Post 3, Sargana

7:00 a.m.
There is a slight drizzle. I reach Shailendra’s house, my backpack ready for our journey. However, I can only hear his voice and see his cousins, who were supposed to travel with him, sitting around the wooden cot in the courtyard. Dharmendra, one of the cousins, demands, “Rs 500 is too little. Bhrameshri (the contractor) must pay us at least Rs 600 as advance.” Dharmendra’s brother Mahendra disagrees, “No no, at least Rs 10000. Otherwise we will not go.” 

Shailendra is flabbergasted. He emerges from his house, obviously ready for the journey, and pleads with his cousins: “The contractor is coming with us. Why are you worried about money? The bus will leave soon. Let us go and sort this out on the way.” 

But he fails to convince his cousins. The only one agreeable to travel with him is his neighbour Sandeep.

8:30 a.m.
After an hour of high drama, Shailendra and I go to Bhrameshri’s house where the contractor is perhaps expecting such a scenario. On hearing Shailendra’s report, he asks him and Sandeep to travel as scheduled, while he mobilises labour from neighbourig villages. But Shailendra remains silent.

Bhrameshri understands: “You want to wait till you have harvested the sunflower crop?”

Shailendra smiles.

Bhrameshri mutters something under his breath and rolls his eyes. They agree that Shailendra and his cousins will leave the following Friday.

Post 2, Sargana

5:00 p.m.
Sikendra assures me that he will be leaving tomorrow, May 20. His cousins, he and I, along with the contractor Bhrameshri Rajak will take the bus to Saharsa, from where we will board the train to Ludhiana. 

5:30 p.m.
My colleague Zaheeb and I decide to meet Bhrameshri, so we walk to his home. Bhrameshri is expecting us: Shailendra may have sent word. Bhrameshri has been working in Ludhiana since 1990. He started out as a construction worker, eventually obtaining the skills of a mason. He was also able to mobilise laborers, men like Shailendra Rishi who knew their work could be trusted. Bhrameshri has been building gurudrawas since the last four years. His fame was such that a Sikh gentleman from Italy wanted him to come and build a gurudwara there. But the visa did not work out. 

Work on the gurudwara is strenuous but rewarding. For one thing, food and accommodation is taken care of. So, even though cash wages are less than elsewhere in the construction sector, workers prefer construction work in the gurudwara than elsewhere.

Post 1, Sargana

4:00 p.m.
Shailendra Rishi and I walk to the weekly haat. He is wearing a green full t-shirt and green shorts. I can’t believe my luck when he asks me to accompany him and his cousins to Punjab, where they are constructing a gurudwara

I ask Shailendra how he knew about the work in Punjab. Shailendra tells me that as a child he was a cook in the house of the local contractor Bhrameshri Rajak. That was in Danapur, near Patna (about 100 kilometers south). In 2001, Bhrameshri asked Shailendra if he wanted to work in Ludhiana. Shailendra agreed, and there was no turning back. 

5:15 p.m.
 Shailendra buys half a kilo of bhindi, two kilos of chicken, a sickle and a few undergarments before we head back home.