When I went to India, the state of West Bengal, the city of Kolkata, in January this year it was the first time I’d been back to that tumultuous country for almost 28 years. Before then I’d been all over the North, spending a lot of time in an ashram in the West, but never in the East.

Pawan Dhall was the first of the new Indian, Bengali friends that I met in Kolkata, or Calcutta as it is still called by many. Nothing in India is clearly bordered, everything is in flux with varied possibilities, so gender too has its complications and uniqueness in that country.

One aspect of society that exists in India as nowhere else I know is that of the caste system, the named and historic way of classifying people which goes way past the class system in the UK. After talking with Pawan, when he brought up the caste system and how it affects all aspects of Indian life, including, of course, gender, I decided to talk more with him, to mine some of his well worked wisdom.

This fresh angle on social class, privilege, power and so on shines a light on our own ways of division and hierarchies, the masks of gender we impose on others. And ourselves. The outsider from the comfort of our own little worlds has much to tell.

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