Post 42, Abdullahpur Basti

6:00 p.m.: Bablu has returned from his village in Gaya and is at the mill. So are Vishnu, Ambika, Mevalal and Dasharath. Both the machines in the mill are operating today. Ambika and Mevalal operate the machines while Vishnu and Dasharath package the sacks. Bablu stacks the sealed sacks against the wall so they are ready to be loaded onto the delivery van.

Vishnu shows me an app he installed on his Android which helps him download Urdu shayaris or couplets. He tells us, rather cryptically, that he will send the shayaris to someone he loves.

7:00 p.m.: Rachit returns. He had driven Birjinder’s son to the market so he could buy some cards for Christmas and New Year’s. As soon as he comes in, and hidden from Birjinder’s view, Vishnu and Dasharath gather a fistful of flour and shower him with these. Again, hiding from Birjinder’s view, Rachit retaliates by hurling not one but two fistfuls of flour at them. These exchanges continue for a few minutes, their screams of delight drowned by the din of the grinding machines.

7:15 p.m.: Hiralal comes into the mill, having just delivered sacks of flour to clients. He used to work at Kamal flour mill till mid-November, when he had found another job at an iron foundry and left. His face looks ashen and he does not talk to anyone in the mill. One by one, he hauls the sacks that Bablu has stacked up by the wall and loads them onto a waiting autorickshaw.

“Here’s the richest of us all. The man earns Rs. 10,000 per month.” Rachit remarks. Without a word, Hiralal leaves.

7:30 p.m.: Ambika halts the grinding machine and starts packing the flour into delivery sacks. Dasharath and Vishnu huddle together, calculating something. Vishnu first enters ‘8,000’ into the calculator, which is the salary promised to Dasharath. He then divides it by 30 to compute his daily wage rate: they obtain the figure of Rs. 266. They then multiply this figure by 22 to calculate the number of days Dasharath has worked at the mill: a figure of Rs. 5,822. From this figure Dasharath deducts Rs. 3,300- the amount that Birjinder ‘advances’ him at the start of each month.

Staring wistfully at the calculator, Dasharath mumbles: “That’s all I will get.”

Dasharath tells me that he has asked Birjinder to clear his dues since he cannot work here any further. The work is literally back-breaking. A neighbour from his village in Muzaffarpur works in an eatery situated at the corner of this very street: he makes dosas (a rice and blac gram pancake) there Dasharath is confident that he will help him find work.

“I worked in Delhi before I came here,” Dasharath informs me and goes on:

My uncle and I worked at the coco cola plant in Najafgarh, near Delhi. I lived with my aunt and uncle. But then there was this girl in the same Mohalla (neighbourhood) whom I really liked and she also liked me. We started hanging out, went to the movies. We must have seen at least ten movies together. My aunt- she is my father’s sister-  told my family back home in Muzaffarpur. That was it. I decided I didn’t want to have anything to do with her. Indeed, that was when I made up my mind that come what may I would not live with family.

My elder brother has been asking me to come and live with him in Jalandhar. But I am clear about not living with family. So let us see what happens.