Post 35, Abdullahpur Basti

3 p.m.: Rachit calls to tell me that he wants to purchase a pair of shoes this evening. He asks me to come to Abdullahpur as soon as I can.

4 p.m.: I reach Kamal Flour Mill. Birjinder is entertaining some guests and Rachit serves them water and chai. I wait for him at the mill, chatting with Mewalal and Dasharath. In a few minutes, Rachit pulls out his scooter from the garage and we speed away to a shop by the overbridge. Rachit pulls up here, and we go into the shop. He greets the shopkeeper, a 50-something Sikh gentleman, and requests him to have a word with Birjinder’s wife over the phone. Rachit dials the number on his mobile and hands his device over to the shopkeeper. The shopkeeper and Birjinder’s wife chat for a few minutes. Once they finish, the shopkeeper hangs up and asks Rachit to have a look around the shop. He instructs his shop assistant, a boy who does not look older than 15, to help Rachit make his selection.

Rachit spends several minutes trying on different shoes. He does not like light colours, because all the manual work he undertakes. He is also particular about the size, and finds size 9 comfortable. Rachit finally settles for one that he likes. 

He then asks to see slip-ons, which he wants to purchase for Birjinder’s son. We click snaps of several slip-ons on my mobile and forward those to Birjinder’s son over whatsapp. Once he approves, Rachit takes over both items to the counter and asks the shopkeeper the cost.

“You want to pay for these?” the shopkeeper asks.

Flushed with embarrassment, Rachit replies, “Of course.”

“Rs. 490,” the shopkeeper says.

Rachit adds, “I hope this is the correct price”, handing over five Rs 100-notes.

“Yes, yes”, the shopkeeper laughs as he returns the balance.

Rachit and I drive back to the mill.

6:00 p.m.: We reach the mill. As Rachit parks his scooter, I chat with Bhullan who is standing with his cart outside the mill. “Modi has destroyed my business,” he rues. “Demonetisation has meant people have no cash to spend. Business is ruined.” He wheels his cart away.

6:15 p.m.: I go inside the mill, where Vishnu has joined Mewalal and Dasharath. Visnhu informs me that Bablu, their co-worker at the mill, has returned to attend a marriage in his village, which is near Gaya. He will stay there for a few weeks and return with his wife. Vishnu used to live with Bablu when he had first come to Ludhiana. Back then, Bablu’s wife and daughter also lived with him in Ludhiana.

“One day, Bablu’s daughter borrowed my mobile to call her brother. We started chatting after that,” Vishnu tells me as he weighs the flour before Mewalal and Dasharath begin to pack it for delivery.

6:30 p.m.: Rachit asks me to accompany him on his scooter to the grocery store in Dhuri Lines, about a kilometre away. There, he purchases refined vegetable oil, sugar and some other items. On our ride back, we stop by at a shop that stores soaps of all kinds- soap for baths, soap for laundry, etc. Although Rachit does not buy anything, he says he will purchase some soaps from here before he goes home next year in July.

7:00 p.m.: Rachit wants to meet Mansharam, who sells milk by day and loads sacks of flour for Abdullahpur’s several mill-owners by night. Mansharam’s children, two sons and one daughter, are studying on a wooden cot strung together with jute ropes. In the wake of the demonetisation of high-value currency notes, Mansharam has asked Rachit to exchange the now-illegal currency notes for the newly-minted ones. However, as Rachit has simply not had the time to do this, so he wants to return the notes to Mansharam so he can make alternative arrangements before the deadline for exchanging old notes for new ones expires on December 31.  

7:15 p.m.: I return to the mill, where Vishnu and Dasharath are still working.

Visnhu: I will introduce you to country-made liquor. You will then understand what ‘getting drunk’ means.

Dasharath: You drink country-made liquor? You’ll die earlier than those who drink foreign liquor!

(Turning to me)

Have you heard this song: Dawai Jaise Kaam Karait?

I shake my head. Dasharath asks me to download the song from youtube and play it for Vishnu. I do so. Vishnu listens intently, with the din of the mill as a backdrop, obviously enjoying the raunchy lyrics. He tells me that Dasharath – despite being younger than him and having just arrived from Muzaffarpur- is far more “experienced”.

“Dasharath has introduced Mewalal and me to loads of ‘triple x’ movies,” Vishnu says, while Dasharath chuckles, his eyes gleaming with pride at being thus appreciated by his older co-worker.  

8:30 p.m.: Vishnu decides to call it a day. Dasharath follows suit.