Post 71, Abdullahpur Basti, Ludhiana

7:00 p.m.: Rachit stands at the entrance of the mill, engrossed in his mobile. I ask him what he is up to? He shows me the models of the inverter he has been exploring on the Amazon website. The one he likes, a Luminous model with a battery strength of 15 Ah, costs INR 11,500. But he doesn’t know of any retailer in Sargana’s vicinity who would sell it on the payment of instalments. As he found out a few days ago,  although sellers in Ludhiana would allow him to pay for the device in instalments, he anticipates it would be simply too heavy for him to carry it on the train back.

7:30 p.m.: Rachit and I continue to talk. I ask him about Suraj’s job in Sasaram. Rachit purses his lips before telling me that it was all a scam. Suraj had been promised a job as a security guard. But on reaching Sasaram, he and his father were told the job entailed recruiting members to a marketing network and sell soaps and other washing items. Suraj refused to become involved. Rachit turns back to his phone, now searching for parcel delivery options.

8:00 p.m.: As he mulls over possible solutions, Rachit suddenly realises its times for his favourite teleserial Kalash. The serial has taken an exciting turn, according to him: the female protagonist drowned in a river as a result of foul play a few episodes ago but has now returned in a different body to take revenge against her tormentors.

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 57, Arati Chowk, Ludhiana

4:30 p.m.: Dasharath calls me to chat since we haven’t spoken in a long while. He tells me he has been very busy, working at a convenience store where Rachit helped him obtain employment.

5:30 p.m.: I arrive at Kamal Flour Mill. Rachit is away in Model Town, where Birjinder’s wife and children have gone shopping. I sit by, writing out my observations as Bablu, Mevalal, Kalki Prasad and Hiralal continue their work at the mill.

7:00 p.m.: Rachit and I chat on the phone, while I continue writing my notes at the mill. Rachit tells me they are now at Agarnagar, and will be back in another hour.

8:30 p.m.: Rachit returns with Birjinder’s family. Birjinder’s wife and children emerge from the black Nissan hatchback laden with stuffed polythene bags. Rachit reverses the car into Birjinder’s tiny garage as if it were the easiest thing in the world. He steps into the mill, exchanges a quick wink with me to say hi and bye and carries a 5 kg sack of wheat flour into the house.

I sit about a little longer before taking leave of the others.

Post 47, Abdullahpur Basti, Ludhiana

3:00 p.m.: The mill is closed today, it being the last Monday of the month. Bablu, Mevalal and Kalki Prasad have gathered together for a party at Vishnu’s room, where they are roasting chicken liver as accompaniment to their drinks. A fourth person, who I do not know personally, also joins them. He lives in the same building as Vishnu. Kalki Prasad asks him to arrange some cannabis.

“No problem! I know two policemen who supply this sort of thing,” the man guffaws. “You will have it in an hour.” The man taps the keypad of his phone and speaks into it when the connection is established.

Bablu finishes his peg, and leaves the gathering to return to his own room.

4:30 p.m.: I take leave of Vishnu and his companions and leave for Bablu’s room. On the way, I see Rachit standing at the balcony of the first floor of Birjinder’s house, cleaning the window panes. We exchange greetings. I ask him why he didn’t join the others at Vishnu’s house. He shrugs and mouths, “Too much work”. Then he points his thumb to his mouth to ask if I had a peg. I affirm. He laughs and goes back to his work while I continue my way to Bablu’s room.

4:45 p.m.: Bablu is preparing his dinner. He is at it earlier than usual, since it’s a holiday. As he fries the chicken pieces, I ask him about Hiralal returning to work in the mill.

“Birjinder must have offered his a raise. Otherwise, why would he return?”

I nod. Bablu continues:

“But Hira will not tell. That is Birjinder’s strategy. He increases an individual worker’s wage, but extracts a promise that the worker will not discuss this with the others.”

Post 46, Abdullahpur Basti, Ludhiana

5:00 p.m.: I am outside the mill, chatting with Bhullan. Rachit, who has been upstairs running errands for Birjinder’s wife, comes downstairs to the mill. He tells me that the store owner who hired Dasharath had earlier asked him, Rachit, to work for him. “He was willing to pay anything to have me work at his shop. I could have asked him for as much as INR 7000.”

“How much are you earning now?” I enquire.

“INR 4000.” He replies, and adds that Birjinder provides him with food and accommodation as well.

“But why are you staying on then?” I ask perplexed.

“Ah- its complicated,” he looks away as we walk into the mill, where Vishnu is operating the grinding machine. Once inside the mill, he adds:

One of our neighbours Santosh Yadav worked as an agricultural labourer on the farm owned by Birjinder’s brother-in-law. I happened to be in Punjab looking for a job, when they needed a driver. So Santosh tipped me off and asked me to meet them. I did. They liked me, and then hired me. But after a few months, they wanted a professional driver, and they hired one. Around that time, Birjinder too was looking for someone to drive his car and run errands, and asked his brother-in-law for advice. That was when I started working for Birjinder.

I am here because Birjinder’s brother-in-law set me up with him. And I got the job there because of my neighbour Santosh Yadav: I am very grateful for his help. If I cease working for Birjinder, his brother-in-law will be upset with Santosh Yadav, who got me the job in the first place. Santosh’s credibility is at stake.

