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Rajat Rani 'Meenu'

translated from the Hindi by Nikhil Pandhi


After receiving the phone call from Mrs Sudesh Mishra, Geetanjali was in a foul mood. 


At once, she started complaining about why Mrs Mishra had brought that Chamar woman into their house in the first place! Everything was now completely sullied.


‘I have not been able to swallow a single morsel since the afternoon! Let alone the food, how on earth will I purify my entire house now?’ – Geetanjali’s mind kept convulsing in a bitter rage. 


In her sour state, Geetanjali withdrew herself from all the routine housework. Soon, she started cursing her other neighbours too; what was the need for Anand Mathur, the president and secretary of Brotherhood Apartments, to give his house on rent? Who gave him permission for it, anyway? At least he should have been more mindful that theirs was a society of educated and civilized folk; not some cheap shelter for any poor castaways! For Bhangis, Chamars, Dhobis and others to just barge in and begin living there like apparent equals!


How much neighbourliness had once existed amongst their cultured community of apartment dwellers, coupled with civic decorum and trust - the hallmark of refined, modern urban living. Each festival, gazetted holiday and public occasion always felt like a sophisticated celebration by one big united family. A genuine feeling of brotherhood – after which their apartments had been aptly named - formed the bedrock of the relationships amongst all the families living there - Geetanjali thought.


However, the very next moment, her disturbed mind started ricocheting wildly – ‘Thank God the media is still one space that those Scheduled Castes have not colonized!’ - she thought. Then, fear seized Geetanjali once more, as she considered her own journalist husband and the other apartment dwellers, who were all media-persons… ‘Had those SCs been employed in the media, then for sure some Bhangi, Chamar or Khatik along with his family would have been permanently residing there!’ – even the mere thought of it made Geetanjali cringe.


‘One day, those SCs will overshadow our existence and contaminate us all forever! We will all be tarnished with eternal dishonour and misery…’ – Geetanjali’s mind kept filling up with such menacing fears. 


To distract herself, Geetanjali decided to call up her husband, Deepanshu Pathak. So, she swiftly dialled the number of the newspaper that he worked for – Our India.


At that very moment, Deepanshu Pathak was engaged in the process of finalizing the newspaper’s lead editorial for the day - ‘The Justification of Caste in the Census’. 


But, hearing Gitanjali’s distressed voice on the phone, Deepanshu was perplexed. ‘Hello, Geete?...What is the matter?’ – he murmured. He called his wife Geete out of love. 


However, Geetanjali did not respond.


Deepanshu continued – ‘Geete, I was actually meaning to call you…You know how insidiously these ‘reserved category’ people have vitiated our country’s civic atmosphere…I needed your advice about something....’


‘Come home this minute!’ – Geetanjali snapped agitatedly. ‘I am not in a position to give you any advice right now!’- she added.


‘Why, what is wrong? Did anybody say anything...?’


‘I cannot tell you over the phone, Deepanshu. Just come home immediately!’ - Geetanjali slammed the phone down. 


In anticipation of Deepanshu’s arrival and in a bid to calm her restless spirit, Geetanjali switched on the television and sat down on the sofa. Suddenly, she felt as if in place of Nita, who had earlier been sitting right there, the two Chamar nightsoil collectors from her village - Channo and Taravati - were sitting there and staring straight at her. To Geetanjali’s eyes, Nita’s crisply ironed salwar kameez had appeared like the soiled and smelly rags Channo and Taravati used to wear every day while performing their defiling caste labour. Geetanjali’s mind fixated on the countenances of Channo and Taravati as if a nightmare was unfolding before her. An agonizing ordeal in which one scene miraculously gets mangled and distorted into another.


Geetanjali was feeling suspended in a surreal state. She could sense the palpable stink emanating from Nita’s clothes, even though she was no longer there. As those thoughts kept making Geetanjali queasy, she literally felt a nasty stench rising and engulfing the entire room, entering through her mouth and enveloping her whole mind, choking her viciously from within.


Geetanjali pinched her nose tightly, placing her dupatta on it, as if each molecule of that rebarbative stink was real. She then went inside and brought out a wooden baton, which she kept in a corner of her and Deepanshu’s room, near the bedpost, to guard against the possibility of unknown intruders and potential security threats to their home. 


Today, that baton was finally coming in handy. Geetanjali solidly gripped the wooden baton and started smacking the cushions off the sofa onto the floor. After she had mercilessly beaten them, she dragged the cushions out into the balcony using the baton. Then, Geetanjali went and seated herself down on a large chair. She was breathing heavily, as if she had just managed to exterminate a life-threatening virus capable of spreading some contagious disease. 


