The road to Lucknow is paved with good intentions. And lined with shining, tyreless cycle wheels hanging from makeshift shops. Passing through SikendraRao,120kmawayfrom Etawah, I start chatting with the first non-Yadav my caste-radar can spot.
Ramdas(pronounced‘RauDas’), whom I meet standing behind a cart near a railway crossing, is — I confirm — a member of the upper caste Saini community. Yes, it’s still not rude to ask someone about his caste in UP — it’s like asking for one’s email address.
“Soareyousellingmomosorkababs?” one out-of-the-dumpling box roadside food item and another stereotypical one cropping upinmywesternUPdirt-affected head.“No,notmomosorkababs,” repliedthesmall,wirymaninhis striped sweater manning what seemed to me to be a standard momo basket with a conical lid. “This is shakahari biryani.” Almost jumping back and my braintickingcasteequations,Ifinallynoticedthesignonhiscart: ShivamVegBiryani.Iaskedhim — sounding rude, I must admit, in hindsight — whether people here actually bought his stuff. Das, with considerable martial Saini pride, said, “Yes, of course. It’s made of soya and tomato and you also get that chutney. For Rs 30,” he says, sounding incredibly metaphorical.
On a more literal level, he believes it will be a BJP-BSP fight in UP, even though “this area [Hathras district] will go to cycle [SPelectoralsymbol”.Ileavehim with his cart looking content, even though I don’t buy any of his rebel biryani. Some two hours l ater at Mainpuri I meet another mystic foodseller.Mainpuri,aseverylover knows, is part of Braj country, the seat of the Bhakti movement withBrajbhashaasthelanguage of Radha’s lurrrv for Krishna. So it was rather apt that the avuncular Baecharam, owner of Jai Ma Durga Sweets — perched on the main market road, surrounded bystacksofladoos,gulabjamuns in a kadai and other sweet delectablesbehindhim—soldmepure, syrupy love on Valentine’s Day: 150 gm of jalebi.
Along with the prediction that theSPwillreturnthistime,with theBJPtrailing.Why?“Because Akhilesh has brought development to UP, while the BJP keeps talkingaboutdevelopingUPonly if voted into power. Pharak hai. (There’s a difference.)”
Thanking him, I move into the dodgyarmsofBrajbhashiSweets and Restaurant for lunch. Why? Because they have already decorated the ceiling with heart balloons, while the shop next door....