ABSTRACT

At our very first meeting, Lerka Hembrom asked me what my caste was. 1 When I told him I was Kayasth, he smirked, ‘Ah, you tried to be Brahmon but failed, eh? Welcome to the Mulnibasi fold.’ 2 He introduced himself and his eight other friends as Mulnibasi. ‘We were born into different castes. But we call ourselves Mulnibasi, the autochthonous [in English] people of this country.’ And he clarified, for good measure, ‘Anyone who is not Brahmon, Khotriyo and Baishyo is Mulnibasi.’ Introducing us to each other was Shyamsundar Sarkar, my host in a rural locality of West Bengal’s Maldah district. Shyamsundar had been keen that I meet Lerka Hembrom because he was convinced that meeting him would help me understand the changes in people’s lives in the locality, the vaguely stated purpose for my being there.