by Geetanjali Tripathi
Finally, the day arrived. I had been so long waiting for it. Ah! my first day of college. I was full of enthusiasm, excited at the very thought of meeting new people and making new friends, getting an opportunity to attend lectures of distinguished professors, and overall getting the feel of a college-going girl. I remember waking up at 5 am and getting ready much before the scheduled time of the college bus. I must say time was really testing me that day and it took ages for the clock to strike 8 AM. At 8 AM as the bus arrived, I left home with a bright smile on my face and boarded it; grabbing a window seat.
Our bus had traced some miles when it halted at yet another stop, where I saw a bunch of people making their way to board it. Among them, my eyes spotted a handsome young man. I started thinking “What if he comes and sits next to me. It would be great to strike a conversation, as the college still is an hour away to reach”. The very next moment that ‘good-looking man’ was standing next to my seat. “Hey! Can I sit here?” he jovially asked, at which I was so amazed and struck by the serendipity that I beamingly replied with a smile “Sure”.
The journey was quiet at the beginning. After some time, a conversation picked up beginning with asking each other’s names. He introduced himself as “I am Naman Singh, son of Mr. Surya Dev Singh, the MLA from Kutan constituency”. I could sense the pride with which he spoke of himself and hence I preferred not to disclose too much information about me. “I am Geetanjali”, I said. I could read his expressions, he seemed unsatisfied with my answer. After some moments of pause, he asked me again, “What is your full name?” I perceived his statement as an intention of knowing more about my family and the affluence associated with it. I tried to tactfully dodge his question by saying “I prefer to keep my name short”. I presumed that by saying so I am not only putting my ideas upfront but also politely insinuating him of my personality.
However, my response did not go down so well with him and his facial expressions became sombre. His cold stare made me feel like I am being judged for my answer, at which instinct-fully however unwillingly, I blurt out my full name “Geetanjali Tripathi”. His immediate response to this was “Oh! You too are an upper caste.” He went on extolling himself and his decision by saying “I knew it that you are an upper caste. It became clear to me by seeing the way you carry yourself. That is why I chose to sit beside you”. His statements sounded so archaic to me and were hitting my sub-conscience. I asked myself, “Why am I even being a part of this conversation, despite of hailing from a family of educators who have instilled in me the virtue of equality”. He further tried to build to his caste-based narrative by saying, “We should always mention our Last-name because that is what defines us in this society.”
I was outraged at his words and tried to reason with him “How can you justify the Last name and living with it as your identity, towards which you have contributed nothing?” He seemed confused at my words but still, said proudly “I must have done something good in my last births, that I was born to such a noble clan”. I went on shaking his rigid fundamentals by countering him “Accident of Birth has nothing to do with your deeds of last birth. It’s an event that no one has a control on. Further, you are privileged in being born to a certain family. Acknowledge it and accept others the way they are- without discriminating between them based on the caste they are born in”.
There was a long screeching voice in the background and a sudden jolt experienced by us; the bus came to its final stop. People started getting up from their places and moving towards the exit door of the bus. Naman’s face was clueless, still trying to understand the words I had thrown up at him. I sternly asked him to make way for me and left the spot.
Till some hours of the day, I was disturbed by that man’s statements, but was content with the fact that I had made my point and did not succumb to his baseless reasoning. This journey was not how I had expected it as; it made me ascertain about the horrible scar, all of us are living with, in this society. For decades India has struggled to de-weaponize caste. There may be many Namans still existing in various pockets of the nation who still go on practising and openly preaching Caste based hierarchies. Is there any end to this?
“Maybe we can successfully create a cashless society but can we create a casteless society?”
The author is an MBA in marketing from ITM- Navi Mumbai and works as a Client Account Manager at MyGate