Let me take you all on my time machine to the time when I was 24 years of age. My time machine is going to land in front of the office of a Mr. Singh, who is a senior officer in the large organization where I have just joined.
A friend of mine and I are standing in front of the door of Mr. Singh’s cabin. We are on a self introduction mission. We have moved from desk to desk, chamber to chamber blabbering out much the same stuff. However, Mr. Singh is a senior officer and we have to make a good impression. We stand there giving final touches to our thoughts.
Gingerly I push open the door. The man seated in front of me is wheatish in complexion, short and corpulent. His white, wavy hair is thinning. His half moon shaped spectacles balance precariously on the bridge of his short nose. His chubby face is tense as he concentrates on some documents he holds in his stubby hands. In a soft voice I mutter “Can we come in sir?”
Mr. Singh looks up in slow motion and adjusts his glasses. “Yes?” he says in a rather hoarse voice. I start the monologue of self introduction as we edge closer to the chairs placed in front of his desk. Still blabbering I hand over the office order. He takes it and waves us into the chairs. He readjusts his glasses and reads the office order with the same concentration. We wait. He continues to glare at the paper. I wonder how much time he is going to take to read those few lines. To me he looks lost in thought. Time ticks by…
Suddenly Mr. Singh clears his throat with the explosive, thunder of an erupting volcano. Both of us youngsters jump in our chairs. Mr. Singh turns his gaze upon me in slow motion. He gazes at me for a while, still looking preoccupied. Finally he speaks “So you are a Chaubey?” I mutter “Yes” nodding my head. He continues to gaze at me making me uncomfortable. Is it wrong to be a Chaubey? I think. What is he driving at? He finally speaks again “So you are Chaubey ji”. Is it a question or a statement I wonder. I nod, just in case it was a question. He persists “To aap Babaji hue”. I have always considered myself to be rather good looking – a mix between Dharmendar and Vinod Khanna. The sudden reference to myself as “Babaji” throws me off balance. I realize he is referring to my caste and not my looks. I relax and nod.
He suddenly thrusts out a chubby hand at me. I jump in my chair again. It takes a second for me to realize he wants to shake my hand. His fleshy face lights up with a friendly grin. “Welcome” he croaks. “Thank you, sir” I respond.
The ceremonies over with me, he turns his attention to my friend. “Gehlot?” he says. “What is Gehlot?” My poor friend is zapped. He makes some apologetic sounds for the crime of having such a surname. Mr Singh persists “What is Gehlot?” “Sir, I am from Rajasthan…” he offers. Mr. Singh is getting angry now “You may be from the moon but what is Gehlot?” he thunders. My friend is scared and speechless.
Mr. Singh finally puts a direct question “Arre Bhai kaun jaat ho?” Gehlot is scared stiff by now. In a wavering voice he offers “Rajput, sir”. Mr. Singh’s face lights up again. “You are a Rajput? Good, Good” he says and thrusts out his chubby hand again. “Tab to tum jaat bhai ho” he concludes with delight. He reaches out for a button that brings in his peon. “Sahab logo ko chai pilao” he commands. “I am from Arrah” he informs us “Aap kaha se ho?...”
Over time I found Mr. Singh to be a nice, friendly man. Though he was extremely coarse in his manners and asked every newcomer about his caste, his chubby heart held no malice for people from other castes. He was fun loving and his guffaw could be heard far and wide. His jokes were, however, as coarse as his manners.
Once he went to Japan on an official tour. On his return he was full of tales about Japan and particularly about Japanese women. He was high in praise for their etiquettes. He caught hold of me, cornered me into a chair and took me to Japan. He was full of praises. “You go to a shop, don’t buy anything and come out. Still the sales girls bow and thank you for coming to the shop” he gushed. “Look at the shop keepers here, they look like criminals!!!”… and so it went.
Years went by… I was working in another section and I met Mr. Singh very infrequently. I happened to run into him once and Mr. Singh looked different. He seemed too aged suddenly. His eyes were reddish and I could see bags under them. He looked sad and in pain. His spectacles were misty. I asked him what was wrong. Mr. Singh looked around and then whispered “What can you do if your own children let you down?” On further enquiry, I learnt that Mr. Singh’s daughter was bent upon marrying a boy of another caste.
I attended the marriage and true to his style Mr. Singh had forgiven everyone and was guffawing once again.
Time to get back to the present now, get in the time machine. Now we will land in the present. Last year I attended fourteen marriages. Out of which thirteen were inter caste marriages in which the spouses had selected each other as per their professional convenience and one was a within the community marriage. I was pondering over it when I realized that the parents of the boy who had married within the community belonged to different communities. So the picture was complete.
As more and more girls in India are taking up jobs, more and more marriages will be guided purely by professional convenience. The politics of caste on which many unscrupulous leaders thrived has reached it’s expiry date. Like Mr. Singh, parents have to learn to clap and guffaw, or at least grin and bear it.
Rajesh Chaubey, Guest Contributor, PatnaDaily.Com