Post 80, Abdullahpur Basti, Ludhiana

4:00 p.m.: I meet Rachit outside Kamal flour mill as he makes his way to an electronics shop in the neighbourhood. He informs me that the Bharatiya Janata Party has swept the Uttar Pradesh legislative assembly elections. Sounding and looking thoroughly pleased, Rachit hopes this will be the beginning of a new era for that State.

I accompany him to the electronics shop, where Rachit wants to purchase a TV cable. But the shop is out of stock. Rachit then notices a pair of headphones on the counter, and connects it to his mobile to check the sound system. The shopkeeper then connects the headphones to his own iphone and asks Rachit to check out the sound quality. Rachit loves the superior sound quality but cannot not purchase the headphone as he doesn’t have enough money.

Post 79, Abdullahpur Basti, Ludhiana

6:00 p.m.: It is Rachit’s birthday today. Although he has kept quiet about it, he invites me to join him at Kalki Prasad’s room later this evening. He will cook for us, he says.

“What will you cook?” I ask.

“Chicken curry,” he replies and then follows up: “Will you be able to buy the chicken? Kalki won’t be able to leave the mill and I have some deliveries to make.”

I agree immediately to Rachit’s request. He then instructs me to purchase the chicken from a butcher’s shop near the overbridge. I am perplexed because I know of a butcher in the adjacent lane: Bablu Yadav made it a point to purchase meat from him.

“But he is Muslim,” Rachit tells me. “His stuff is no good.”

I persist: “Bablu liked the meat he sold. Said it was fresh and reliable. But I’ll do as you want me to.”

Rachit relents: “Bablu bought meat from him? Hmmm…. In that case, it should be fine.”

8:30 p.m.: Kalki Prasad has started boiling the meat. Rachit arrives with some spices wrapped up in a paper pouch. Birjinder’s wife has gifted it to him. Rachit takes over the cooking while Kalki prepares the rice and Lallan rolls the chapatis.

9:15 p.m.: Dinner is ready and Rachit can’t wait to tuck into the chicken curry served with rice.

Post 78, Ludhiana Railway Station

9:00 a.m.: Rachit is at the Ludhiana Railway Station. His friend Santosh Yadav, who is employed by Birjinder’s brother-in-law and had helped Rachit find his present job, is returning to Sargana along with a companion. Rachit has asked him to carry back INR 600 to his parents and is here to hand him the money. The train is crowded as is the platform. A posse of policemen in uniform survey the platforms while others in plain clothes walk around with a microphone warning passengers to be wary of drug dealing gangs. Neither Santosh nor his companion manage to secure a seat. Rachit scours different bogies to identify any vacant seats but is unsuccessful.

Nevertheless, Rachit bids Santosh adieu as the train departs some half an hour later.

Post 77, Abdullahpur Basti, Ludhiana

5 p.m.: We are gathered on the terrace of the two-storeyed building in which Ambika Prasad and his family have rented two rooms on the ground floor. Ambika Prasad lives with his wife and daughters in one room, while his brother and son live in the second room. A third room has been rented to an acquaintance of theirs from his village in Gonda, a woman whom everyone calls ‘Aunty’. The first floor is occupied by a Punjabi family.

Ambika Prasad’s co-workers help him in preparing the food for the evening. Mevalal kneads some flour dough while Kalki Prasad heats oil in a kadhai (a deep, thick and circular wok). Hiralal, Ambika’s younger brother and ‘Aunty’s husband roll the dough into small and flat circular shapes, which Kalki Prasad fried in the oil to make pooris, unleavened bread, which guests will eat later in the evening with potato curry.

7:00 p.m.: Ambika’s younger brother brings in the birthday cake. Rachit procures a plastic knife from Birjinder’s home. Ambika’s daughter cuts the birthday cake as guests, now numbering some 50 men, women and children, look on and clap. Ambika, his wife and ‘Aunty’ serve the cake on plastic plates, after which their guests help themselves to pooris and potato curry, along with rice pudding as dessert.

Post 76, Abdullahpur Basti, Ludhiana

2 p.m.: Bablu Yadav calls me to inform me that he is leaving for his village in Gaya. He settled his accounts with Birjinder yesterday, as instructed by the latter a few weeks ago.