Geetanjali thought that now she could finally heave a sigh of relief. But, suddenly she became nauseous all over again and ran to the bathroom, breathlessly hauling herself over the edge of the wash-basin. She retched loudly, but she was unable to vomit.


Some ten minutes later, she heard the horn of Deepanshu’s car from the parking-lot below. Before Deepanshu could even ring the doorbell, Geetanjali had opened the main door of their apartment and was standing beside it anxiously.


‘What is it, Geete??’ – Deepanshu asked, staring at her worriedly. As he asked, he extended his hand forward and passed her his small briefcase.


‘Come inside first, then I will tell you everything!’ – Geetanjali said, still palpitating, taking her husband’s briefcase from him, as was her daily responsibility.


They both went straight into the drawing room. When Deepanshu sat down on the sofa, he noticed that all the cushions were missing. Without the cushions, their expensive sofa looked like a head that had just had its hair shaved-off. This made him even more curious about the furniture’s altered state.


‘Geetanjali, why have you removed all the cushions…?’


‘Why did we get into this situation in the first place, Deepanshu?...That is what I want to ask you!’




‘Why did you not tell me earlier…?’


‘What are you going on about, Geete? Tell me straight; stop talking in riddles for God’s sake!’


‘I want to know the truth from you… a man from the Chamar caste is living with his entire family in Brotherhood Apartments; I am sure you were aware of that?… Sudesh Mishra Bhabhi Ji herself told me. Apparently, that Chamar is also a journalist! You should know, the one who hangs out with journalists night and day!’ - Geetanjali said sardonically, a noticeable rage burning her words.


‘Well, yes…he has moved here. But, what is so special in that that I should have told you about it?’ -  Deepanshu responded, keeping his calm. 


‘What!? A Chamar family is now living amongst us, and you are saying there is nothing unseemly about it? Just because you are a modern, high-flying journalist, you have forgotten all the customary traditions and taboos that our parents taught us to observe!’ - Geetanjali said, the agitation making her eyes widen with disbelief.


Deepanshu’s tone then deepened – ‘First, you tell me clearly, Geete, what hell has broken loose just because some Chamars are now living amongst us? Shall I make that the main headline of Our India newspaper, the fact that a Chamar has now moved into Brotherhood Apartments?’


Deepanshu’s sarcasm irked Geetanjali even more. Her restlessness was propelling her blood-pressure all the way to her head. She felt Deepanshu was ignoring her true feelings. So she exhaled loudly and said – ‘You are just not trying to understand what I am saying! I am talking about caste…our foundational traditions and customs!’


Deepanshu’s manner now totally changed. ‘Do not worry yourself sick, Geete.' - he said - 'Even I understand caste…our customs and ceremonial observances well. And, rest assured, I abide by them very faithfully.’


Geetanjali then went on to explain the entire situation to her husband – ‘Today, along with Mrs Sudesh Mishra and Mrs Nutan Dubey, the wife of that Chamar also came over to our house and had tea and snacks here…can you imagine, that woman polluted us forever! Initially, I didn't even know about her caste. At least she should have been more careful about drinking tea and touching the utensils in our house. What is more, she brazenly kept listening to all the gossip we ladies were exchanging about our community. Thank God, after returning home, Mrs Mishra called me and said – “Geetanjali, you should not have spoken like that before Nita.”


‘At first, I did not follow Mrs Mishra’s words. So I asked her – “What should I not have said?”


‘Then, Mrs Mishra responded – “Nita, is a Chamar. She would have felt bad listening to you use such disparaging phrases for people like her.”


‘But, I immediately replied – “It was just small talk! Anyway, who cares if she is feeling bad, what can I do about it? Honestly, it is entirely that Chamarin’s fault. She should not have mingled with us at all.”


Deepanshu listened silently, as his wife went on describing the travails of her afternoon.


Udayvir Prasad had recently moved in with his family to Brotherhood Apartments. He had decided to rent a home there because he already knew some of the writers and journalists living there. Staying with them, Udayvir had reckoned, would feel like living among his own extended family and kin.




Hardly a month had passed since they had shifted homes. Udayvir Prasad’s wife, Nita, spent the bulk of her time preoccupied with domestic chores, setting things inside her new apartment in order. Today, after many days, Nita was finally feeling a little relaxed. So, after cooking lunch and feeding her children, she decided to go for a stroll in her new neighbourhood.


