.  Shyamdev says he will call again this evening. Looking somewhat lost, he mentions that he will persuade his son to stay back whenever he returns. If he insists on going back to work, Shyamdev says, he- Shyamdev- will also accompany him.

Shyamdev is also anxious about the loan for which he had applied. The bank manager has not yet approved it, and has been asking him to keep coming back with this or that document.

To add to his anxieties, he had invested some funds with an enterprise he calls prayag.net, who are now refusing to pay him back his principal and interest. The enterprise is based in Kolkata.

The creases on Shyamdev’s forehead are exceptionally prominent today as he recounts his numerous worries.

Post 18, Sargana

10:00 a.m.: Shyamdev Mandal is at his home, getting ready to leave for the bank. He tells me matter-of-factly that Gyanesh will be returning home by the end of the month, and will stay till at least Duseehra (in October). Shyamdev has never been happy about Gyanesh leaving. Today, he tells me his son failed his Year 10 Board Exam, but he hopes he will sit the exams next year. According to him, there are no provisions for holidays or leaves in the factory where Gyanesh works, which makes it impossible for him to come home to visit. But at least he earns INR 8000 per month, which is more than what he can say about himself!