Let us begin with a story where a woman makes a strong gesture of anger against an old man who insists on knowing her caste before drinking the water she offers when he is thirsty. When the old man almost chokes on a betel nut, one of the other passengers helps him out. He is a doctor. He tells the woman: Madam, you might feel compelled to show that you do not believe in caste. I don’t. Even though I don’t believe in it, it still stays sticking to me. I just have to keep dusting it away as I go. I should not allow it to make me, or the others who are close to me, lose self-respect. That is all I care about….
Caste, as it is experienced in everyday life, is the pièce de résistance of a recently published book by SAGE, ‘Black Coffee in a Coconut Shell’ that talks about living, loving and dying with caste as an indelible marker. Thirty-two voices in the book narrate how from childhood to adulthood, caste intruded upon their lives—food, clothes, games, gait, love, marriage and every aspect of one’s existence including death. Like the editor, Perumal Murugan says, caste is like the god, it is omnipresent.
Award-winning book on casteism that you must-read
“If you insist that you do not know me, let me explain myself … you will feel, why, yes, I do know this person. I’ve seen this man.”
With these words the author, Manoranjan Byapari points to the inescapable roles all of us play in an unequal society. It talks about his traumatic life as a child in the refugee camps of West Bengal and Dandakaranya, facing persistent want—an experience that would dominate his life.