birthday party

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.