As explained by author Aravind Adiga in his fantastic debut novel, The White Tiger.
They made me drive them around for half an hour and then told me to head back.
‘Not bad’, the old man said as her got out of the car. ‘Fellow is cautious and good. Whats your last name again?’
‘Halwai…’ He turned to the small dark man. ‘What caste is that, top or bottom?’
And I knew that my future depended on the answer to this question.
I should explain a thing or two about caste. Even Indians get confused about this word, especially educated Indians in the cities. They’ll make a mess of explaining it to you. But its simple, really.
Lets start with me.
See: Halwai, my name, means ‘sweet maker’.
Thats my caste – my destiny. Everyone in the Darkness who hears that name knows all about me at once. Thats why Kishan and I kept getting jobs at sweetshops wherever we went. The owner thought, Ah, they’re Halwais, making sweets and tea is in their blood.
See, in this country, in its days of greatness, when it was the richest nation on earth, was like a zoo. A clean, well-kept, orderly zoo. Everyone in his place, everyone happy. Goldsmiths here. Cowherds here. Landlords there. The man called Halwai made sweets. The man called a cowherd tended cows. The untouchable cleaned faeces. Landlords were kind to serfs. Women covered their heads with a veil and turned their eyes to the ground when talking to strange men.
And then, thanks to all those politicians in Delhi, on the fifteenth of August, 1947 – the day the British left – the cages had been left open; and the animals had attacked and ripped each other apart and jungle law replaced zoo law. Those that were the most ferocious, the hungriest, had eaten everyone else up and grown big bellies. That was all that counted now, the size of your belly.
My father’s father must have been a real Halwai, a sweet-maker, but when he inherited the shop, a member of some other caste must have stolen it from him with the help of the police. My father had not had the belly to fight back. Thats why he had fallen all the way to the mud, to the level of a rickshaw puller. Thats why, I was cheated of my destiny to be fat and creamy-skinned and smiling.
To sum it up – in the old days, there were one thousand castes and destinies in India. These days, there are just two castes: Men with Big Bellies and Men with Small Bellies.
And only two destinies: eat or get eaten up.