I met an old man at the park a few days back. I go to the park every morning and evening for my daily quota of walking. This gentleman, I had been seeing for quite some time. A short statured, fair skinned, bespectacled this man looked a reserved type to me. I too do not usually talk to strangers, but I do initiate a conversation when I see somebody regularly and if I feel the air inviting. I have quite a few such new friends, both men and women, who come to the park. But this man had never evoked any interest in me.
After taking a certain number of rounds, I sit on a stone bench to take rest for a while before beating retreat. Sometimes when all the seats are occupied, I search for a bench on which only one person is sitting. It so happened that day, I could not find a vacant bench and this gentleman was sitting alone on a bench. I went near him and asked if I may sit. He gestured to sit. A couple of moments later I asked him if he is a retired man. It was then he started to tell about himself, slow but non stop. He was a retired bank officer. His wife recently passed away. He has no own children of his own and the only adopted son, now married, having his own family to maintain has settled in Bangalore. And then he asked me what I was doing. I too told him briefly about me. The very common and most usual questions parried among old and retired people are - are you having BP? Are you a sugar patient? Have you any arthritic problems? - and about such other age related common health complaints. After all the usual queries were over, this old gentleman suddenly asked me about my caste!
I consider, since very long back, asking about one's caste is not civil. So whenever I encounter such question I used to get a bit irritated, but these days I try to humorise the situation . So I quipped - I am a non vegetarian brahmin. What caste is that he asked. I said I was born into a family which is brahmanical in all respects. He again asked, how can it be non vegetarian in that case? Very simple I said, - I, my wife and children eat non-vegetarian food! The dirty nose of the man seemed to be a bit longer and poked deeper. He asked, is that only you and your family or all of them, your type of brahmins use non vegetarian food. Well, I could feel my tolerance limit being stretched too much, and hence I ignored the question and asked him, which I never ever do, what was his caste! The man proudly said - I am a Lingayat, a Jangama!
It never stops me wondering about people still priding in their caste in this age of most advanced technology, which is still growing at such unbelievable pace. The pride of being a member of certain caste still making people indulge into heinous crimes such as murders without even a feeble streak of guilt for the sake of their sense of maintaining the honour of their cast, which they think gets diluted by inter-caste marriages. Such honor killings of young lovers by their own elders, boils my blood and shrinks my mind at such most stupid and barbaric acts in a country which prides in itself as the biggest democracy in the world! I see reports of honour killings almost once every alternate day with blood curdling stories, regularly.
Coming back to this man, Hemraju (name changed), a 65 years old childless widower living alone, cooking his own food, in all probabilities to avoid pollution of his 'most superior caste' by eating food prepared by other caste people; does he know if his family was not contaminated some ten heads back in his ancestry? Can he sure if one of his distant forefathers was childless and secretly got a male child (in these catagories female children are not taken into consideration!)from a lower caste woman? I did not ask these questions to the poor old pride, not because I am afraid but because I am far more civil capable of thinking much more beyond. Are you?