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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 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.