Post 88, Abdullahpur Basti, Ludhiana

7:00 p.m.: I accompany Rachit as he drives over to a retailer in the neighbourhood to collect pending payments on Birjinder’s behalf. He informs me that construction of their house in Sargana has started, and is estimated to cost them INR 200,000. Rachit wired INR 5,000 yesterday to his father so that work could commence. This money included the INR 4,000 that he had saved over the last few months as well as INR 1,000 he borrowed from Birjinder’s wife.

“Has there been any further talk about your departure?” I enquire.

“The malik has asked me to stay on for another month, till the end of May,” he replies. He then adds: “Parminder is not happy that I will be away. He says the old lady needs a caregiver right away. I assured him that I would return within a month. He has now agreed.”

Rachit kickstarts his scooter. I sit behind him, and he drives back to the flour mill.

8:00 p.m.: Bhullan stands with his cart outside the flour mill. Om Prakash asks him to prepare some snacks for him. Bhullan does as requested, but Om Prakash walks away with the pouch without paying him. I call after Om Prakash, “Panditji…”

“Why do you call him Pandit?” Bhullan asks me, a frown discernible on his face.

“Everyone in the mill calls him Pandit,” I reply, referring to the usual practice of referring to a man of the Brahman community (as Om Prakash is) as Pandit.

“He is no priest. He is no Pandit.” Bhullan tells me firmly.

8:15 p.m.: Inside the mill, a client asks Om Prakash to carry a few sacks of flour to his waiting van. Despite being idle at that moment, Om Prakash promptly directs him to Lallan.

8:30 p.m.: Bablu is back from his village in Gaya. He is winding up for the day. I am surprised, since he has always been categorical about not working a minute beyond 7 p.m.

“Are you working overtime?” I ask.

“Yes,” Bablu replies, somewhat wearily.

I want to ask him if he is being paid, but at that moment Birjinder’s younger brother enters the mill and I drop the conversation.

Post 87, DMC Hospital Ludhiana

6:30 p.m.: Rachit has come to the DMC Hospital pharmaceutical counter to purchase some medicines for Birjinder’ aunt. He seems very enthusiastic and is keen to complete the purchase and return to Birjinder’s house as quickly as he can.

“It’s the final episode of the Colours Shining Star competition tonight,” he exclaims referring to the finale of a singing competition hosted by the TV channel Colours.

I stare at him blankly. “Have you been living under a rock?” Rachit asks me. “Maithili Kumari from Bihar is one of the finalists, aren’t you excited?” I can’t pretend I am.

Rachit persists. “Please will you download the Colours App and vote for her?” he asks me. Contestants for the program are judged not only by a panel of experts but also by audiences who vote for their favourites.

I ask if Maithili Kumari is singing in Bhojpuri, Maithili or any other Bihari language. “No, she sings Hindi classical stuff” he replies.

Extracting a pledge from me that I will download the Colours app on my phone and vote for Maithili Kumari, Rachit kickstarts his scooter.

Post 86, Arati Chowk, Ludhiana

6:15 p.m.: Rachit comes to my room to look me up: I have been unwell. We sit on the terrace since there is no electricity and the room is too dark.

Rachit informs me that he plans to return to Sargana on May 5. The brother of his friend Santosh, who left for Sagana last month (hyperlink to journal entry 78), might be leaving Ludhiana that day, so Rachit will try to go home with him. I enquire if Birjinder will allow him to leave: as driver, one of Rachit’s responsibilities is to drop off and pick up Birjinder’s children from school.

Downcast, Rachit tells me that Birjinder has asked him to leave. The job. “He told me I am free to go back to Sargana whenever I want. He also told me that when I return, I need not come to his place. Basically, he has sacked me.”

I am stunned. “Hasn’t his wife objected? I thought she relies on you for her shopping needs,” I ask.

“It was her idea,” he replies. “Birjinder’s aunt is moving into their house and will be living on the ground floor. They will have additional expenses and say they cannot afford a driver any more.”

I ask him what he proposes to do.

Rachit sighs: “Birjinder’s cousin Parminder wants me to attend to the old lady (Birjinder’s aunt) once she is discharged from the hospital. He has asked me to work for him.”

I am relieved. “So you will be at the same house, just that your employer will be different,” I clarify.

“Yes, but she will not need caring forever, will she?” Rachit mumbles. He continues wearily: “I wish I had a proper job. I don’t mind being a driver. But it would be nice to have a job where I was required me to be on duty from nine to five.”

Rachit begins to talk about the situation at home. “We are building a house. My father has asked me to send them some money. But I hardly have any savings. I will try to work an additional month for Birjinder: that way I will have more to send home.

“At any rate, if I work for Parminder, I will ask him for a raise. I cannot continue to work for such a pittance.”

Rachit looks at his watch. Its 7:15. He gets up to leave. I walk him downstairs to his scooter.

Post 85, Ghumar Mandi, Ludhiana

6:30 p.m.: Rachit picks me up on his motorcycle on his way to Ghumar Mandi, from where he has been instructed to purchase a patta, the cloth used for tying a turban. Birjinder’s ten-year old nephew needs one, so Rachit has been sent for this errand. I accompany Rachit to a shop Ghumar Mandi with which he seems very familiar. The shopkeeper tells us the patta will be ready in 20 minutes.

