Post 44, Sargana

12 noon: I join Shyamdev Mandal on the machan in his courtyard. He contemplates the little mound of paddy on the floor of the courtyard. These are his wife, Savitri’s wages: she worked for a farmer in the neighbourhood the last few days and has received the grain as per the standard in-kind wage rate. For every nine bundles of paddy harvested, labourers receive one. Shyamdev Mandal scoffs when I ask him what they intend to do with the grain:

“There’s not much in there, is there? We’ll be cooking it of course”.

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.

Post 39, Sargana

10:15 a.m.: I wait outside Shyamdev Mandal’s hut since there is nobody at home. Within a few minutes, however, he hurries over, and looks extremely distressed. The vest and the white trousers he is wearing are both drenched in sweat.

“I am trying to repair the house,” he informs me pointing to the thatched roof that has partially caved in. “I procured some bamboo rods the other day, but can’t seem to find enough straw for the roof. I have been scouting around the fields, but no luck.”

“Where’s everyone else?” I ask.

He sighs: “They’ve gone to meet relatives in the next village. That was why I had to lock the shop. Anyway, there aren’t enough provisions. I need to go buy some- biscuits, oil, spices.”

Wherefrom does he buy the items to stock in his shop, I enquire. He names some retailers at the Block Square the hatia, who helped him tide over the crisis in the wake of the demonetisation announcement.

“Make no mistake: demonetisation is an excellent idea: who else but Modi thinks about the poor these days? Don’t you read the newspapers- they are all talking about the benefits of demonetisation” He quickly adds: “But they should have given the public more time.”

I am curious as to how he coped in the aftermath of the announcement: did he have to wait in queues to exchange his old high-denomination notes?

“Why would I do that?” He asks incredulously. “I used it to purchase provisions for my store. The merchants at the Block Square took it from me. I have good contacts with them,” he adds smugly.