There was still some construction work underway on one side of Brotherhood Apartments, which is why from time to time the blaring sounds of machines and generators constantly rattled in everyone’s ears. One part of Nita’s balcony opened in the very direction of the construction site, so they heard the construction sounds even louder. About eight-ten families of construction labourers, each with nearly a dozen members, lived there in makeshift jhuggis.


After being pickled indoors the entire afternoon, when Nita finally went outside with the intention of getting some fresh air, she ran into Mrs Dubey and Mrs Mishra on the landing of their common stairwell. 


The moment she saw Nita, Mrs Dubey asked –  ‘Bhabhi ji, going off somewhere or are you free?’


‘No, no, I am not going anywhere in particular. I was getting bored sitting inside the house by myself, so I thought I would just have a change of scene’ - Nita replied matter-of-factly.


‘In that case, why don’t you come with us to Mrs Deepanshu Pathak’s house?’ - Mrs Dubey asked Nita.


‘Are you going for some work, or is there some get-together happening there?’ - Nita asked, feeling curious. She wondered if tagging along with them to a new neighbour’s house would be appropriate. 


‘Just like that, for some gossip and chit-chat’ – Mrs Mishra said.


Nita thought for a few moments – this was perhaps a good chance for her to widen her circle of acquaintances. After all, wherever one dwells, one desires to know more people living around. Who knows when one might be in a position to help somebody. 


So, Nita agreed and the three women left their building, undertaking the short walk to the adjacent block where Mrs Deepanshu Pathak lived. 


Mrs Mishra rang the doorbell. 


Upon hearing the bell, a woman of about thirty, thirty-two years, peeped out from behind the grill-door. Nita discerned that she must be Deepanshu Pathak’s wife, Geetanjali. Nita had encountered her very briefly once before, in Mrs Dubey’s house. 


The neighbourhood women had developed a routine visiting each other’s homes and passing time by sharing news and gossip about their society. Seeing her friends, Geetanjali’s face immediately lit-up with a smile. 


‘Oh, do come in, Bhabhi ji!’ – Geetanjali ecstatically said, opening the main door. 


Mrs Dubey and Mrs Mishra walked into the apartment and took off their sandals outside the drawing room door. Nita followed them and did the same.


Then they all went and perched on the fancy seven-seater sofa in Geetanjali’s drawing room. After exchanging initial pleasantries, it was finally time to gossip. 


Nita remembered an old saying – ‘the drawing room is the true mirror to someone’s home, therefore it must always be kept spotlessly clean.’ Nita’s eyes glanced at the fancy cushions that were attractively arranged on that sofa. A fine settee lay next to it over which a beautifully embroidered velvet throw was regally draped. A large flat-screen LCD-television graced the wall on the opposite side, which made the drawing room only appear more lavish. The interiors of the house clearly betrayed its occupants’ elite status - Nita was thinking


Suddenly, Nita’s eyes fell on a study table placed in one corner, around which a couple of chairs had aesthetically been arranged. Next to it was a large rack of books. That must be Deepanshu Pathak’s study - Nita conjectured.


Nita’s eyes closely surveyed the books arranged in the rack. Marx, Engels, Aacharya Ramachandra Shukla, Hazari Prasad Dvivedi…there was even some literature on Dalits. Among the books, Nita noticed, ‘Hindi Dalit Literature - A Tradition of Critique’; ‘Beyond the Margins’; ‘The First Dalit Educationist and Gender Discourse’; ‘Premchand’s Blue Eyes’; ‘Joothan’; ‘Salaam’; ‘Dalit Short Stories: Conceptions and Contours’; ‘My Childhood on My Shoulders’; ‘Murdahiya’ etc. – a range of Dalit fiction,  non-fiction and autobiographies. Right beside these lay the Ramacharitmanas, Bhagvada Gita, ‘Rangabhoomi’ and ‘The Gift of the Cow’, also occupying pride of place.


Nita was both inspired and impressed to see so much critical literature on Dalit lives in Deepanshu Pathak’s bookshelf. She kept ruminating on those books.


In the meantime, Geetanjali had brought three glasses of water in a tray. The guests each took a glass. 


Mrs Mishra then threw her friend Geetanjali an amused stare and said – ‘Looks like Bhaisahab is at home today, that is why Geetanjali has bathed so late!’


