The year was 2011 when I shifted to Jaipur from Delhi for new job. New city, new job, new hostel and new roommates, life couldn’t be more exciting . I had just unpacked and was getting ready for work when my roommate asked my name. Right after I told her my name, she asked me my surname. I easily guessed the intent behind asking my surname and then she made it quite obvious. “Are you Jaat or Rajput,” she asked as if she had to take some important decision. ‘None’, I said rather rudely as I finished my coffee and rushed to office.
I was a bit taken back. She was not some middle-aged khaap panchayat woman living in a village but a young woman who left her city to study law. In Delhi, I shared room with two girls, one was a Kashmiri Muslim and another was from Shilong . None of them ever cared to ask my caste. Why did it matter to this girl ? I forgot about her as soon as I reached my office and when I came back, I couldn’t think about anything but food. But it seemed like she was still waiting to finish the conversation I walked out of in the morning.
“ You eat non veg, “ she asked as she filled her plate with Allu Palak sabzi and Roti. “ Umm , yes but I love my veggies more,” I replied. “ Lekin Khate toh ho na,” she asked in a tone that can give any Mohallla Aunty run for their money.
I chose not to reply to her believing my silence will hint her that I was not interested in talking to her.But damn she was my roommate!
Lights were off and I was tossing and turning on my bed trying to sleep. And next to my bed was her bed where she was doing the same with her quest to know my caste. “ Aapne batayi nahi apni caste. Apni caste batane me kya sharam , mein toh shaan se kehti hoon k mein Brahmin hoon,” she said.
I was very sure that I am not going to tell her my caste but I thought having a chitchat wouldn’t hurt. She was my roommate after all.
“This is 2011, caste should not matter to young people like you, me and others in this hostel. We all left our homes to do make something out of our lives, we all are same,” I tried to explain her.
“ Arrey jisko apni caste pe garv na ho voh kya karega apni life me,” I knew I was wasting my time. I was turning towards the wall when she said , “ Kahin aisa toh nahi ke caste batane laayak nahi hai”.
I didn’t answer her. She was still sleeping when I woke up in the morning but was up by the time I came out of Bathroom. She was behaving in a strange manner and was washing the bathroom with phenyl. We were not supposed to wash the bathroom, there was a cleaner appointed to do the job. Other girls in the hostel found it weird too. Too busy to care, I got ready and left for the office.
Apart from a mess, we had a small kitchen in our floor where we had our own utensils to use. To my much surprise, my mug and plates were separated from the rest of the utensils. I knew the reason behind this but I didn’t know what to do. I had heard stories about roommates from hell and I bet my story was worst of all.
I decided that having a separate place for my mugs, plates and spoon won’t kill me. My soul purpose for being in that city was my work and that hostel was nothing but a place to crash. I was totally okay with it. She can keep my plates away and wash the bathroom after I use it, she can do whatever she wants to, I won’t ever lose my cool.
Within a week, everyone in that floor knew of my ‘caste’. Some people still insisted I might be Rajput or Jaat but my roommate had perfect comeback to that ‘Anybody can have that surname, Rajputs are fair skinned and Jaats don’t live in Lucknow ‘.
I immediately made friends in my Delhi hostel but in Jaipur, I never went beyond awkward smiles. To my much relief, not everybody identified me with my ‘caste’, in fact a few young girls actually criticized the roommate for her vileness. But then there were others who believed ‘people like me’ took away their medical and engineering seats. Hell broke loose when one of the girls asked me if ‘reservation’ got me my job.
That was the moment I revealed my caste. I had always believed caste discrimination is restricted to villages. Oh yes, I had heard people using castiest slur like ‘ Bhangi’, ‘Chamar’, ‘ Quota people’ etc. But little did I know I would get familiar with the severity of the issue in that manner and I am not even a Dalit.
That was the time when I came to know of my privileges. What if I was really a Dalit ? What would I have done?
My roommate, being the asshole that she was, was still not convinced. To be doubly sure, she reached out to the hostel owner to confirm if I was actually a Rajput. Later, she apologized for keeping my things away. Also, she returned the phenyl bottle to the cleaner.
I gave her my piece of mind but all in vain. She had no explanation for her behavior. She simply said she was a proud ‘ Brahmin’ and ‘ Scheduled castes should have separate things’. I told her it is crime to discriminate and being a law student she should know this.
Next day, came a new girl and she was greeted with the similar question as I was.