Post 9, Sirhind / Bija

12:30 a.m. Outside the Sirhind Railway Station, a number of three-wheeled autorickshaws await passengers. The auto-rickshaw drivers are screaming away to let prospective passengers know the destinations they service. We hear several of them shout out that they are going to Khanna, the village to which we need to travel. But at INR 50 per person, Damodar decides the fares are too high. We sit on the steps leading into the station.

1:00 a.m. Shailendra tells us the buses to Khanna will start plying from about 4 a.m. We are hungry. We haven’t eaten for nearly twelve hours, so we approach one of the eateries at the Station. Turns out his stocks are over, and he is closing shop for the night, so we drink some chai and try to catch some sleep. Shailendra rests on a bench and I occupy the one next to it. Our luggage is with the others who sleep on the steps.

3:30 a.m. Shailendra decides to join the others. I accompany him. Stacks of newspapers line the staircases. A number of young men are slipping in advertisement pamphlets into each newspaper.

4:30 a.m. Damodar is awake. He steps down the staircase to arrange for our travel to Khanna. The buses haven’t started plying yet, but the autorickshaw fares for Khanna are now considerably less: INR 20 per head. So, he books an autorickshaw and herds all eleven of us into it. The driver of the autorickshaw turns out to be a 45-year old man from Bihar’s Sheohar district. A woman requested him to allow her to sit with the rest of us, but he refused. As he sped his vehicle down the highway, Damodar said he should have got her to sit on his lap and guffawed.

5:45 a.m. We reach Khanna Bus Stop. From here, we will take a bus to Chava, our final destination.

6:00 a.m. We board the bus to Chava. There are only three women in the bus, the remaining 25 of us are all men.

6:20 a.m. The bus arrives into Chava. We disembark and walk another half-a-kilometre to reach the semi-constructed gurdwara which some of the people from our group will complete. We huddle into a room by the side of the building, where approximately ten cots lie side by side, and there is a small stove at the far end for basic cooking. One of our companions makes chai for the rest of us.

8:00 a.m. We cook some chapatis and dal, and eat our first proper meal in about 18 hours. I go to sleep after breakfast as others start charging their mobile phones and watch films on them.

11:00 a.m. Cups of chai appear again as I wake up.

11:30 a.m. Everyone goes back to their mobiles. Some are watching films. Others make calls home. I start fiddling with mine.

3:00 p.m. Damodar instructs Shailendra and Ratan to visit a site at the nearby village of Balmaripur, where he has recently won a contract to construct the dome of the local gurdwara. The contract amounts to INR 2.5 lakh, and Damodar has offered to sub-contract it over to Shailendra if the latter thinks he can do it. Else, Shailendra can always continue to work on the dome on daily wages.

Shailendra says he will have a look at the site and then decide.