Rachit is peckish, so we step over to a mobile kiosk where they sell grilled sandwiches. The brothers who operate it tap electricity from overhead wires and use it to heat the grill. Rachit and I share a sandwich. Rachit tells her he is eating a sandwich while the patta is being prepared. He goes on to elaborate that the sandwich is very tasty and asks her if he should buy some for her and her family. She probably says yes, because once he disconnects, Rachit asks the kiosk operators to pack a couple of sandwiches for him to take.

Post 84, Abdullahpur Basti, Ludhiana

7:45 p.m.: Bhullan stands with his vegetable cart adjacent to Kamal flour mill, chatting with Hiralal who takes a 5-minute break from work in the mill. Birjinder buys a few bottles of cold drinks from a neighbourhood kiosk and passes them by on his way into the mill. Hiralal mutters: “Those are for his guests”, and then chuckles: “If he ever bought cold drinks for his employees, he would see their productivity surge.” Hiralal walks back into the mill to resume his duties.

Rachit arrives, driving a Black Nissan. Birjinder’s wife and children have just returned from an amusement park in Rakh Bagh, where they spent the better part of the day. Birjinder’s thirteen year old daughter pops her head out the window and brusquely orders Bhullan to get out of the way: he has parked his cart at the entrance to Birjinder’s garage. An annoyed Bhullan begins to wheel his cart away, while Rachit steps out of his car, and looks apologetically towards him. He then proceeds to raise the shutter of the garage and walks back into the car and drives it in.

Once Rachit has parked the car, he comes over to ask me what I have been up to. I show him the saree I bought earlier today for my mother. He likes the look of them and is even more pleased when he hears the price. He asks me for the address of the shop from where I bought the sarees, so he can purchase a couple for his mother when he returns. I show him the visiting card of the shop. He clicks a snap of the card and we walk into the mill.

Post 83, Abdullahpur Basti, Ludhiana

5:45 p.m.: Rachit and I have just returned from the market in the Camp area. As Rachit goes upstairs into Birjinder’s home to give them the vegetarian snacks he has purchased, I join Om Prakash and Bhullan who are standing outside the mill chatting about the just-concluded UP legislative assembly elections. They are in the midst of a heated argument about Yogi Adityanath, who has been nominated Chief Minister of the State barely a few hours ago.

Om Prakash wholeheartedly supports the decision to elevate Adityanath. “He is a baba,” Om Prakash asserts, referring to the Chief Minister’s status as chief priest of the historic Gorakhnath temple. “When he walks by the streets of his constituency Gorakhpur, people halt in their tracks.”

Bhullan shares none of Om Prakash’s admiration for the new Chief Minister of their State. “He can get his a*se f***ed for all I care. The man is full of hatred for others. He’d better watch what he says, or he’ll get himself into trouble,” he snaps.

Om Prakash smiles indulgently.

Post 82, Abdullahpur Basti, Ludhiana

6:15 p.m.: I greet Birjinder who sits at the counter to the entrance of the flour mill. He asks me how I have been. I tell his I’ve been slightly unwell.

“Oh no- you should have said. We’d have admitted you in the hospital with my aunt. We could have got a discount for an additional patient,” Birjinder says before bursting into laughter.

Reeling from Birjinder’s morbid sense of humour, I walk into the mill, where Om Prakash and Kalki Prasad operate the grinding machine. Om Prakash and Kalki Prasad are also discussing the results of the UP legislative assembly elections. their conversation went along the following lines.

Om Prakash: The BJP won UP because of Modi. He destroyed his opponents completely.

Kalki Prasad: Yes, with Modi at the helm, they did not have a chance.

Om Prakash: Well, you see, he is after all from the Ahir community [reference to the cowherd caste]. He knows a thing or two about wielding lathis (batons).

Kalki Prasad (vehemently): Arre, no way. Modi is not Ahir. He is Teli [reference to the oil-presser caste]. It has nothing to do with caste. Modi is simply brilliant.

Post 81, Abdullahpur Basti, Ludhiana

6:00 p.m.: Although Kamal flour mill is abuzz with activity, some changes are discernible. Bablu Yadav left for his home in Gaya a few weeks ago. This morning Mevalal, like Vishnu, also returned to his village in Gonda. Hiralal is unwell. A new worker Om Prakash Pandey, whose home is in a village in Balrampur, has been recruited for a temporary period. Om Prakash worked in a hosiery manufacturing unit till the introduction of the high currency demonetisation late last year. Demonetisation resulted in the collapse of demand, and Om Prakash lost his job. He has now been hired to work in the mill.

6:15 p.m.: Rachit walks into the mill to collect sacks for delivery. He has had a haircut and is clean shaven. Ambika Prasad remarks that Rachit looks like the hero of a Bollywood film. Rachit asks me what I have been up to. I show him my new mobile phone, a Motorola product.

Rachit disapproves. “Why didn’t you buy a Mi mobile? I have been seeing advertisements on TV and they say the company sold one million pieces in one week!”

I tell Rachit that Motorola is a more reliable brand. He holds the phone in his hand, and clicks a selfie. Seeing the selfie, Rachit is more approving of my purchase.