I was born in a home of broad-minded Hindus. My father, though by caste a Brahmin, never wore a thread. His own father’s brother was a lifelong opponent of the caste system; a hostel he opened for Dalit students still functions in Bangalore city. My mother went from time to time to a temple, but was happy to eat with or make food for humans of any background or creed. Two of her brothers had married out of caste; a third had married a German.
When, in 1984, I got my first job, at the Centre for Social Studies in Calcutta, I had to fill in a questionnaire which, among other things, asked me to denote my religion. I wrote ‘Hindu’, immediately attracting the ire of a friend who worked at the same centre. He felt that a secular state had no business asking for a person’s religion, and thus I should have left the answer blank. This friend was a Marxist, so (although he would not then recognise or admit it) he actually subscribed to a faith of his own.