Last fortnight, traveling to Makrana, while I struggled to read on the berth above, the three other people in the compartment discussed the 'great function' in Lucknow - the kayastha mahasabha.
A lady who was apparently a local district leader for kayastha ladies kept insisting that it was time to make the world sit up and take notice... "ke hum bhi kuch hain!"
Her husband kept repeating that the kayasthas controlled Raipur. "Doctors, engineers, IAS.... sab kuch humare haath mein hai."
The lady kept saying, "Jab tak hum sarkar ko dikha nahin dete, ke hum bhi sangathit ho gaye hain, hume kuch nahin milega."
The gentleman across her kept saying, "Bilkul theek kaha aapne. kayasth bhi sampann hain... ab dikha dena chahiye."
I was burning to ask a few questions - like what they want to show, and to whom? Why did they want the world to pay attention? Of what? What was the government doing to upset them? If 'they' controlled all of Raipur, clearly they must not know want; what else did they want from the government?
But I do not ask. There is a simmering anger in my head and I know my voice will betray it.
In Makrana, my contact-activist asks me, "What are you?"
I said, "Journalist."
He said, "Yes, yes... but what are you? Where are you from?"
I said, "Delhi."
I sighed deeply. "Proper."
The question is more improper than my half-lies.
On the road, the driver asks me, "What are you?"
"I'm a journalist."
"Yes, but what are you?"
"What do you mean by that?"
Deep sigh. I say, "I don't know what caste. My family never told me."
"What? You don't know."
"No, I don't know."
"You never asked?"
"No, I never asked."
It is not a lie, but it is not the whole truth. My whole truth is too large to fit into the front seat of this jeep.
In Jodhpur, an activist asks me, "You... are from Delhi?"
"Yes, and no. I live there now."
"Ah... and you... are?"
"No, I mean... your surname is... what are you?"
I shrug. I do not want to answer the question.
But the question insistently poses itself. "You are Muslim?"
I smile. But I really meant to flinch.
In the train, in the general dabba, beteeen Jodhpur and Makrana, I try to read. The dabba is almost empty but a young man takes the seat directly opposite mine. He waits to catch my eye and begins conversation.
"Excuse me, madam, you are going to Jodhpur?"
"What caste yours?"
"But how can that be?"
I look at him for a cold, silent minute, before saying. "No caste."
"You are christian?"
"I am nothing."
He subsides. My eyes scan the page, not reading. The guilt of having been rude to a curious stranger hangs heavy on me. But sometimes, enough is just enough.