fiancée

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.

Post 40, Abdullahpur Basti

5:30 p.m.: Rachit stands at the gate of Kamal Flour Mill. He has just finished loading several sacks of wheat into a pickup van which will deliver the sacks to clients across the city. After seeing off the van, he goes inside Birjinder’s house. Birjinder sits at the counter as usual, looking grumpier than usual. He barely acknowledges my salutations as I walk past him to go inside the mill.

Both the grinding machines are on today, with Vishnu operating one and Dasharath the other. Vishnu looks forlorn, and takes frequent brakes during his work, with a faraway look in his eyes. Dasharath quips:

“He has been talking to his fiancée the entire morning. They just can’t have enough of each other.”

Vishnu then calls someone on the mobile (Dasharath surmises it's his fiancée) and starts talking in a very low tone. Ambika, who has been preparing sacks of wheat for delivering them, looks at Vishnu and rolls his eyes. Pointing to the counter, he tells Dasharath that had Birjinder not been sitting at the counter, he would have left for the day.

6:00 p.m.: Mevalal comes into the mill. He announces to whoever cares to listen that the bones of his spine are thinning (a symptom of osteoporosis), which is why his waist has been aching. Mevalal has just been to the doctor, who diagnosed his condition and has prescribed his some medication.

6:15 p.m.: Dasharath turns to Kalki Prasad Yadav, who has started working at the mill from earlier today. Nearly fifty years old, Kalki Prasad Yadav is from the same village in Gonda as Vishnu. He is much taller than the others, due to which they have nicknamed him ‘Lumboo’, The Tall One. Dasharath hands him two hundred-rupee notes, and asks him to purchase chicken for their dinner that evening.

7:30 p.m.: Vishnu sighs that he is afflicted by the “disease of thinking too much”. “What are you thinking about?,” Dasharath chuckles, with a mischievous glint in his eyes.

“Life,” replies Vishnu. He is almost immediately distracted by three young women he sees walking down the street. “You see the one in the middle,” he points out. I nod. “I think I fancy her. But her father is in the police.”

“Let's have some chai,” Vishnu says in the next breath, and whips out a twenty-rupee note from his pocket and asks Dasharath to make arrangements. Dasharath complies.

7:45 p.m.: Rachit comes into the mill. He casually tells Vishnu of the fun we had the previous evening at the concert. Vishnu shrugs: “How does it matter? There’s a concert on tonight as well!” Rachit springs to attention.

“Where? When?” he asks.

Vishnu snaps: “Sherpura (referring Ludhiana’s red light area). There’s a concert there every night.”

Rachit scoffs as if to say “There he goes again,” and then asks about Vishnu’s dinner plans. “Let's have chicken curry,” Rachit suggests and hands him a 50-rupee note. Vishnu looks at it disdainfully and asks him for more.

“Aren’t we drinking?” he asks.

“Well, I can’t afford to give any more. I don’t earn Rs. 10,000 per month like you do.”, Rachit retorts.

“Yeah yeah. But you know that’s too little,” Vishnu launches into another conversation. “I’ve asked him to raise my salary to Rs 12,000. If he doesn’t, I’m going to leave this place.”  

“Mevalal will also join us, won’t he? Ask him to contribute.” Rachit brings their conversation back on topic.

Vishnu assents: “Yeah, okay, ask him to arrange for drinks.” Rachit leaves to inform Mevalal.

8:00 p.m. A sudden fog descends. Dasharath returns with chai. “I’m not going to continue here from next month,” he tells Vishnu. “You know he pays me only Rs 8,000.”

“What will you do then?” Vishnu and I ask him.

“We’ll see.”

Post 38, Ludhiana

5:45 p.m.: I am at the mill, chatting with Dasharath, who weighs the flour before it is packed into sacks. Vishnu spreads out a mat on sealed sacks of bran for me to sit. Dasharath plans to purchase a Jio simcard for his mobile phone since it will allow him a number of free calls. He has so far been using Vishnu’s mobile to make calls, but Vishnu needs the phone far more than he does: after all, Vishnu has to speak to his fiancée the entire day, Dasharath chuckles. He will buy a mobile for himself in about two months.

Dasharath tells me I resemble his cousin brother who lives in Assam, before turning to the next sack of flour.

Vishnu wants to know the price of gold. He asks me to look up the price of gold online: he wants to purchase one tola of gold for his fiancée. A google search indicates that 22 carats of gold cost INR 2700. One tola is almost 11 grams, so a tola would cost nearly INR 30,000, I inform him. Vishnu’s face falls. Muttering that he had hoped prices would have reduced, he goes back to sealing the delivery sacks.

6:15 p.m.: Rachit meets me in the mill. His brother tells him that he has managed to exchange the old 1000 rupee-note which were rendered illegal following the announcement about demonetisation. However, Rachit is not convinced: he will call his uncle later today to confirm.

7:30 p.m.: Bhullan arrives in front of the mill with his vegetable cart. I ask about his well-being. He complains about the losses caused by demonetisation. “Modi has finished my business,” he rues.