mobiles

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 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.