‘No!...Deepanshu is at work. And Pinky has gone to her Nana’s house. I am alone at home!’ – Geetanjali replied. Then, she added – ‘Actually, Deepanshu was feeling a little under the weather today, that is why he went to the Our India newspaper office late. Anyway, at this time of the day, I am in no hurry whatsoever, I am free to bathe whenever I want and eat at my own leisure!’ – she added.


The other ladies chuckled and nodded their heads in response to Geetanjali’s statement. 


After that, Geetanjali brought out a cut-glass plate in which a set of fresh laddoos had been temptingly arranged. She placed the ladoos before her three guests on the centre table, and herself went and sat down on the independent sofa-seat lying to one side. 


It was the first time Nita had come to Geetanjali’s house. The entire neighbourhood and society of Brotherhood Apartments was relatively new for Nita.  She was curious to get acquainted with her neighbours and even make friends with some of them. So, Nita listened attentively to the chatter of the three other women who she could tell were good friends. Whenever Nita thought the occasion demanded it or herself felt compelled, she too uttered a few pleasant words of formality. Whenever the three other women would laugh, Nita would also smile. 


‘Bhabhi Ji, please eat’ – Geetanjali urged, passing around the plate of laddoos.


She then leaned in towards Nita and said – ‘This Bhabhi Ji is new, so there will be some formality initially. At least the rest of you need not be so formal!’


Mrs Mishra immediately picked up one ladoo and chirped – ‘Nothing like that. Look, I am helping myself!’


But, Mrs Dubey could tell that today, for some reason, their gossip-session was not picking up momentum as organically as usual. Still, she wanted to make the most of this opportunity to let her hair down with her companions, so she said – ‘These days, it seems Bhabhi Ji is getting a lot…but she is not giving any back in return!’ 


A wave of laughter immediately rose among the women, followed by ripples of light-hearted shame. Mrs Mishra guffawed and waited coyly for an appropriate moment to respond to her friend.


When the laughter died down, Geetanjali asked – ‘Bhabhi Ji, so what news about that ‘Litti Party’, which was meant to happen on New Year’s eve? Why did it get postponed?’


‘Personally, I love the idea of a ‘Litti Party’ – Mrs Dubey replied – ‘…but, I cannot stand wasted expenses. The first time we organized a ‘Litti Party’, do you recall, we invited over a hundred people, but eventually just about fifty turned up!’


‘The ‘Litti Party’ must happen. If not on New Year’s eve, we should do it during the next convenient holiday, or perhaps sometime early in the new year. This time, we will not go overboard cooking all that Litti-Chokha, so we can minimize the waste. Now we know!’ – Mrs Mishra added.


Then, Geetanjali changed the subject– ‘Bhabhi Ji, how much does your maid take?’ – she asked.


‘Oh, she charges Rs 650! Just for the sweeping and the cleaning!’


‘Are you referring to your maid Satyavati, or someone else?’


‘No, no, Satyavati only.’


Geetanjali continued – ‘Earlier, there used to be another cleaning woman. But, our upstairs neighbour stopped getting her work done from that maid. You know, that maid was once telling me that those neighbours told her – “How can we get our work done from someone whose mere shadow is offensive for us!”


Geetanjali then went on: ‘Bhabhi Ji, can you imagine what that lowly maid said to me after that? She said – “Bibiji, I clearly said to those people, if I told you I was a Thakur, Brahman or Baniya, what would you have done? I am not going to lie about my caste! After that, whether you want to give me work or not is up to you!”


This entire episode had been playing on Geetanjali’s mind so much in the past few days that she was desperate to share it with her other friends. Geetanjali then added – ‘Bhabhi Ji, the maid’s voice was so cutting that for a moment it felt as if she was accusing me of refusing her from working in our home! But, I reprimanded her by saying – “Do not tell me the inside information of another person’s house. And listen, never dare to share the details of my house with any outsider either. I cannot stand that. It does not matter to me what caste you belong to, but as of this moment, we cannot let you work in our house.” 


‘After all, Bhabhi Ji, how can you swallow a buzzing fly once you have already spotted it inside the soup? I certainly cannot get myself to do that!’ – Geetanjali said, contorting her face.


Mrs Dubey, who was intently listening to her friend, then spoke up – ‘Arrey, we are modern, big city people, it is not right for us to get involved in these petty matters. One should try to lead a clean and civil life to the best extent possible…even though some realities are hard to avoid.’


