Post 36, Abdullahpur Basti

6:30 p.m.: Vishnu, Mevalal and Dasharath work the grinding machine at Kamal Flour Mill. Ambika  has joined them today after six days of absence: he tells me he has been ill, at which Vishnu scoffs and says, “Arre don’t believe a word of what he says.” They exchange the choicest expletives for a few minutes, after which both get back to work.

Vishnu informs me that Hiralal has moved out of their shared accommodation to live closer to the iron foundry where he works. However, complains Vishnu, Hiralal did not pay him his share of the rent and food before he left. Hiralal’s job of carting goods from the flour mill to its various clients has been taken up by Shamshad Ahmed from a village in Bihar’s Bettiah district, who now joins us at the mill.

7:00 p.m.: Vishnu is packing the flour into delivery sacks for Shamshad Ahmed to cart away on his cycle rickshaw. The sacks are placed on a weighing scale and Vishnu carefully fills the sacks so the measurement shows exactly 10 kilograms. Even as a satisfied Vishnu begins to seal the sack, Shamshad Ahmed intervenes. “Shouldn’t you be adding 20 grams to account for the weight of the sack,” he calls out. “You are a strange man. You are saving your employer’s money and pilfering from innocent customers!!”

Vishnu sheepishly adds 20 grams of flour and seals the bag.

7:15 p.m.: Rachit comes into the mill and loads four 5-kg sacks of flour onto Birjinder’s Active Scooty for delivering to a client who lives in the vicinity. After a five-minute ride, we cross the Railway Line, where the client’s shop is located. After delivering the sacks, Rachit and I ride back.

We pass a locomotive shed on our ride back. Rachit wants to get himself photographed with the diesel engines stationed there. Rachit confidently enters the compound and eggs me on to discard my inhibitions. Once inside, he asks me to click some snaps of his with a few of the engines parked herein. We hang around for about fifteen minutes before making our way out of compound through the regular entrance gate. We note a board that warns trespassers to stay away and greet the guard on duty who ignores us.

Rachit and I continue our ride but do not head for the mill. Instead, Rachit drives the scooty to a fast food joint, eerily named Betal (a Hindi word to refer to phantoms) Fast Food Center. Rachit orders one plates of Manchurian Pakodas (fritters stuffed with cabbage) and we sit down by the television. In no time, Rachit immerses himself in the show being telecast on TV: the show is about a nagin, a female snake who, being a shape-shifter, can transform herself into any form of her choosing at will. Rachit knows this teleseral well, and has obviously seen this episode before, because he anticipates most dialogues. In a few minutes, our food arrives. Rachit speaks little during the meal, concentrating on the antics of the nagin who is trying- unsuccessfully- to raise a locket.

After we finish our meal, Rachit goes over to the counter and pays. He has ordered a packet of vegetarian spring rolls to take away for Birjinder’s family. I notice that the restaurant only serves vegetarian meals. “We started serving chicken-based meals a few years ago. But there were few takers,” the cashier at the counter tells me. “Even though we had separate counters preparing vegetarian and non-vegetarian meals, we feared alienating the vegetarians. And anyway, there was too little demand for non-vegetarian items.”

8:30 p.m.: Rachit and I arrive back at the mill, where Mevalal is still working. Rachit goes into Birjinder’s house, bidding us adieu for the night.