Post 88, Abdullahpur Basti, Ludhiana

7:00 p.m.: I accompany Rachit as he drives over to a retailer in the neighbourhood to collect pending payments on Birjinder’s behalf. He informs me that construction of their house in Sargana has started, and is estimated to cost them INR 200,000. Rachit wired INR 5,000 yesterday to his father so that work could commence. This money included the INR 4,000 that he had saved over the last few months as well as INR 1,000 he borrowed from Birjinder’s wife.

“Has there been any further talk about your departure?” I enquire.

“The malik has asked me to stay on for another month, till the end of May,” he replies. He then adds: “Parminder is not happy that I will be away. He says the old lady needs a caregiver right away. I assured him that I would return within a month. He has now agreed.”

Rachit kickstarts his scooter. I sit behind him, and he drives back to the flour mill.

8:00 p.m.: Bhullan stands with his cart outside the flour mill. Om Prakash asks him to prepare some snacks for him. Bhullan does as requested, but Om Prakash walks away with the pouch without paying him. I call after Om Prakash, “Panditji…”

“Why do you call him Pandit?” Bhullan asks me, a frown discernible on his face.

“Everyone in the mill calls him Pandit,” I reply, referring to the usual practice of referring to a man of the Brahman community (as Om Prakash is) as Pandit.

“He is no priest. He is no Pandit.” Bhullan tells me firmly.

8:15 p.m.: Inside the mill, a client asks Om Prakash to carry a few sacks of flour to his waiting van. Despite being idle at that moment, Om Prakash promptly directs him to Lallan.

8:30 p.m.: Bablu is back from his village in Gaya. He is winding up for the day. I am surprised, since he has always been categorical about not working a minute beyond 7 p.m.

“Are you working overtime?” I ask.

“Yes,” Bablu replies, somewhat wearily.

I want to ask him if he is being paid, but at that moment Birjinder’s younger brother enters the mill and I drop the conversation.