Post 87, DMC Hospital Ludhiana

6:30 p.m.: Rachit has come to the DMC Hospital pharmaceutical counter to purchase some medicines for Birjinder’ aunt. He seems very enthusiastic and is keen to complete the purchase and return to Birjinder’s house as quickly as he can.

“It’s the final episode of the Colours Shining Star competition tonight,” he exclaims referring to the finale of a singing competition hosted by the TV channel Colours.

I stare at him blankly. “Have you been living under a rock?” Rachit asks me. “Maithili Kumari from Bihar is one of the finalists, aren’t you excited?” I can’t pretend I am.

Rachit persists. “Please will you download the Colours App and vote for her?” he asks me. Contestants for the program are judged not only by a panel of experts but also by audiences who vote for their favourites.

I ask if Maithili Kumari is singing in Bhojpuri, Maithili or any other Bihari language. “No, she sings Hindi classical stuff” he replies.

Extracting a pledge from me that I will download the Colours app on my phone and vote for Maithili Kumari, Rachit kickstarts his scooter.

Post 82, Abdullahpur Basti, Ludhiana

6:15 p.m.: I greet Birjinder who sits at the counter to the entrance of the flour mill. He asks me how I have been. I tell his I’ve been slightly unwell.

“Oh no- you should have said. We’d have admitted you in the hospital with my aunt. We could have got a discount for an additional patient,” Birjinder says before bursting into laughter.

Reeling from Birjinder’s morbid sense of humour, I walk into the mill, where Om Prakash and Kalki Prasad operate the grinding machine. Om Prakash and Kalki Prasad are also discussing the results of the UP legislative assembly elections. their conversation went along the following lines.

Om Prakash: The BJP won UP because of Modi. He destroyed his opponents completely.

Kalki Prasad: Yes, with Modi at the helm, they did not have a chance.

Om Prakash: Well, you see, he is after all from the Ahir community [reference to the cowherd caste]. He knows a thing or two about wielding lathis (batons).

Kalki Prasad (vehemently): Arre, no way. Modi is not Ahir. He is Teli [reference to the oil-presser caste]. It has nothing to do with caste. Modi is simply brilliant.

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 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 68, Abdullahpur Basti, Ludhiana

5:45 p.m.: Kamal Flour Mill is abuzz with activity. Birjinder sits at the counter to the entrance, dealing with his clients’ demands. Vishnu is operating the grinding machine, while Bablu Yadav and Hiralal Paswan prepare sacks of flour for deliveries. Kalki Prasad Yadav lines up the sealed sacks to one side of the mill for Vishnu and Rachit to deliver to clients as appropriate.

Rachit is away at the DMC Hospital, as he has every single day over the last week. Bablu discusses his plans to share his new room with a neighbour from his village in Gaya who has come to Ludhiana in search of work. He tells me Kalki Prasad has asked him about sharing the room and splitting the cost, but he has refused.

“Why?” I ask perplexed.

“Have you seen the state of the room in which the man lives? He’s very untidy. I want someone neat and tidy to share my room,” he replies as he holds the mouth of the sack open through which Hiralal pours the flour.

Post 66, Abdullahpur Basti, Ludhiana

6:00 p.m.: Rachit is at the DMC Hospital, attending to Birjinder’s mother. She has now been shifted out of intensive care into the general ward because of the definite improvement in her health.

Rachit and I talk about the impending legislative assembly elections. Rachit tells me he is voter identity card is only valid for Bihar, which means he cannot cast his vote here. “I can’t vote in Bihar either,” he adds quickly, “unless I am physically there during the elections.” Rachit opens his wallet and lays out the plethora of government documents that prove his identity. His voter identity card and his Aadhar card are both registered in Sargana, while his driving license is based in Ludhiana.

Post 59, DMC Hospital, Ludhiana

7 p.m.: Rachit whatsapps me to ask if I will be free this evening to accompany him to the hospital. I agree.

8 p.m.: Rachit picks me up from my room in Arati Chowk and we drive to the hospital. He is wearing the black jacket he wore yesterday. We reach the hospital in fifteen minutes.

8:15 p.m.: Rachit heads into the ICU where Birjinder’s aunt is admitted. I wait in the area outside. He emerges from inside the ICU with a gate pass and a prescription for an ultrasound which needs to be performed on Birjinder’s aunt. We go downstairs to the reception area where Rachit has to make the payment for the ultrasound. One of Birjinder’s brothers-in-law, Parminder, trusts Rachit with his credit card so that he can make all hospital-related payments with ease. Rachit swipes the card to make the payment of INR 13,500.

8:45 p.m.: Birjinder telephones Rachit to instruct him to stay at the hospital tonight. Although the aunt’s daughter will also be staying, somebody will have to be on call to do any leg work if required.

Rachit and I go to the cafeteria to buy ourselves some coffee. He borrows my power bank so he can charge his mobile through the night.