‘But, Bhabhi Ji, those who look neat and clean on the outside…it is not necessary that we start allowing them right into our kitchens! - Mrs Mishra said. Then, she looked at the other women and continued – ‘Why go far away, let me tell you what happened the other day, when I went to my neighbour’s house on the ground-floor. They are not even Chamar, Bhangi or Khatik; they are from some OBC (Other Backward Classes) community. I had barely entered their house, when I noticed that the door to their bathroom was ajar. Bhabhi Ji! I could hardly sit there for five minutes! Their house was just filthy! The bed-covers were undone and practically sweeping the dusty floor; all the chairs were haphazardly lying around; clothes were dirtily piled up everywhere; it looked absolutely hideous. I could not keep sitting in such unbearable conditions.’


Listening to Mrs Mishra, Mrs Dubey felt very awkward. She thought – ‘Why is it that I have not felt any of these things before? This is all a bit harsh…against humanistic values.’ Mrs Dubey then paused to ruminate on the disparaging words being bandied around in the room by her friends and suddenly went mute.


Noticing Mrs Dubey’s sudden silence, Mrs Pathak and Mrs Mishra chimed in – ‘What happened to you, Bhabhi ji? Daydreaming about Dubey Bhaisahab, or what?’


‘No, nothing like that!’


‘Then, why did you suddenly become silent?’


‘I was just thinking, on one hand there was Mother Teresa, who dedicated her entire life to the service of lepers, who were ‘untouchables’ just like those at the lowest rungs of our caste system. In fact, I studied in a Christian school and by coincidence I even ended up attending a Christian college. Perhaps that is why I find all this talk quite strange and disturbing. Frankly, Dubey Ji is also an ideological Marxist; and, in our home, we have never believed in observing caste taboos. We only respect civility and humanism.’


‘I will just be back…’ – Geetanjali said, abruptly getting up and going inside the kitchen. 


When Geetanjali returned, she was carrying a tray in her hands. It contained four cups of tea, biscuits and some mixture. She left the tray on the centre table and perched on the settee nearby. Geetanjali beckoned the women to have tea.


‘Bhabhi Ji, I am very clear…’ – Geetanjali started – ‘if I cannot eat with somebody or cannot take food in someone’s house, I cannot ever be friends with them.’ 


Geetanjali then passed the plate of biscuits and mixture to her guests and remarked – ‘Why are you all not taking? Why is everyone still being so formal?’


Then, turning to the new guest in the room, Geetanjali said – ‘Nita Bhabhi Ji, please, enough of this formality! Now, you are a society member like us. Till now, our group only consisted of us three friends, but from today, we have become four.’


‘Sure, sure!’ - the other ladies animatedly quipped. 


‘Yes…I am taking…’ – Nita awkwardly mumbled, feeling pressured to pick up a biscuit. All the while, Nita’s mind was thinking hard about the other women’s words.


Mrs Dubey was sitting on the chair placed directly in front of Geetanjali. Geetanjali then turned towards her and said – ‘Bhabhi Ji, please do not mind, but I cannot bear to see someone’s naada hanging loosely outside their pyjama like that! I noticed yours some time back. I tried to contain myself, but I could not…’


Mrs Dubey, who believed she had come finely dressed for the occasion was suddenly struck by a bolt of embarrassment at the mention of her hanging naada; she sheepishly tucked the knotted thread back inside her pyjama and, as if she was being accused of something undesirable, offered her defence -


‘Why should I mind, Bhabhi ji? Thank you for letting me know! Had ten more people seen it, they would all have laughed at me. Nothing wrong in speaking the truth. Although, I normally always keep my naada tucked inside properly.’


Mrs Mishra started sniggering to herself. The other ladies smirked too and one of them asked Mrs Mishra – ‘What is happening Bhabhi Ji, what is tickling you so much?’ 


But Mrs Mishra kept giggling, much to their surprise. After catching her breath, Mrs Mishra said – ‘Bhabhi Ji here keeps it inside only!’ – with those words, all the women burst out laughing and for a few moments the entire apartment resounded with their echoes.


Taking the last few sips of her tea, Geetanjali turned to the new guest in her house and shared the memory of a recent incident with her –


‘Bhabhi Ji, just last week, a Dhobi from our village turned up at my doorstep. Deepanshu and I were flummoxed, what to do with this man? In the village, my mother dutifully keeps the vessels and glasses of these ‘lower-castes’ separately. Once, I remember, our father had bought a new set of shining steel glasses. The day after Makarsankranti, when the Dhobi came to take our clothes, it was extremely cold outside. Amma thought, tea is being made at home, let me give him a cup of tea as well. So, Amma took the tea in one of the sparkling new glasses, thinking the Dhobi would have his own cup and she would pour the tea into it from above. But on the other hand, the dim-witted Dhobi thought the Panditayan of the house was celebrating the festival by giving him tea in a new glass along with some khichadi!


