The caste-ridden Hindi heartland of India is often quite predictable. The query about an individual’s name is inevitably followed by an inquiry into one’s status in the caste hierarchy. The question might be inescapable, but I have so far evaded answering it. What has helped me is my surname which stretches across the barriers of caste (also language and religion). But conclusions are always drawn.

The most orthodox of Brahmins did not hesitate to break bread with me. The Kshatriyas believed that the warrior blood ran in my veins and the Kayasthas treated me as brethren. Only the first name was a giveaway. It revealed both my religious and linguistic affinity. If only my parents had named me something like Kabir, I would have breached those barriers too.

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