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 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 70, Abdullahpur Basti, Ludhiana

6:15 p.m.: Birjinder stands inside Kamal Flour Mill, his hands folded and watching his employees at work. Bablu and Kalki Prasad pack the flour into delivery sacks, while Ambika Prasad operates the grinding machine. After some time, he returns to sit at the counter.

6:30 p.m.: Rachit walks into the mill and announces to no one in particular that he has to buy things from the Camp area. I offer to accompany him. He has been asked by Birjinder’s wife to purchase some bhajiyas (fritters) for their evening snack. We reach the shop in ten minutes and make our purchases. Rachit offers me some bhajiyas from the packet to taste.

On our way back, Rachit tells me that his brother Suraj left their home to travel to Forbesgunj earlier today. He will leave for Patna tomorrow, from where he will travel to Sasaram, where he has been offered a job as a security guard.

As we reach the mill, Rachit remembers that it is Valentine’s Day today and asks me why I am not with my girlfriend. I tell him I am single and ask him about his romantic interests. I pointedly inquire about the sister of his friend’s fiancé, with whom he talks often. He informs me matter-of-factly that although they used to chat earlier, now they do not.

Changing the conversation, Rachit asks me if I wanted to join him and Bablu this evening for dinner: “Bablu is cooking chicken curry,” he winked. I agreed, reminding myself to note Rachit’s obvious disregard for some Hindus’ concern that no meat ought to be consumed on a Tuesday.

8:00 p.m.: Bablu and I are walking back from the market to his room, having purchased half-a kilo of chicken. Bablu informs me that he will leave the mill on the 17th.

“Why?”, I ask bewildered.

“Birjinder asked me to leave,” Bablu replies glumly. “I mentioned to Mevalal that I would take leave for a few days from the 17th of next month. He must have ratted on me with Birjinder. Anyway, Birjinder called me and told me I need not bother to wait till then. He asked me to clear my accounts by the 17th of this month.”

“But are you not going to complain?,” I persist.

“Whats the point. Employers never listen to labourers, only to sycophants,” comes the reply.

Dinner is ready, and I call Rachit to tell him he can come.