‘The moment that Dhobi’s fingers touched the shining new glass, poor Amma shrieked with such a fright that we all thought she had been bitten by a poisonous snake. When we came running out of the room, we saw Amma standing there severely reprimanding the Dhobi – “Now, take this glass and be gone from my sight, this new vessel is of absolutely no use for us anymore!” – Amma was shouting.


‘Bhabhi Ji, that very same village Dhobi’s son came knocking on our door here the other day! He claimed he was literate and even had some basic education. Now, if one does not give such a person some stuff to eat, that also would not have shown us in a good light. 


‘Deepanshu, who was home that day, sarcastically snapped and said to me – “Geete, it is your brother on the door, you might as well feed him. Otherwise, what will the poor soul think?”


‘Bhabhi Ji, I was trapped in a deep dilemma. What should I do? Suddenly, I remembered that inside somewhere we had a plastic plate and a bowl, which we used to feed our beloved Donald his food in. That poor creature was so faithful and loyal to us till the very end. He would keep roaming around the house like a sentinel, wagging his tail and guarding us the entire night. Even our neighbours feared coming over when they knew Donald was about. At the slightest sound, his loud barks would fill every nook and cranny of the house. Donald was a beloved of my mother-in-law. After his death, in his memory she had only stored his vessels inside. So, I immediately rummaged for those vessels and served the Dhobi’s son food in them’ – Geetanjali narrated.


Listening to that anecdote, Mrs Mishra started twitching and making furtive facial gestures, signalling to Geetanjali to be quiet. 


But, after pausing for a few seconds, Geetanjali turned to Mrs Mishra and resumed talking again – ‘Bhabhi ji, are you trying to say that you would have also done the same thing? You believe in these things as well.’


Mrs Mishra had actually intended to quieten Geetanjali, so she immediately interjected - ‘No, Geetanjali, it is not like that!’ She then turned her back to Nita, as if she was silently trying to give the other two women in the room a hint that this was not the best time to be discussing such things.


Geetanjali, however, adamantly continued her story – ‘Before leaving, the Dhobi’s son gave my children 50 rupees each. Apparently, when he went back to the village, he praised us a lot. But, when I found out about this, I felt ashamed. Our entire honour had been immeasurably tarnished! To add to that, my parents were breathing down my neck, saying – “Just because you have moved to the city now, it does not mean you forget all our caste practices and customary observances! Have you forgotten where the place of these low castes in society is?’” 


Geetanjali continued – ‘When I met that Dhobi’s boy, by chance, in the village once, he was excitedly saying to me – “Jiji, the next time I come to the big city, I shall visit you again.” 


‘I rebuffed him there and then – “No! Never come to my house again.”


By now, Geetanjali’s words were burning every pore of Nita’s body. Listening to her go on, Nita felt as if Geetanjali was trying to forcibly feed her in the pet dog’s vessel. Nita immediately felt nauseous and giddy. A deep restlessness settled within her, making her head throb with pain. An echo rapidly hollowed out her ears and the ground beneath her feet felt as if it tremored violently. Nita wanted to shriek in agony, but just that minute she felt as if her mouth was being gagged and somebody was deviously twisting her neck, preventing her from even breathing. 


Slowly, Nita brought her hands to her face and touched her ear-lobes; they were burning and had become bloodshot. Nita suddenly remembered the words of Dayashankar Ji, the in-charge of the editorial page at The Nationality newspaper. For the first time, when she had accompanied her husband to see their new house in Brotherhood Apartments, Dayashankar Ji had said – ‘Udayvir Prasad Ji, there are no bigots or hypocrites living in our housing society. Everyone here believes in dignity and modern democratic ideals.’ 


But, before Nita’s very eyes, a grisly and gruesome form of casteism was openly on display. She was about to retort, when suddenly Mrs Dubey spoke up –


‘Geetanjali, you should not have done such a thing…An animal is an animal, and no human being is ever big or small, worthy or unworthy, just because of their caste. In missionary school, we were taught that the greatest sin one can commit is to insult another human. We are all the children of God. To humiliate a fellow human is to provoke the wrath of God.’


Listening to that, Nita felt a strident urge to intervene so she affirmed Mrs Dubey’s words and said  - ‘Bhabhi Ji, you are very right. Observing untouchability towards someone who is leading a dignified life in spite of such intense hardship is absolutely wrong. Physical distance should be maintained from someone who has a contagious disease, not a poor human being.’


