Phirturam has what looks like a credit card in his hand. It has his photo, a magnetic strip on the back, electrical contacts of some kind, and a series of digits at the bottom. It also says "Dena Bank" on top. But this is not a credit card. It is the key to accessing his wages under the National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme. The money is credited to this account in Dena Bank, and he can use this card in an ATM to withdraw money from the account.
Only, there's no ATM in his village, Kamtha in Chhattisgarh.
Still, he can trek to Dalli, about 6-7 km distant, and use the card at one of the ATMs there; probably no Dena Bank, but it doesn't matter.
Tomorrow is the last day this year that Phirturam will work under the employment guarantee scheme. He has been digging out a tank near Kamtha. Every day he has to dig a 12ft by 12ft square, 1 foot deep. For this, he gets paid Rs 122. But no more for the rest of the year.
What happens now, what kind of work will you do? I ask him.
Farm work, he says, tersely.
You have your own land? I ask.
No, I'll work as labour on somebody else's land. Some farmer in the village, needs some work done, he'll call me.
And what will you get paid? I ask.
Rs 50 or 60 a day.
And you'll work every day? I ask.
He laughs. No, not every day. Two, maybe three days a week.
In his home, the only other earning member is Phirturam's brother, who also works like this. So between them, they'll bring home something like Rs 350 a week. Call it Rs 1400 a month. I'm struck by that figure, because just before I graduated from my engineering college, I struggled through a campus interview and was offered a job by the company.
They offered me Rs 1100 a month.
Thirty years later, two men together earn just a little more than that and it has to take care of half a dozen people in the family, including Phirturam's 11 year-old son who is just getting over a fourth bout of malaria.
Yes, I too might go dig holes for the Government, to pocket a few dozen daily pay packets of Rs 122.