5 p.m.: Kamal flour mill is abuzz with activity. Mansharam, the autorickshaw driver who transports the flour to clients across the city, is showing some samples of flour from another mill to Birjinder. Hiralal loads sacks of wheat flour onto the waiting auto. Mevalal sorts the flour into different sacks, helped by an elderly acquaintance of his who has been called in to replace Bablu. Lallan and Kalki Prasad operate the grinding machine. A few minutes later, Kalki Prasad walks over to me and invites me to the birthday party of their co-worker Ambika Prasad’s daughter. The party is scheduled for tomorrow. Kalki Prasad adds:

“Also remember its Rachit’s birthday soon. We must have him throw a party for us.”

6 p.m.: Rachit leaves for the DMC Hospital to attend to Birjinder’s mother.

Post 75, Abdullahpur Basti, Ludhiana

5:00 p.m.: Rachit and I stand outside Kamal flour mill, chatting. Rachit informs me that his mother has advised him not to purchase an inverter since the electricity supply in Sargana has improved considerably.

5:15 p.m.: Bhullan the vegetable vendor joins us. Bhullan informs me that Lalu Prasad Yadav, former Chief Minister of Bihar has been campaigning in the Uttar Pradesh elections in support of the ruling Samajwadi Party. He commends Yadav’s public speaking skills. Rachit retorts: “What rubbish! The man is ill-mannered and doesn’t know how to speak to a civilised audience.”

Bhullan disagrees vehemently: “That’s not true. How can you say that! When Lalu talks, everyone listens.”

Rachit backs down. “Yes, I suppose you are right. People do listen with rapt attention to what he says.”

Bhullan continues to talk about politics, but from a historical perspective. “Do you know Babasaheb Ambedkar?” he asks, referring to the Chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Indian Constitution. I nod in affirmation. “He was a great leader. Neither Nehru nor Gandhi could come to terms with his greatness. They did not appreciate his talents simply because he belonged to the Chamar community.”

I try to correct him by pointing to Ambedkar’s origins in the Mahar community, but Bhullan ignores me and continues:

“Ambedkar was highly educated. Far more educated than either Nehru or Gandhi.”

Post 74, Abdullahpur Basti, Ludhiana

6:00 p.m.: Bhullan stands with his vegetable cart outside Kamal flour mill selling his wares to passers-by. Rachit is chatting with him. I ask Bhullan if he plans to go back to his village in Jaunpur to vote in the upcoming legislative assembly elections scheduled for March 8. Slightly annoyed, he shakes his head and mutters: “What is the point? All politicians make idiots out of us. Why should I care?”

7:00 p.m.: Kamal flour mill is abuzz with activity, although not all workers are in. Vishnu has gone back home to his village in Gonda, where the elections are due on March 11. His co-workers inform me the elections are not the primary reason for his return to the village. Hiralal, whose village in Gorakhpur went to the polls ten days ago, is packing flour into a ten kilo sack for delivery. He asks me, “Why would anyone want to return home to vote? Nobody’s paying for our travel, are they? Who wins elections? The mother*****g politicians win, that’s who. Not us.” Kalki Prasad, who hails from the same village in Gonda as Vishny, assents with Hiralal. As he weighs the sacks of bran and flour before packing them up, he tells me, “It really does not make any sense to return home only to vote.”

Post 73, DMC Hospital, Ludhiana

5:00 p.m.: Birjinder’s aunt has now been shifted into the General Ward. A marked improvement in her health is discernible. Rachit sits by her bedside and brews a glass of lemon juice for her.

5:45 p.m.: Rachit receives a call on his mobile. Birjinder’s aunt is asleep so he speaks in hushed tones. The call is from his friend Saroj who plies an autorickshaw back in Sargana. He talks alternatively to Saroj and with Saroj’s fiancée, whom he calls “rickshaw-vali” in a reference to her husband’s occupation. After a while, he looks away and speaks in even more hushed tones. The call lasts nearly an hour.

6:45 p.m.: Rachit hangs up and turns around. Birjinder’s aunt is still asleep. Rachit informs me that he was also chatting with Saroj’s sister-in-law. I am slightly perplexed.

“Didn’t you say you didn’t talk to her any more?” I enquire.

Rachit smiles and appears to blush but does not say anything.