11 a.m.: I am at Shyamdev Mandal’s house. His wife Savitri Mandal informs me that he is in Araria on some work. Gyanesh Mandal is in Purnea to visit relatives. Listening in to our conversation, her younger son, Gyanesh’s younger brother, complains that no one has bothered to take him along anywhere and that he has no choice but to manage his father’s shop.
12 noon: Gyanesh Mandal stands by the counter of his shop. He is wearing a black jacket and a pair of jeans. Beneath the jacket I can spot his maroon-coloured sweater. He has also wrapped a muffler around his head, to protect his ears from the brutal cold. He tells me he has been hanging out with friends in the neighbourhood the last couple of days since his father had gone out of the village on some work.
At this, Shyamdev Mandal emerges from inside the house. He complains about his son not studying as much as he should and wasting his time.
“Our generation never studied. We never valued education. As a consequence, we are suffering. I wouldn’t want the same fate for my son. No parent would. But this boy just does not listen to me. I tell him so much to study, but he refuses to. What am I to do?”
Gyanesh Mandal withdraws to the corner of the counter and looks away.
Shyamdev Mandal remains agitated, however. He turns the conversation to politics:
“The coalition that rules this State is full of hooligans. Have you heard about the murder in Rahariya?” he asks me, referring to the brutal killing of two activists of the Communist Party of India (Marxist/ Leninist- Liberation) in the adjacent village. “The newspapers report they were killed by activists of the Rashtriya Janata Dal. Their chief Lalu Prasad Yadav must have instructed their murders,” Shyamdev Mandal opines. “One of the activists was a Yadav and the other was Musahar. Both were highly regarded for their bravery and for their defence of the poor. Some powerful people were trying to encroach on to the public land. The two activists had led the resistance against such encroachment and have paid the price for it,” he continues.
“Lalu will drown the State Government in a cesspool of corruption and murders,” Shyamdev Mandal continues, alluding to the accusations of corruption levelled against Lalu Yadav, the senior partner of the electoral coalition that rules Bihar. “Nitish Kumar is a good man,” Shyamdev Mandal says of the Chief Minister, “but his hands are tied.”
10:30 a.m.: Shyamdev Mandal sits on his machan surveying his freshly-swept courtyard. He and his wife have just washed their home with cow-dung, and he is now waiting for his wife Savitri to serve him lunch. The sleeveless sweater he wears indicates he is not feeling as cold this morning as he has in the last one week.
Savitri Mandal serves us lunch: chapattis and aloo bhujia (stir fried potatoes cooked with onions and spices). I protest the generous helpings being offered to me, but Shyamdev Mandal is unsympathetic:
“At your age, I could eat up to ten chapattis. You must take care of your health,” he tells me before a slight pause. “Of course, you are right about worrying about your health. Your paunch is clearly showing. But you can work on that later.”
Over breakfast, Shyamdev Mandal tells me about his initiation into the order of Thakur Anukul Chandra in 2001, when a number of his friends in Sargana were doing so. “I found his teachings fascinating. They preached a convergence of spiritual beliefs and did not demand conversion,” he says, as he asks for another chapatti.
11:30 a.m.: Shyamdev Mandal sits under a tree in his courtyard. His shop is shut, as the windows are being repaired. Ramanand Vishwas, a relative of Shyamdev’s, is fixing iron rods to the wooden frame. Shyamdev has hired Ramanand to work on the window for a day, and will pay him INR 200 once the task is completed. In addition to this wage, Ramanad will also be provided lunch.
9:30 a.m.: Shyamdev Mandal sits on the machan in his courtyard with another gentleman, who looks approximately 30 years old. He is clad in a jacket and a pair of jeans, and wraps a muffler around his head. Shyamdev Mandal informs him of his plans to look for employment outside Sargana.
“Do you have a place in mind,” Shyamdev’s companion asks.
“I will go wherever Mahadev takes me,” Shyamdev replies cryptically, referring to the popular deity Shiva. But adds promptly: I only know Delhi and Kolkata, so it will have to be either of these places.
At that moment, Gyanesh joins the conversation. Looking towards his son, Shyamdev adds further: “Of course now I have a third place where I can go- Kerala!”
Gyanesh looks on, alarmed.
12:15 p.m.: Gyanesh is sitting at the counter of his father’s shop, wearing a sweater and a pair of jeans. He informs me his father has gone to the market in Ranigunj to purchase provisions for their shop. I accept his invitation to sit by the counter and chat about his time in Kerala. With a longing look in his eyes, Gyanesh tells me of how much he misses working and living in Kerala, even though he did not know the language very well: “I just loved the fact that I was independent. Nobody to stop you from doing the things you wat to do. Nobody to interfere in your daily affairs. Life was very comfortable”, he says.
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.
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.
10:30 a.m.: Gyanesh Mandal is managing his father’s shop. He sports a red-coloured T-shirt over which he wears a sweater. Shyamdev Mandal sits on the floor of the courtyard with the paddy, sorting the grain from the residual. He is particularly cold since he wears a jacket atop his sweater and wraps a shawl around himself as well. Both father and son ask me about my family background. They are particularly keen to know about my marriage plans and whether I planned to live the life of a vagrant researcher for ever!