When I was in kindergarten, I didn’t know what caste was. But I knew it was something I should hide. If I didn’t, then other girls in my class would assume that I was ‘dirty’. No matter how hard I would try to keep my uniform spotless, or diligently preserve the corners of my textbooks from getting frayed. They wouldn’t see my immaculately polished shoes, which Mum or Dad spent ten minutes polishing each morning, even though they had already done it last night. Or the ‘head monitor’ badge the teacher gave me in the first month of school. All they would see, hear and think about would be my ‘low’ caste, since most their parents had instructed them to stay away from girls like ‘me’. Did their parents tell them that I was a bad person? Maybe not. Or that I could hurt them? Don’t think so. All they perhaps would have said that I was not like them, that my family and I were ‘lower’, that we were different. Or it could be that they would have heard the name of my caste being thrown around their house like a slur. Probably, when they wished to insult someone or highlight themselves as superior, they would use the name of my caste. Or maybe they learnt they were superior because they were repeatedly reminded of it in their homes. If I would have answered a teacher’s reproach of ‘Bhangi ho kya?’ for my uncut nails, with a “Yes”, then maybe she would hate me too, just like I imagined my classmates would. She could have given me a 7 out of 10, even though I would answer everything correctly on a Math’s test. She could also tell the drama teacher, who then would never consider me to play the lead fairy in the annual play. I would only be chosen for the maid’s role. “Because that’s what your people do,” maybe she would tell me when I would question it. Even when I couldn’t tie my shoelaces, comb my hair and would routinely forget to take the tiffin out of my bag after school, I couldn’t forget my caste. Because Mum would often ask me, “Aaj kisi ne tum se caste poochi?” “Haan, par maine bol diya ki hum Marwari hain,” I would answer, smug at my own precociousness. It wasn’t a lesson in lying, but one in manipulating a system, which was built to tear you down. My mum didn’t hide her caste, and was bitterly singled out in college, for it. She didn’t want her daughter to experience the shame and humiliation she had. And even as a five-year-old, I knew she was right.