Post 13, Sargana

Zaheeb Ajmal briefs:

4 p.m.: Like the other male members of his family, Shailendra has shaved his head in preparation for the prayer services.

5:30 p.m.: We assemble for the prayers services to begin. As other attendees start streaming in and sit on the cots and plastic chairs arranged for them, Shailendra’s uncle Pradeep Rishi talks about the changes he has witnessed over the decades. He says that it was unthinkable for an earlier generation to organise memorial services such as this and have plastic chairs: members of Brahmin and Rajput communities would not allow it.

“The chairs and cots were meant only for them to sit on. We would have to sit on the ground. We couldn’t enter their homes. We couldn’t even stand in their presence wearing chappals (open rubber footwear).

“All this changed with Lalu Prasad Yadav (Chief Minister of Bihar, 1990-1998). After he came to power, no Brahmin or Rajput could stop us from sitting on chairs.”

Pradeep’s brother and Shailendra’s father, Harish disagrees.

“He only got us to sit on chairs. What about jobs?” he chuckles.

“Oh come on,” Pradeep retorts, “Lalu inaugurated charwaha (literally: shepherd) schools for children of cattlegrazers, agricultural labourers and others. They could attend school while at the same time tending to their cows, pigs and goats. Have you forgotten? Didn’t this mean a great deal for poor people like us?”

Turning to the others, he continues, “Lalu gave us voice.”

The prayer services begin.