Post 49, Chandak, Poonch

9:00 a.m.: Pradeep informs me that his son Deepak, nephew Sundar and their neighbour Mantu are in the train from Ludhiana back home to Sargana. Work on the gurdwara they have been constructing is over. And there are no further jobs, so Damodar the contractor has advised them to return to Sargana.

The Janseva Express, which they will take for their journey home, is late by over six hours. Scheduled to depart Ludhiana at 9:00 a.m., it will now only leave at 3:30 p.m.

6:00 p.m.: Deepak calls Pradeep to inform him that their train has only just left Ludhiana station. It was late by almost nine hours!

Post 41, Barmalipur, Ludhiana

2:00 p.m.: I speak to Shailendra on the phone. Work on the gurdwara at Barmalipur is progressing as scheduled. Damodar Rajak, his contractor, arrived on the 15th, accompanied by Pintu, a friend of Shailendra from Sargana.

Pintu previously worked with Damodar, but fell out with him because he felt Damodar did not speak with him respectfully enough. He had come away to Delhi to work first on a construction site and then at a flour mill where he worked as a headloader. However, he met with an accident which hurt his leg and he came back to Sargana to recuperate. (When I met him earlier this year, he was working at a chai kiosk in Sargana as a helper). He now seems to have made up with Damodar and has begun working for him again.

Post 37, Beeja, Ludhiana

2:00 p.m.: Shailendra has arrived into Khanna, a few kilometres away from Beeja, with great difficulty. Today is Vishwakarma Puja, a festival dedicated to the celestial craftsman Vishwakarma: workmen worship their tools and machines today and allow them to ‘rest’. Therefore, few tempos plied on the road. Shailendra requested a tempo driver who was driving his vehicle towards Nabha for repairs to give him a lift: that is how he got to Khanna, where he is purchasing a rucksack. Since state-run buses are plying, he expects the ten-minute journey from Khanna to Beeja to be easy.

3:00 p.m.: I wait for Shailendra and his friends at the Beeja bus stand. Soon enough, a bus stops. I recognise several of Shailendra’s friends, who work in a neighbouring site for Damodar, disembark: among them is Mantu, one of Sandeep’s seven brothers. Mantu has purchased a blanket for their home: he will ask Sandeep to take it with him when the latter leaves for home the following day, November 1.  

3:10 p.m.: Shailendra and his cousins (Pradeep’s sons) Rajendra and Deepak arrive in another bus. Shailendra shows me the blue-coloured bag he has just bought, while Rajendra discusses with the others the woollens and jeans he and his brother have purchased to take home with them. They all purchase some gutkha (tobacco flakes) from a kiosk nearby and we head towards the Beeja gurdwara under construction.

4:00 p.m.: Mantu cycles over to Manjhi Sahab gurdwara where Shailendra’s brother Birendra is staying: Birendra and Sandeep are travelling together the following day. Since Sandeep has already left for Ludhiana, he hopes to hand over the blanket to Birendra. However, the caretaker of the gurdwara informs him that Birendra has already left for Ludhiana, from where he will board the train early next morning. A disappointed Mantu urges a younger colleague to head out to Ludhiana on the next available bus and give the blanket to either Birendra or Sandeep.

5:30 p.m.:  Shailendra, Mantu and the others proceed to leave Beeja for the gurdwara at Balmraripur. As we walk past the Manjhi Sahab gurdwara, Mantu points to the building and tells me that he and Shailendra had been part of the team that had constructed it, way back in 2002.

“Lets go in,” I urged, but both Shailendra and Mantu declined. “We have gutkha in our mouths. It would be inappropriate.”

Post 33, Sherpur, Ludhiana

10:00 a.m.: I am at Sherpur, where Shailendra’s elder brother Ram Kishore and cousin Shyamsundar have been working on a gurdwara for the past few weeks. Sandeep has been working with them since May, when he had come from Bihar to Punjab with Shailendra and the rest of us. They have finished constructing the gateway on which they were working when we had last met in August. Having successfully completed that assignment, they recently secured a contract for fitting tiles on the wall adjoining the gateway. In preparation, they are preparing the scaffolds on which they will carry out their work.

