Post 70, Abdullahpur Basti, Ludhiana

6:15 p.m.: Birjinder stands inside Kamal Flour Mill, his hands folded and watching his employees at work. Bablu and Kalki Prasad pack the flour into delivery sacks, while Ambika Prasad operates the grinding machine. After some time, he returns to sit at the counter.

6:30 p.m.: Rachit walks into the mill and announces to no one in particular that he has to buy things from the Camp area. I offer to accompany him. He has been asked by Birjinder’s wife to purchase some bhajiyas (fritters) for their evening snack. We reach the shop in ten minutes and make our purchases. Rachit offers me some bhajiyas from the packet to taste.

On our way back, Rachit tells me that his brother Suraj left their home to travel to Forbesgunj earlier today. He will leave for Patna tomorrow, from where he will travel to Sasaram, where he has been offered a job as a security guard.

As we reach the mill, Rachit remembers that it is Valentine’s Day today and asks me why I am not with my girlfriend. I tell him I am single and ask him about his romantic interests. I pointedly inquire about the sister of his friend’s fiancé, with whom he talks often. He informs me matter-of-factly that although they used to chat earlier, now they do not.

Changing the conversation, Rachit asks me if I wanted to join him and Bablu this evening for dinner: “Bablu is cooking chicken curry,” he winked. I agreed, reminding myself to note Rachit’s obvious disregard for some Hindus’ concern that no meat ought to be consumed on a Tuesday.

8:00 p.m.: Bablu and I are walking back from the market to his room, having purchased half-a kilo of chicken. Bablu informs me that he will leave the mill on the 17th.

“Why?”, I ask bewildered.

“Birjinder asked me to leave,” Bablu replies glumly. “I mentioned to Mevalal that I would take leave for a few days from the 17th of next month. He must have ratted on me with Birjinder. Anyway, Birjinder called me and told me I need not bother to wait till then. He asked me to clear my accounts by the 17th of this month.”

“But are you not going to complain?,” I persist.

“Whats the point. Employers never listen to labourers, only to sycophants,” comes the reply.

Dinner is ready, and I call Rachit to tell him he can come.