Geetanjali became unnerved and agitated by both the women. She thought – ‘What is the big deal if Mrs Dubey studied in a missionary school? Today, she is sanctimoniously preaching about the wrongness of purity and pollution. As if we are illiterate, ignorant and uncivilized ourselves!’


Geetanjali’s agitation against her own friend, however, was really born from something much deeper. She thought - in spite of being born into an ‘upper-caste’ family, Mrs Dubey had not an iota of concern for the wellbeing of their nation’s future or for others like herself. 


On the other hand, Geetanjali also felt like admonishing Nita. Had it not been her first time in my house, Geetanjali thought, I would have taught her such a lesson that she would have remembered it for the rest of her life.


Geetanjali was now struggling to contain herself.


Mrs Mishra, who was sitting next to her asked – ‘What are you thinking about so intently, Geetanjali?’


‘Never mind!’


‘You mean to say, now you have secrets to hide even from us?’ – Mrs Mishra added, trying to placate her friend.


‘Not at all! It is just that I always believe in plainly and openly speaking my mind’ – Geetanjali said, feeling a little lighter after uttering those words.


‘But, Geetanjali, if that is how you really think then maybe we should stop eating in restaurants and hotels altogether. It is the wrong view’ – Mrs Dubey responded.


‘Tell me, Bhabhi Ji, can you swallow a fly once you have already seen it soiling your meal? How can you afford to put up with someone after knowing their lowly caste status?’


‘Geetanjali, obviously no one would swallow a fly if they have already seen it…But, to keep our ideas refreshed with the changing times is another matter altogether.’


‘Alright, enough! Let us leave these things aside and talk about something else, please!’  - Mrs Mishra interjected –  ‘Do you all know that Nandini Sharma is about to become a mother this month? What do you say, will she have a boy or a girl? I told her that she would have a baby girl, but the moment I said so she became dejected and lamented – “I would love a little girl, although you know my mother-in-law…she will skin me alive.”


Nita was quietly listening to the entire conversation. But, deep inside she was thinking – ‘Nandini will have neither a boy or a girl but give birth to a Pandit or a Panditayan instead.’ Somehow, Nita controlled herself and did not blurt anything out in the heat of the moment. 


Then Geetanjali added – ‘Bhabhi Ji, I firmly believe that this country has been spoiled by two kinds of people; one is the Christian community. Before opening their educational institutions, they did not even bother to see who is living here! Who needs to be schooled and who does not? Do they think what they are doing is education? Certainly not. It is mere indoctrination.’


Geetanjali went on - ‘The second are Marxists, who have played a key role in corrupting all our people’s minds. Their fault is that they have misaligned our cultural values and social structure. They want to preserve the purity of our daughters, but they also want to dissolve the caste system.’ 


Nita was seething inside as she heard Geetanjali. She wanted to interrupt her and squarely tell her - ‘What rubbish...! The moment you savarnas see the cream of our caste, you desperately start hankering after their wealth. In pursuit of your own rapacity and greed, you steal our innocent sons and daughters and make them your own caste slaves!’ 


However, the distress was far too overwhelming for Nita. She became totally mute. Sitting in that drawing room, Nita was realizing the futility of even expecting the women around her to change their Brahmanical attitudes and ways.




Later that evening, Geetanjali called Mrs Mishra and Mrs Dubey, to inform them that in anticipation of the upcoming ‘Litti Party’, a small conference was being organized at her place around noon the next day, to plan everything. They were invited.


Addressing the menfolk gathered at his home, Deepanshu Pathak cordially said – ‘Honestly, the ‘Litti Party’ is only an excuse to have all you wonderful people over at our house and spend some quality time together with you and your families. I think Sunday will be an appropriate day for it. I shall tell the guard, he will go around and inform all the other members of our housing society in the morning. So, Sunday afternoon, we will all break bread together. All the families living in Brotherhood Apartments are invited to the community feast in our house.’


That evening, when everybody had left, Geetanjali confronted Deepanshu with a tone of alarm in her voice. ‘What were you saying earlier? Each and every family in the apartments will come and eat here together?’ – she asked.


‘Yes! That is what I said’ – Deepanshu reaffirmed.


‘Will everybody cook in their own houses and bring it here to eat?’


‘No…that is not what I meant.’


‘Is that Udayvir also going to come and eat food in our plates?’


‘Oh no! Rest assured, that will not happen. We shall not invite him.’


