Post 33, Abdullahpur Basti

6 p.m.: Only one grinding machine is operational at Kamal flour mill. Mevalal, Ambika and Bablu are working around it, taking turns to operate the machine, weigh the flour and pack the material into delivery sacks. 45-year old Mansharam, milk vendor by day and head loader by night, arrives on his three-wheeled auto-rickshaw along with Vishnu. Hiralal has left working at the flour mill, so Birjinder has recruited Mansharam to help with loading and delivering on a temporary basis: Mansharam’s home is in a village near Gonda. While Mansharam settles accounts with Birjinder’s brother at the counter, Vishnu starts loading the packaged sacks onto the autorickshaw for further deliveries. In addition to the usual deliveries of flour, today I notice there are sacks of bran. While the sacks of flour weigh five kilograms each, the bran is packaged into sacks weighing fifty kilos.

Credit: Atul Anand

Credit: Atul Anand

6:30 p.m.: Birjinder has asked Bhullan, the vegetable vendor from Jaunpur, to help Mansharam with the deliveries today. So, he brings his cart by Birjinder’s garage. Mevalal and he lift the shutter of the garage, and begin to load the ten-odd jute sacks filled with bran onto his cart. In the meantime, Vishnu has completed loading the sacks onto the autorickshaw: 40 sacks of flour and 10 sacks of bran in total. As before, Mansharam drives the autorickshaw to deliver its contents to different customers across the city. Bhullan too leaves with his cart soon. I speak to Rachit on the phone, and he tells me he has come to pick up Birjinder’s son from his school: he estimates he will be back in an hour.

7:30 p.m.: Bablu wraps up his work for the day and begins walking to the sabzi mundi (vegetable market) about a kilometre away in Dhuri Lines, near the railway crossing. I join him. Today, he plans to purchase a pumpkin. A very discerning customer, he is not easily satisfied with the pumpkins on sale.  He presses down each specimen he sees with his thumbnails to examine its ripeness. After much investigation, he buys one and we start walking back.

“Are vegetables cheap here?” I ask, curious as to why he walked one kilometre to purchase one pumpkin.

“No. but they are better quality,” he replies.

We stop by a chai kiosk, and order some chai. The twenty-five-year old man who brews and serves us the chai tells us he is from Kishangunj district in West Bengal. When I say that Kishangunj is in Bihar, not West Bengal, he insists that he is from the “West Bengal part”. I do not probe any further.

“There are many Bengalis from Kishangunj,” he tells me. “That hotel over there,” he points to a restaurant with the name Bangali Hotel, “that is owned by a person from my village.”

8:10 p.m.: After chai, Bablu returns to his room, and I come back to the flour mill. I meet Rachit outside the mill: he has just returned from the school. He is excited about being invited to the sangeet ceremony of one of Birjinder’s nephews, a ceremony usually organised on the eve of a marriage. However, he has not been invited to the actual marriage since, as he infers, the hosts would have to pay the caterers per plate.

8:30 p.m.: Mevalal is packing the flour into sacks and organising them for deliveries the following day. Vishnu and I take leave of Mevalal and Rachit, and walk back to Vishnu’s room, where I meet 17 year-old Shiv Kumar. Shiv Kumar is from the same village in Gonda as Vishnu, and has come to Ludhiana looking for work. During this period Vishnu has offered to let him stay with him. Shiv Kumar is not too keen to work at the mill because of its extremely strenuous nature. Vishnu lights a beedi (tobacco flaxes wrapped in tendu leaves) and steps out to purchase vegetables.