Sandeep confirms his plans to return to Sargana on November 1. He will be accompanied by Birendra, Shailendra’s younger brother Birendra, who currently works in at Malerkotla. A few of their neighbours from Sargana, presently working in Poonch, will also join them on their journey back home. Once he goes, Sandeep says, Shailendra’s cousin Sundar will take his place on the Sherpur team. Sundar, who had travelled with them to Beeja/ Barmalipur in May, was laid off soon thereafter by Damodar Rajak, the contractor: a labour surplus meant that there were more people than needed to work on the gurdwaras, so Damodar suggested that Sundar work elsewhere till one of the labourers took leave to go home. Following Damodar’s advice, Sundar took up work as a headloader in Malerkotla’s grain market, work that he will give up once Sandeep leaves.

Post 32, Hiyana Kalan, Patiala

6:00 a.m.: Everyone is up and about, getting ready to work. In preparation for their work on the gate, Shailendra and his co-workers must first construct the concrete frame under which the gate will be installed. Shailendra climbs up a metal ladder and positions himself by the wall on which the gate will be erected. As helper, his cousin Shiva climbs up after him. Charandev Rishi, their neighbour in Sargana, sits on the ground beside the base of the ladder as he mixes limestone with cement in a shallow pan. Santosh stacks the bricks that Shailendra will need by the wall, and keeps replenishing them. Keeping them entertained as they work is Santosh’s mobile on which songs from Bollywood movies dating to the 1990s play. Santosh tells us that he had uploaded these songs from a vendor on his recent sojourn to Sargana.

The caretaker of the gurdwara leaves to bring chapatis for the workers from the village.

8:00 a.m.: Charandev finishes mixing limestone with cement in his second pan. The caretaker has returned from the village after collecting donations of the chapatis that the workers will eat for breakfast. A functionary of the committee that has commissioned the gurdwara arrives to inspect the progress on the gate: Shailendra asks him to provide a vehicle for them to buy materials from Patiala that will be required for shuttering.

8:30 a.m.: All the workers prepare to eat breakfast. Shailendra speaks to Sandeep, a neighbour from Sargana and currently working in Sherpur, Ludhiana. Sandeep plans to return to Sargana on November 1. Shailendra wants him to carry back a mobile phone which he has bought for his wife: he says his daughter dashed his wife’s mobile phone to the ground in a fit of anger, so she needs a new one. Shalendra has already bought the device and installed the memory chip from his own smart phone onto it, so his wife can watch the movies he has been watching.

9:30 a.m.: The committee member has arranged for a tractor- trolley to transport Shailendra and his co-workers to a market from which they can make their purchases. Shailendra, Shiva, Charandev, Santosh and I board the trolley and make our way towards Nabha.

Post 20, Balmaripur

5:00 p.m.: Shailendra has completed laying out the tiles on one of the smaller domes of the gurdwara.  He will now proceed to complete the construction of the temple’s grand dome, rather than working on the hall as he had mentioned earlier.

“For work in the hall, I will wait till Sundar and his brother return to Balmaripur. There’s a lot of other work to be done in any case. Completing the grand dome and then laying out the tiles on it; decorating the columns that hold up the ceiling; completing the jhalar (brick-and-mortar decorations), etc. I will proceed with those, and once my cousins and others return, we will work on the hall.”

Shailendra’s mobile is giving him trouble. Although he can make and receive calls, he is unable to watch any movies. So, he plans to hand it in for repairs in Ludhiana town.

Post 19, Balmaripur

9:00 a.m.: Shailendra and I chat on the phone. Shailendra says he is almost done with laying out the tiles on one of the smaller  of the Balmaripur gurdwara. Once this is complete, he will proceed to lay the tiles on the gurdwara hall below. The contract for the dome also included construction of the jhalar (brick-and-mortar decorations) around the dome, on which he will go easy, since the contract has been extended to January. So, while he will claim his fees for his work on the dome, he will ask to be employed as a daily wager for his labours on the tiles.

Sundar is still in Sargana. He will return to Sherpur with his brother as soon as he completes the memorial service for his deceased father. Once their work in Sherpur is complete, Shailendra hopes they will join him in Balmaripur.

Post 17, Ludhiana

6:30 p.m.: I meet Shailendra’s brother Ram Kishore and two other cousins, Sundar and Shyamsundar, outside a gurdwara in Sherpur, Ludhiana. Damodar has hired them to construct a gate for the gurdwara. The three of them are joined are joined by a relative of Shailendra’s wife. They have just finished the day’s work and are returning to the room that has been allocated to them within the premises of the gurdwara. Ram Kishore estimates that they will work together for another month, after which they will disperse in search of employment.