Post 38, Barmalipur, Ludhiana

4:00 p.m.: I speak to Shailendra, who informs me that he and his co-workers are now laying tiles on the pillars of the gurdwara. Following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement on demonetising high-denomination currency notes, Shailendra is anxious about the few Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes that he possesses. Nobody in the vicinity of Barmalipur is willing to exchange them, so he will have to go the Bank of Baroda branch in Manjhi Sahab where he has his account so he could get rid of these and acquire new ones.

Since Sandeep has left Sargana, Sundar, Shailendra’s cousin, will join the team at Sherpur soon.

Post 31, Nabha Market and Hiyana Kalan, Patiala

1 p.m.: Shailendra has come to Nabha Market in Patiala (some 70 kilometers from east of Barmalipur) to purchase switches for his cutter. He has grown a beard, since he has not had the time to get to a barber. He and his co-workers have just arrived from Malerkotla (about 15 kilometres south of Barmalipur), where they had gone to help construct the roof of a gurdwara: their friend Sandeep had requested for some help. That work complete, now Shailendra and his co-workers plan to spend a few days in Patiala where they will work to install a gate for a gurdwara in the town’s Hiyana Kalan locality.

2 p.m.: We board a tempo headed towards Hiyana Kalan. It takes us an hour to get to the gurdwara whose gates Shailendra and his co-workers will be making.

3 p.m.: Shailendra’s co-workers are already at the gurdwara, having arrived there directly from Malerkotla. Two of his cousins, who had travelled with him to Balmaripur in May, are here. Two other friends from Sargana have joined them. One of them, Charandev Rishi, had joined the team at Bija last month and travelled with them here. The second, Santosh RIshi, had accompanied a group of workers headed to Hissar in Haryana State to construct canals. However, their contractor, an acquaintance from the neighbouring Roshanar village, paid them too little.  Santosh left the group and went to work with Pradeep in Jammu. But he could not withstand the altitude of the place: it made him unwell, especially while traveling. So, he returned to Sargana. When Sundar, Shailendra’s cousin was travelling to Ludhiana earlier in September, Santosh decided to join him. Since then, he has been working alongside Shailendra and his friends on the Barmalipur gurdwara, and travelled with them to Paitala.

Sundar has stayed back in Barmalipur.

3:30 p.m.: The caretaker of the gurdwara serves us chapatis (unleavened flatbread) with sarson ka saag (mustard greens and spices). He comments that the locals know only how to build houses, and therefore have to import labour to build gurdwaras. Indeed, local Sikhs show very little interest in gurdwaras, he complains. All they care about are Radha Soami (a Hindu sect) devotional gatherings.

4:00 p.m.: Lunch done, we sit around and immerse ourselves in our respective mobile phones. Shailendra watches a bit of his favourite movie, listens to some Bhojpuri songs and talks to his wife and daughter.  



Post 10, Balmaripur

5:00 a.m.: Shailendra cycles to Balmaripur, some 5 kilometers away from Bija.

9:00 a.m.: Shailendra agrees to take the contract for constructing the dome of the gurdwara from Damodar. He will also do the masonry for the project, alongside Nishit Rajak, a relative of Damodar’s whose home is near Jadiya.

12:30 p.m.:  Shailendra and Nishit are atop the scaffolding, layering the bricks on the cement mixture. Sattan, a neighbour of Shailendra’s in Bhargama, supplies them with the mixture and bricks to use on a shallow metal pan which he holds on his head as he climbs up the ladder to reach where they are. Brajesh, another neighbour from Bhargama, and Indri, a local boy of about 16, passes on the material to Sattan.

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.