Cuteness and Caste
Jessica and I were at a mall in Ahmedabad recently. A really swanky place right next to a multiplex on the SG Highway, a places that in a lot senses signifies the new emerging rich modern Ahmedabad. We were getting some instant photos of our son for his passport application. I was walking Jahan up and down the foyer as we waited for the prints to arrive. A young man in his mid 20s walked over to us. I was carrying Jahan. He was awake and at his best and looked adorable. This guy comes over and sticks his hands out and says ‘can I take him’. I was taken aback and Jess more so. I know we can be very friendly to stranger kids, but this was wierd even to me. For a moment I thought, given how confidently he was asking for our son, that he must be a friend I didn’t recognize. But that wasn’t the case. He was a perfect stranger attracted by baby cuteness. “I don’t think so”, I said. He was sort of surprised that I denied him. I didn’t want to be impolite and explained that he is really tiny, only 6 weeks old for getting into strange hands. He was disappointed and gave a goofy look to this girl friend who was sitting.a few meters away in a coffee shop. He hung around, retreating immediately would have been accepting defeat, and asked “what name is baby”?. “Jahan”, I said quite proudly. His face changed a bit and looked at me quite quizzically and as if checking me for some tell-tale signs. “Which caste”, he asked me looking straight into my eyes. Although, I am very aware of Indians, and Gujarati’s in aprticular, being obsessed with caste and reilgion, this one was too much. “He does not have any catse or religion or country”, I said. “I hope you have no problem with that”. He didn’t hang too much after that. Just gave me a look, as if trying to see if he can see anything Muslim like in my appearance. I didn’t match his stereotype of a Muslim. Jess’s presence was even more confusing for him. He left the scene and sat next to his girl friend, clearly talking about us.
What must he be talking about, I wondered. Would he have come over to take our baby if we looked like stereotypical Muslims? What would he have done or said if I had told him that I am Muslim?
A sense of anger built up inside my heart. Why are people so interested to know the caste or religion of a 6 week old baby? Is cuteness subject to caste and religion?!