construction

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.

Post 86, Arati Chowk, Ludhiana

6:15 p.m.: Rachit comes to my room to look me up: I have been unwell. We sit on the terrace since there is no electricity and the room is too dark.

Rachit informs me that he plans to return to Sargana on May 5. The brother of his friend Santosh, who left for Sagana last month (hyperlink to journal entry 78), might be leaving Ludhiana that day, so Rachit will try to go home with him. I enquire if Birjinder will allow him to leave: as driver, one of Rachit’s responsibilities is to drop off and pick up Birjinder’s children from school.

Downcast, Rachit tells me that Birjinder has asked him to leave. The job. “He told me I am free to go back to Sargana whenever I want. He also told me that when I return, I need not come to his place. Basically, he has sacked me.”

I am stunned. “Hasn’t his wife objected? I thought she relies on you for her shopping needs,” I ask.

“It was her idea,” he replies. “Birjinder’s aunt is moving into their house and will be living on the ground floor. They will have additional expenses and say they cannot afford a driver any more.”

I ask him what he proposes to do.

Rachit sighs: “Birjinder’s cousin Parminder wants me to attend to the old lady (Birjinder’s aunt) once she is discharged from the hospital. He has asked me to work for him.”

I am relieved. “So you will be at the same house, just that your employer will be different,” I clarify.

“Yes, but she will not need caring forever, will she?” Rachit mumbles. He continues wearily: “I wish I had a proper job. I don’t mind being a driver. But it would be nice to have a job where I was required me to be on duty from nine to five.”

Rachit begins to talk about the situation at home. “We are building a house. My father has asked me to send them some money. But I hardly have any savings. I will try to work an additional month for Birjinder: that way I will have more to send home.

“At any rate, if I work for Parminder, I will ask him for a raise. I cannot continue to work for such a pittance.”

Rachit looks at his watch. Its 7:15. He gets up to leave. I walk him downstairs to his scooter.

Post 9, Ludhiana

12 noon.: I am at Ratan Flour Mill, owned by Birjender Singh, Rachit’s employer. Birjender’s sister is in town, so Rachit is chauffeuring her and her family to the town’s malls. Birjender tells me that he hired Rachit on the recommendation of his brother-in-law, for whom Rachit had briefly worked. He says Rachit is like family and that he completely trusts Rachit with his family and even business matters. Thanks to Birjender’s efforts, it appears, Rachit obtained a driving license in Ludhiana.

2 p.m.: Rachit is free from his chores for a while. He introduces me to the workers at the flour mill, with whom he appears to enjoy a good rapport. Only two workers are in the mill at the moment. One of them is Jagat who is about 50. The other is 30-year old Vishnu. Both are from UP. Although they work at the mill, they make it a point to go back to their rural homes from time to time.

2:30 p.m.: Rachit tells me his brother Suraj is in Delhi. Although both travelled together to Ludhiana, Suraj preferred to go further afield to Jalandhar where he planned to work as a construction labourer. However, he changed his mind within a few days and travelled instead to Delhi, where he is working as a construction labourer for a retail outlet in Khajuri Khas, a town in North-East Delhi.