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 81, Abdullahpur Basti, Ludhiana

6:00 p.m.: Although Kamal flour mill is abuzz with activity, some changes are discernible. Bablu Yadav left for his home in Gaya a few weeks ago. This morning Mevalal, like Vishnu, also returned to his village in Gonda. Hiralal is unwell. A new worker Om Prakash Pandey, whose home is in a village in Balrampur, has been recruited for a temporary period. Om Prakash worked in a hosiery manufacturing unit till the introduction of the high currency demonetisation late last year. Demonetisation resulted in the collapse of demand, and Om Prakash lost his job. He has now been hired to work in the mill.

6:15 p.m.: Rachit walks into the mill to collect sacks for delivery. He has had a haircut and is clean shaven. Ambika Prasad remarks that Rachit looks like the hero of a Bollywood film. Rachit asks me what I have been up to. I show him my new mobile phone, a Motorola product.

Rachit disapproves. “Why didn’t you buy a Mi mobile? I have been seeing advertisements on TV and they say the company sold one million pieces in one week!”

I tell Rachit that Motorola is a more reliable brand. He holds the phone in his hand, and clicks a selfie. Seeing the selfie, Rachit is more approving of my purchase.

Post 78, Ludhiana Railway Station

9:00 a.m.: Rachit is at the Ludhiana Railway Station. His friend Santosh Yadav, who is employed by Birjinder’s brother-in-law and had helped Rachit find his present job, is returning to Sargana along with a companion. Rachit has asked him to carry back INR 600 to his parents and is here to hand him the money. The train is crowded as is the platform. A posse of policemen in uniform survey the platforms while others in plain clothes walk around with a microphone warning passengers to be wary of drug dealing gangs. Neither Santosh nor his companion manage to secure a seat. Rachit scours different bogies to identify any vacant seats but is unsuccessful.

Nevertheless, Rachit bids Santosh adieu as the train departs some half an hour later.

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 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.  

Post 32

5 p.m.: Rachit has had an easier day today than the last few days have been. Ambika has recovered from his illness and returned to work. He even managed to sleep a few extra hours in the morning.

Both the grinding machines in Kamal flour mill are operational today. Vishnu is preparing a 50-kg delivery for a client at a dhaba (roadside eatery) nearby. The vegetable vendor Bhullan complains of a plunge in his sales after demonetisation was introduced.

Rachit asks me to accompany him to the Guddu’s vegetable shop, where he purchases two kilograms of tomatoes. We hear from the television news of a train accident near Kanpur, where 145 people are suspected dead.

8:00 p.m.: Bablu is sitting in his room with his nephew Rakesh and son Ranjit. They arrived yesterday by train. They are eating their dinner: rice with scrambled egg fried in oil, accompanied with alcoholic drinks. Earlier today, the mill owner Birjinder allowed Bablu and Ambika to sell some scrap iron, the proceeds from which have been used to buy the alcohol. Bablu’s nephew works in a factory that manufactures sewing machines. The son worked in Ludhiana a few months ago, then went back to their village in Gaya for a few months, and has now returned to Ludiana where he will look for work.