5:45 p.m.: Rachit is in Dugri, some twenty kilometres south of Abdullahpur Basti. He has gone there to pick up Birjinder’s son from his tuition classes and will now drive about 15 kilometers west, to BRS Nagar. Birjinder’s parents-in-law live in BRS Nagar and his son wants to spend the evening with his grandparents. So, Rachit will drop the boy at his grandparents before driving back. It will take him at least an hour, he says.
6:00 p.m.: I am with Hiralal, Mevalal and Bablu. Mevalal operates the grinding machine; Bablu packs the flour into sacks and readies them for delivery. Hiralal manages the customers. Vishnu is on leave today.
“His pen*s is rotting,” Hiralal informs me with a mischievous glint in his eyes. I look obviously alarmed, so he continues: “He has been going to Sherpura for the previous four days. He refuses to use a condom. What do you expect?” Sherpura is Ludhiana’s red light area.
6:15 p.m.: Vishnu’s room is locked. When I phone him, he tells me he has stepped out to meet a friend who is not well. He will only be back after 8:30 p.m., he says.
7:00 p.m.: I return to the flour mill. Birjinder is managing the counter, and he asks me to sit next to him. As we chat, he leans forward and whispers,
“These workers- they do not respect us at all. But we are helpless- we can’t fire them because they have been here so long, they know their stuff! But they are wayward- if they receive a call from their homes in the village, they just pick up their jholas (satchels) and leave.”
I ask him if there are any provisions for holidays in his mill.
“What’s the point?, he replies. “They holiday whenever they want to.”
8:00 p.m.: Rachit has just returned to the mill. I ask him about Vishnu. He laughs and asks me not to worry. Vishnu is a sensible boy, he assures me, and will not waste his time or money on such things.
8:15 p.m.: Rachit shows me one of the three whats app groups to which he is added. The one he is showing me now is called Bihar Yuva Chhatra Samiti. Lalit adds that this is a political group, convened by a university student based in Pipariya, near Trivenigunj (about thirty kilometres south of Sargana). He shows me a photo of his with Pappu Yadav, former Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav’s estranged brother-in-law, taken during the election campaign in October 2015.
Rachit is also on facebook. He tells me takes care not to add too many women as ‘friends’. He first checks their profiles and adds them only if they are ‘decent’. After all, his parents use his phone regularly when he goes home. Here in Ludhiana, Birjinder’s son also uses his phone often.