‘But, how is that possible? If your other communist friends find out, they will all ridicule you.’


‘They will ridicule me only if they find out, Geete! What is the need to talk about that Chamar family separately, anyway? We will just not invite them. Without an invitation, they would dare not show up. In fact, it will also deliver a strong message to them.’




Right from the morning the following Sunday, Nitin Dubey, Dayashankar and all the other men busied themselves preparing for the ‘Litti Party’. They kneaded the wheat and prepared the round balls of Litti stuffed with Sattu. Alongside, their wives cooked the mash of Chokha made from brinjals, potatoes, tomatoes, garlic and chillies. The Litti was freshly roasted and served steaming to all the guests. By about 3pm, everyone had eaten to their heart’s content and the afternoon transitioned into a leisurely pace for everyone to lighten up and enjoy.  


Just that moment, Dubey Ji’s daughter, Kannu, who was playing in the quadrangle outside Deepanshu Pathak’s house, noticed her friend Sweety, Nita and Udayvir’s daughter, standing on her balcony.  


Kannu loudly shouted – ‘Sweety!...Coming to the party?’


Young Sweety replied – ‘My mother said we have not been invited. That is why I cannot come to the party.’


The children’s loud chatter soon reached the ears of Dubey, Mishra, Dayashankar and a few other men, who were all standing not too far from them. 


‘Was Udayvir not invited?’ – someone asked. The men looked at each other quizzically. 


Then, Dubey Ji said – ‘It was our responsibility. This is wrong; here we are all having a community feast, and one family is being excluded. How will we ever achieve a social revolution like this? A community feast does not mean everyone literally eats from the same plate…So, what is the harm in inviting them? I will tell the guard to go and inform Udayvir right now.’


Standing a few feet away, Deepanshu Pathak was listening to his comrades. He leaned in and weaved a tissue of lies – ‘Strange that Udayvir has not turned up! In spite of the fact that we told the guard to inform everybody, including him’ – Deepanshu said.


Noticing the other men shaking their heads, Deepanshu went on – ‘Now, if that Udayvir still does not care to come, what are we supposed to do about it?’


‘But his daughter was just saying that they have not been invited?’ - Nitin Dubey asked.


With an earnest expression on his face, Deepanshu Pathak replied – ‘What do you think, the kids of today are God’s mouthpieces who always speak the golden truth? Quite on the contrary, today’s modern children have minds of their own! Arrey, kids these days can tell lies and make fools out of even the most experienced adults.’ 


With that, Deepanshu Pathak cleverly managed to pull such a fine veil over everyone’s eyes that the lines between truth and untruth practically dissolved. As the men nodded and smiled, Deepanshu was smugly thinking to himself – ‘This is called ‘killing the snake without even breaking the baton.’


The ‘Litti Party’ was on the verge of finishing. The organizers and attendees, including those who had turned up late, were all standing around holding plates of food and drink in their hands, exchanging pleasantries and enjoying the convivial community atmosphere.


Udayvir Prasad’s balcony door faced the very same direction where the party was going on. Udayvir’s daughter, Sweety, kept looking over the parapet from their balcony, talking every now and then to Dubey Ji’s daughter below. Kannu kept calling her friend to come downstairs. 


Suddenly, Nita emerged in a rage onto the balcony; she clutched Sweety’s arm tightly and dragged her daughter inside the house, shutting the door behind her with a loud bang.


Inside, the entire house began reverberating with Sweety’s wails. 



Rajat Rani ‘Meenu’ is a leading Dalit-feminist poet, writer, academic and author who currently teaches in the Department of Hindi at Kamla Nehru College, Delhi University. She has authored and edited several publications including Pita Bhi Toh Hote Hain Ma (2015), Hum Kaun Hain (2012), Hindi Dalit Katha Sahitya: Avdhaarnayein aur Vidhayein (2014), and Jati, Stri aur Sahitya (2020) and was recently awarded the Dr Ambedkar National Award, 2022, by the Bharatiya Dalit Sahitya Akademi. 

Nikhil Pandhi is an Ambedkarite queer-feminist researcher, anthropologist and anti-caste literary translator from India. He is currently completing a PhD in the Department of Anthropology at Princeton University. He was recently awarded the inaugural PEN Presents Award, 2022, by English PEN. His translations of anti-caste poems from Hindi to English have been published in Scroll and The Wire. A book of selected anti-caste 'love stories', edited and translated by him is forthcoming from Zubaan, India's leading feminist press. He is also a Rhodes Scholar.

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