Post 58, Sargana

11 a.m.: Shyamdev Mandal is at his shop. He is visibly upset as he prepares his tobacco flakes for his beedi. He hails me and asks me to join him at the shop. The anxiety is reflected in his voice:

You know, somehow, I don’t think the younger one will complete school. I can see the signs, you know what I mean [I confessed I didn’t]. There are signs. I can see them come. He will also not study and follow in his father’s footsteps.

The conversation turns to Gyanesh. I ask Shyamdev if he has been in touch with his son.

Arre, he does not talk to me. He left home because he was annoyed with me, so why would he talk to me. Yes, he talks to his mother and brother. They probably know where he is, but no one tells me anything.

Shyamdev calls Jitendra, who comes out from inside the house

Shyamdev Mandal: Tell me, where is Gyanesh? Where has he gone?

Jitendra: I told you, I don’t know.

I intervene: you must have a number from which he calls.

Jitendra [looking towards his father]: No, I don’t. He keeps changing numbers.

Jitendra walks away inside the house. Shyamdev Mandal continues

The next time he shows his face, I will get Gyanesh married off. If he doesn’t want to study, at least he can get married.

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 46, Sargana

10:15 a.m.: Shyamdev Mandal feeds a chapatti to his cow, which is tethered to a bamboo pole outside his shop. He is wearing his sweater and jacket as usual, and has wrapped a shawl around him.

“Does she produce any milk?” I ask.

“Yes, a tiny bit,” he replies. “About 1.25 litres every day.”

“What do you do with it?” I enquire. “Do you sell it?”

Shyamdev Mandal rolls his eyes. “Seriously? That’s too little milk to sell! You obviously have no idea of these things”, he guffaws. “Its for the children. Just enough for them.”

10:30 a.m.: Shyamdev Mandal finishes feeding his cow, then starts sweeping the courtyard. “Have you heard what happened at the school last night?”, he asks me. I shake my head. He then proceeds to tell me of the robbery of a computer from its premises.

Can you imagine? The computer cost INR 3 lakhs. 80% of the children did not even get to see it. What an incompetent bunch of jokers manage the school, I tell you!

I was shell-shocked. Shyamdev Mandal now launches into a tirade against the school teachers:

It’s the m******f*****g teachers, of that I am sure. They must have engineered it. I even doubt [in English] that the computers ever came into the school- no one seems to have seen them.

He continues:

If there is one good thing the government has done, it is to contractualise the posts of school teachers in this State. Serves the s*****f*****s right.

Gyanesh is unwell, Shyamdev Mandal informs me. He’s caught a chill.

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!