Rachit asks Vishnu for some gutkha (tobacco flakes). “You earn so much you should share it with others,” he taunts Vishnu.

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 43, Abdullahpur Basti, Ludhiana

6:45 p.m.: Mevalal, Hiralal and Kalki work the grinding machines at the mill. Vishnu and Bablu have stepped out to make some deliveries and Rachit is busy finishing chores for Birjinder’s household. Dasharath is also hanging around at the mill, chatting with the others. He is no longer employed at the mill, but Birjinder has allowed him to live in the adjoining quarters till he finds a job. Dasharath wants to purchase a pair of shoes, and asks me to accompany him. I agree.

We walk towards the next lane where we stop at the first shop we come across. Dasharath views the shoes displayed on the rack and decides to enter the shop and make further enquiries. The sales assistant, who could not have been older than 22 years old, asks him if he wants to buy sports shoes, to which Dasharath replies in the affirmative. The sales assistant then lays out several specimens for Dasharath to try. Dasharath is particularly enamoured of a red-coloured shoe with a black border, and asks for its price.

“INR 800,” the assistant replies.

Dasharath pauses. He has only INR 600 with him, as he told me on our way in to the shop.

“Can you be a bit more reasonable with the price?” he asks the assistant.

“What is your budget?” the assistant enquires.

“INR 500,” Dasharath replies.

“Seriously? What did you expect to buy for INR 500?” the assistant taunts Dasharath before proceeding to clear away the counter and show us less expensive specimens. But Dasharath does not like what is on offer.

We exit the shop and walk along. I suggest to him that purchasing shoes online might be cheaper, but Dasharath does not like the idea at all. “How can one buy something so important without seeing it with their own eyes and trying them on first,” he asks in near shock.

We come across another shoe-selling shop. Dasharath likes two pairs of shoes displayed on the rack. Dasharath buys a pair that looks extremely stylish even though the material is not as good as the other one. Thoroughly pleased with his purchase, Dasharath makes his way back home.

Post 42, Abdullahpur Basti

6:00 p.m.: Bablu has returned from his village in Gaya and is at the mill. So are Vishnu, Ambika, Mevalal and Dasharath. Both the machines in the mill are operating today. Ambika and Mevalal operate the machines while Vishnu and Dasharath package the sacks. Bablu stacks the sealed sacks against the wall so they are ready to be loaded onto the delivery van.

Vishnu shows me an app he installed on his Android which helps him download Urdu shayaris or couplets. He tells us, rather cryptically, that he will send the shayaris to someone he loves.

7:00 p.m.: Rachit returns. He had driven Birjinder’s son to the market so he could buy some cards for Christmas and New Year’s. As soon as he comes in, and hidden from Birjinder’s view, Vishnu and Dasharath gather a fistful of flour and shower him with these. Again, hiding from Birjinder’s view, Rachit retaliates by hurling not one but two fistfuls of flour at them. These exchanges continue for a few minutes, their screams of delight drowned by the din of the grinding machines.

7:15 p.m.: Hiralal comes into the mill, having just delivered sacks of flour to clients. He used to work at Kamal flour mill till mid-November, when he had found another job at an iron foundry and left. His face looks ashen and he does not talk to anyone in the mill. One by one, he hauls the sacks that Bablu has stacked up by the wall and loads them onto a waiting autorickshaw.

“Here’s the richest of us all. The man earns Rs. 10,000 per month.” Rachit remarks. Without a word, Hiralal leaves.

7:30 p.m.: Ambika halts the grinding machine and starts packing the flour into delivery sacks. Dasharath and Vishnu huddle together, calculating something. Vishnu first enters ‘8,000’ into the calculator, which is the salary promised to Dasharath. He then divides it by 30 to compute his daily wage rate: they obtain the figure of Rs. 266. They then multiply this figure by 22 to calculate the number of days Dasharath has worked at the mill: a figure of Rs. 5,822. From this figure Dasharath deducts Rs. 3,300- the amount that Birjinder ‘advances’ him at the start of each month.

Staring wistfully at the calculator, Dasharath mumbles: “That’s all I will get.”

Dasharath tells me that he has asked Birjinder to clear his dues since he cannot work here any further. The work is literally back-breaking. A neighbour from his village in Muzaffarpur works in an eatery situated at the corner of this very street: he makes dosas (a rice and blac gram pancake) there Dasharath is confident that he will help him find work.

“I worked in Delhi before I came here,” Dasharath informs me and goes on:

My uncle and I worked at the coco cola plant in Najafgarh, near Delhi. I lived with my aunt and uncle. But then there was this girl in the same Mohalla (neighbourhood) whom I really liked and she also liked me. We started hanging out, went to the movies. We must have seen at least ten movies together. My aunt- she is my father’s sister-  told my family back home in Muzaffarpur. That was it. I decided I didn’t want to have anything to do with her. Indeed, that was when I made up my mind that come what may I would not live with family.

My elder brother has been asking me to come and live with him in Jalandhar. But I am clear about not living with family. So let us see what happens.