co-workers

Post 13, Ludhiana

6:15 p.m.: Lalit and I chat on the phone. Lalit tells me that he and his co-workers are meeting up at Vishnu’s room. It’s the last Monday of the month, the monthly holiday to which everyone looks forward. He invites me to join them.

6:30 p.m.: Vishnu’s room is less than 500 metres away from Ratan Flour Mill. In fact, he shares it with Pawan Yadav, Hiralal Paswan and his brother-in-law, and Raj Kumar Yadav. While Raj Kumar has gone back home, the others are all around this evening. Their neighbour Sanjay Verma has also joined them. A pot of rice sits on the stove at the far end of the room, and Vishnu is arranging the utensils in which to cook the dal (lentil soup) as an accompaniment to the rice. He came back from the railway station an hour ago after dropping off his younger brother who had come visiting from their home in Gonda.

As the evening progresses, I interview Pawan about his life and work in Ludhiana. The others sit back and relax. Sanjay watches videos on his mobile. Vishnu chats with his wife. They have only met during the wedding as they observe gauna, a custom according to which husband and wife live together only after they have both reached a certain age.  Moreover, since Vishnu lives in Ludhiana for most months during a year, and she is studying for her BA, they thought it best that she lives in her natal home rather than at his.

7:30 p.m.: Rachit calls me and asks to speak to Vishnu. Vishnu refuses, since he is still chatting.

8:00 p.m.: Vishnu completes his call, and returns Rachit’s message. I have completed interviewing Pawan for now and ask if I can interview Vishnu. He agrees, on condition that I do not ask him about his work at the Flour Mill.

“My family does not know that I work at a mill. What will they think? What will my wife think? So much of my time is spent delivering flour bags to customers, riding a cycle rickshaw: you know what that does to man’s masculinity, don’t you?” he asks somewhat shame-facedly.

I assure him that I will neither probe into topics he does not want to discuss nor share the contents of the interview with anyone else without his permission.

9:00 p.m.: We break for dinner. Vishnu insists I join them since Rachit has instructed him to ensure that I have my dinner before I leave. I happily agree.

9:30 p.m.: Rachit finally arrives, after completing various chores in Birjender’s household. Apparently, the monthly holiday is only for the mill workers, not for Rachit whose primary employment is as a driver and domestic help.

Post 12, Ludhiana

5:30 p.m.: Rachit and I talk briefly on the phone. He tells me he is doing all the deliveries for the flour mill today, and has been out on deliveries since 12 mid-day.

6:30 p.m.: I am by the entrance to the Flour Mill, chatting with fruit vendor Shyam Snehi. Rachit drives in the delivery autorickshaw, along with Ambika Prasad, who works at the mill with Vishnu and Hiralal. Ambika Prasad gets off at the mill, while Rachit tells me he has one last delivery to make, and will join me in a few minutes.

Ambika and I walk into the mill. Hiralal is packing the flour into 10-kg delivery bags. His shirt is powdered with flour. Visnhu arrives at the same time, from Harjinder’s second mill next door. His black shirt is almost white. He starts sewing the mouths of the bags that Hiralal has filled.

6:45 p.m.: A client has arrived at the counter, where Harjinder is presently managing. The client pays Brijinder, who scribbles the quantity of flour the client has paid for on a piece of paper. The client brings over the piece of paper into the room where we are sitting. Hiralal takes a look at the figure, and weighs out the flour as appropriate, packs up the flour in a delivery bag and hands it over to the client.

7:10 p.m.: Rachit returns from his deliveries. He tells me he has found his brother’s address, which is in his phone. He takes out his Samsung Android, retrieves the address from the memo app in which he has stored it, and sends it over to me via whatsapp.

He heads out to his room to bathe, and will join us in a little while, he says.

 

8:00 p.m.: Rachit joins us. He has had his bath and completed several other chores for Birjinder’s household. I am about to leave, so he offers to drop me off on his scooty (a light two-wheel automobile) to a convenient point.

8:05 p.m.: As he wheels out his scooty, Rachit calls his brother Suraj on the mobile. He asks if Suraj has returned from work. I can’t hear what Suraj says, but Rachit sounds agitated with whatever his brother’s response was.

“You shouldn’t work so late,” Rachit says. “Leave this job and come to Jallandhar.”

Suraj probably says something about wanting a smartphone, because Rachit tells him, “What will you do with a smartphone. You can’t handle your simple Samsung, how will you manage a smartphone?”

After a pause, he says, “Alright, please wait a few months. When I buy a new smartphone, you can have mine.”

Rachit finishes talking to his brother, and mutters how he never liked Delhi, and wishes his brother sees sense and comes away to Punjab.

He starts his scooty and we drive off to the bridge.

Post 10, Ludhiana

5:45 p.m.: I am at Guddu’s vegetable kiosk not far from Ratan Flour Mill. I have just spoken to Rachit on the phone. Rachit will be here in ten minutes. As I wait for Rachit, Guddu tells me that his monthly income is just not enough to meet even basic expenditures.

6:15 p.m.: There is a slight drizzle. Rachit arrives at the grocery. He has been very busy. Indeed, he is always busy. At the mill, there’s always something to do. He and his co-workers get one day off in a month, the last Monday of each month. He tells me his brother Suraj is now working at a factory in Delhi which manufactures agarbattis (incense sticks).

We walk down the alley towards the flour mill. Rachit hails a 55-year old man and starts talking to him about a delivery. He tells me the man’s name is Bablu and he works at a neighbouring mill.

Rachit and I reach the flour mill. Birjender is not at the counter today. His younger brother, Surinder, is. Rachit ignores Surinder and walks right in. Once inside, he mutters that he is not on speaking terms with Surinder, but doesn’t tell me why. Vishnu is sitting on an upturned drum filling flour into plastic delivery bags. I also meet 30-year old Hiralal, whose home is in a village near Gorakhpur, UP. Rachit sews the mouths of the bags with a sewing machine. Hiralal them up by the side of the room.

After a while, Rachit leaves to go to his room which is on the third floor of Harjinder’s house. I stay on chatting with Vishnu and Hiralal.