illness

Post 45, Abdullahpur, Ludhiana

9:00 p.m.: Rachit is at the mill, having just returned from the Dayanand Medical College and Hospital (DMC for short) where Birjinder’s aunt has been admitted earlier today for treatment. He chats with Kalki Prasad and Vishnu about the day when Dasharath arrives. He has finished his first day of work at the grocery store to which he had gone with Rachit the previous day (hyperlink to Journal entry 44). Dasharath informs us that the owner of the store has agreed to increase his starting salary to INR 4500 per month, and that he has promised a further increment in fifteen days. Everyone is very pleased to hear that.

Kalki Prasad advises him: “Hang on to this job, no matter what.”

Rachit disagrees: “That’s rubbish. One should leave a job if they are not happy with it.”

Post 36, Abdullahpur Basti

6:30 p.m.: Vishnu, Mevalal and Dasharath work the grinding machine at Kamal Flour Mill. Ambika  has joined them today after six days of absence: he tells me he has been ill, at which Vishnu scoffs and says, “Arre don’t believe a word of what he says.” They exchange the choicest expletives for a few minutes, after which both get back to work.

Vishnu informs me that Hiralal has moved out of their shared accommodation to live closer to the iron foundry where he works. However, complains Vishnu, Hiralal did not pay him his share of the rent and food before he left. Hiralal’s job of carting goods from the flour mill to its various clients has been taken up by Shamshad Ahmed from a village in Bihar’s Bettiah district, who now joins us at the mill.

7:00 p.m.: Vishnu is packing the flour into delivery sacks for Shamshad Ahmed to cart away on his cycle rickshaw. The sacks are placed on a weighing scale and Vishnu carefully fills the sacks so the measurement shows exactly 10 kilograms. Even as a satisfied Vishnu begins to seal the sack, Shamshad Ahmed intervenes. “Shouldn’t you be adding 20 grams to account for the weight of the sack,” he calls out. “You are a strange man. You are saving your employer’s money and pilfering from innocent customers!!”

Vishnu sheepishly adds 20 grams of flour and seals the bag.

7:15 p.m.: Rachit comes into the mill and loads four 5-kg sacks of flour onto Birjinder’s Active Scooty for delivering to a client who lives in the vicinity. After a five-minute ride, we cross the Railway Line, where the client’s shop is located. After delivering the sacks, Rachit and I ride back.

We pass a locomotive shed on our ride back. Rachit wants to get himself photographed with the diesel engines stationed there. Rachit confidently enters the compound and eggs me on to discard my inhibitions. Once inside, he asks me to click some snaps of his with a few of the engines parked herein. We hang around for about fifteen minutes before making our way out of compound through the regular entrance gate. We note a board that warns trespassers to stay away and greet the guard on duty who ignores us.

Rachit and I continue our ride but do not head for the mill. Instead, Rachit drives the scooty to a fast food joint, eerily named Betal (a Hindi word to refer to phantoms) Fast Food Center. Rachit orders one plates of Manchurian Pakodas (fritters stuffed with cabbage) and we sit down by the television. In no time, Rachit immerses himself in the show being telecast on TV: the show is about a nagin, a female snake who, being a shape-shifter, can transform herself into any form of her choosing at will. Rachit knows this teleseral well, and has obviously seen this episode before, because he anticipates most dialogues. In a few minutes, our food arrives. Rachit speaks little during the meal, concentrating on the antics of the nagin who is trying- unsuccessfully- to raise a locket.

After we finish our meal, Rachit goes over to the counter and pays. He has ordered a packet of vegetarian spring rolls to take away for Birjinder’s family. I notice that the restaurant only serves vegetarian meals. “We started serving chicken-based meals a few years ago. But there were few takers,” the cashier at the counter tells me. “Even though we had separate counters preparing vegetarian and non-vegetarian meals, we feared alienating the vegetarians. And anyway, there was too little demand for non-vegetarian items.”

8:30 p.m.: Rachit and I arrive back at the mill, where Mevalal is still working. Rachit goes into Birjinder’s house, bidding us adieu for the night.

Post 31

6 p.m.: Rachit is working at the flour mill, covered from head to toe in flour dust. Birjinder has deployed him in the mill to cover for the absence of Hiralal as well as Ambika who has been off sick for the last few days. Vishnu, Mevalal and Bablu go about their work as usual.

They all look at me incredulously when I ask if Rachit will be paid extra for his work in the mill. “The malik is very stingy,” Bablu whispers. “He does not pay us for loading and unloading weights onto clients’ vehicles. We have to haggle with them ourselves. Rachit knows better than to expect him to pay even a rupee extra.”

Post 17, Abdullahpur Basti

5:45 p.m.: Rachit is in Dugri, some twenty kilometres south of Abdullahpur Basti. He has gone there to pick up Birjinder’s son from his tuition classes and will now drive about 15 kilometers west, to BRS Nagar. Birjinder’s parents-in-law live in BRS Nagar and his son wants to spend the evening with his grandparents. So, Rachit will drop the boy at his grandparents before driving back. It will take him at least an hour, he says.

6:00 p.m.: I am with Hiralal, Mevalal and Bablu. Mevalal operates the grinding machine; Bablu packs the flour into sacks and readies them for delivery. Hiralal manages the customers. Vishnu is on leave today.

“His pen*s is rotting,” Hiralal informs me with a mischievous glint in his eyes. I look obviously alarmed, so he continues: “He has been going to Sherpura for the previous four days. He refuses to use a condom. What do you expect?” Sherpura is Ludhiana’s red light area.

6:15 p.m.: Vishnu’s room is locked. When I phone him, he tells me he has stepped out to meet a friend who is not well. He will only be back after 8:30 p.m., he says.

7:00 p.m.: I return to the flour mill. Birjinder is managing the counter, and he asks me to sit next to him. As we chat, he leans forward and whispers,

“These workers- they do not respect us at all. But we are helpless- we can’t fire them because they have been here so long, they know their stuff! But they are wayward- if they receive a call from their homes in the village, they just pick up their jholas (satchels) and leave.”

I ask him if there are any provisions for holidays in his mill.

“What’s the point?, he replies. “They holiday whenever they want to.”

8:00 p.m.: Rachit has just returned to the mill. I ask him about Vishnu. He laughs and asks me not to worry. Vishnu is a sensible boy, he assures me, and will not waste his time or money on such things.

8:15 p.m.: Rachit shows me one of the three whats app groups to which he is added. The one he is showing me now is called Bihar Yuva Chhatra Samiti. Lalit adds that this is a political group, convened by a university student based in Pipariya, near Trivenigunj (about thirty kilometres south of Sargana). He shows me a photo of his with Pappu Yadav, former Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav’s estranged brother-in-law, taken during the election campaign in October 2015.

Rachit is also on facebook. He tells me takes care not to add too many women as ‘friends’. He first checks their profiles and adds them only if they are ‘decent’. After all, his parents use his phone regularly when he goes home. Here in Ludhiana, Birjinder’s son also uses his phone often.