On the Chinkyness of Saif Ali Khan

Been meaning to write something about the recent Nike “all female” ad which ad pundits have been trolling on and on about. When I first saw the ad on TV, my speculation was that the production team must have just given up on any new ideas and decided instead to go down the old safe road of celeb endorsement. Throw in a little “feminism by consumption” and you have yourselves something that can hobble along as a national campaign. Why the hell was Deepika Padukone featured in an ad with athletes? She’s a fucking model! Models (please don’t believe Bollywood) are not athletes. No one cares if she played badminton once upon a time (she was quite good at it apparently). The point is these are professional sportswomen and it is selling them short (and cheap) by glamming up what they do with models. Do not even get me started on the fact that two of the athletes are not even Indian citizens.

Let me ask a question: Where was Mary Kom in the ad? You remember her, right: India’s North East sweetheart, the same one who won shiny medals and brought so much honour to the country? The same country that refuses to lift the oppression of AFSPA from her home state, the same country that remains mute on issues of human rights abuse in Manipur. Why was she not in the ad? Did she decline or was it something else? Maybe she was busy, I don’t have the means to tell you. However, what is clear is that it is becoming very common to airbrush away (nuanced) representations of the North East. The hue and cry over Priyanka Chopra playing Mary Kom is justified. Sure, Mary is not an actress but neither was Chopra before becoming a beauty queen. The point is Chopra was given ample opportunity to develop her craft when she became a spotlight fixture. So why not for Mary or for that matter any Manipuri actress?

Part of the answer for the neglect lies in understanding someone else’s rise to stardom: Arnab Goswami. Ostensibly, Goswami is from Guwahati, Assam. I am not sure if he is Assamese or Bengali but he is without doubt from the North Eastern city. For someone with such a background, Goswami is remarkably silent on news coming out of the North East. That is because he realised something on his way up the ladder. One has to sell away one’s background in order to be bankable. Imagine if Goswami had decided to opt instead for a career covering news coming out of the North East and not Delhi or Bombay. No one would have noticed or bothered with him. That is the bitter truth. That in order to be bankable one must put one’s lot in with the majority. That what the majority wants must be given; this is the logic of profit. The rest of the country doesn’t care about what goes on in the North East. For the most part, this is fine but when people from other cultures start having stupid biases and stereotypes against North Eastern people then it becomes a problem. Isn’t the media supposed to inform us instead of ‘disinform’? Isn’t the media supposed to sensitize people about other cultures and places? It seems that in order to become a success, one must ‘whitewash’, no ‘brownwash’, no ‘de-chinkyfy’ one’s self. Goswami is the highest exemplar of this selling of one’s self for profit.

Popular ideas about the national image and national identity are often ludicrous. Most of them are premised on numbers. The larger (or economically powerful) groups decide what the smaller ones should believe in or follow. This is hardly a desirable state of affairs. In this country, in particular, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done in the field of representation and developing sensitivity towards others. Even larger minority groupings like those in the category of ‘Muslim’ still face much discrimination and hounding, so what chance do small tribal communities have? It is worse for North East tribal groups because they do not look “Indian”, they look “Chinese” or “Nepali” or something along those lines. They apparently look like “momo” or “chowmein” if racial slurs are to be believed.

Occasionally, the national news has to pick up on stories of racial and/or cultural discrimination experienced by people from the North East in the big cities. These are very infrequent but those “libtards” get somethings right once in a while. Much of the reports always come down to one thing: faces. In particular, how someone is discriminated against because they happen to look chinky. I find this very interesting. Why would someone looking chinky warrant such actions? Is there some sort of a value judgement passed on chinky people? Maybe it has to do with their food, maybe religion, maybe their language or their much-defended sense of individualism? I think the main reason why one people might discriminate against another might be owing to a misplaced sense of worth, a pride in being better than others. But if one is so much better than others, why be so insecure? If you are so much better than others, why would you even bother to do such things? It can’t possibly be because of a fear – like many Right-wing Hindus have – of the perpetually Mating Muslim™ who they believe will overcome Hindu control of India through ‘womb and scrotum’ tactics. North Eastern people can’t keep up with that sort of ‘mass reproduction’. The real reason would most probably lie in the truth of insecurity, a fear of the unknown. Maybe this misguided fear is actually a fear of the Big Chinky Mama™, China; and NE tribals just have to bear the brunt of it. Or maybe it is a fear of the mysterious newcomer whose face we do not recognise nor accept. We fear that they will disturb our sense of order. Except if they’re ‘white’, of course.

So who’s a chinky anyway? Personally I think Saif Ali Khan is very chinky. Did he get that from his Afghani (fairly chinky people) forefathers or from his Bengali mother? And yes, Bengalis are quite chinky. Especially those from the East, which is why the Bengalis won’t discriminate against you based on your facial features. They will do it because of religion, language, culture but never on what sort of face you have. That’s just crude! What would Bollywood be today without the chinky RD Burman and his even more chinky father, SD Burman? What about the half-Burmese chinky, Helen ‘’Golden Girl’’ Richardson? This is a country of diversity we are told but to watch the nonsense of Bollywood today one would think otherwise. Take the horrible, recently released film, Mohenjodaro; why is the entire city, in the film, populated by ‘’Aryans’’, where are the “black”, sorry Dravidian, people? Hell, while we’re at it, that famous Mohenjodaro ‘priest’ statuette looks sort of chinky, I reckon. I mean his eyes are slits, for god’s sake! The ‘negrito’ dancing girl might have been his girlfriend. So yes, it was probably a society, in ancient times, where a chinky man had a “black” girlfriend; that sounds more modern than anything we have today. The Bollywood set (this includes Times Now) seems happy to overlook important facts like origin, culture, distinctiveness in their pursuit of an “Indian” identity. We see that it often spills over into the curation of an actual physical appearance i.e. how an “Indian” ought to look like. They do this, not because of patriotism, but because it can be sold for great profit. The simpler it is, the more it will sell. That is the logic of the Market. When you create a simplistic, unilateral identity, you are, in effect, creating a brand. And that is priceless.

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Tabula Rasa

Or, Sensations I Can Never Relive Again Because The Initial Impressions Have Faded)

Coming home on a half day and it’s raining outside. Throwing my uniform about and running into the blankets from under whose safe warmth I could watch cartoons. Listening to raindrops hit my tin roof and nodding off.

Yellow sunlight falling on the wall of a government colony house, with a dust road running along side it. Motes floating and colliding in the summer heat of Assam. My cousin’s beautiful face peeking over the top.

Bathing with my siblings and fighting for a spot in front of the fire. Spitting at it to hear the sizzle and being scolded for it. Forced to apply the sticky glycerin and scolded for trying to drink it. Feeling my PJs warm my winter skin. Fighting with my siblings over the videogame console.

Sitting in the church basement ensconced in the thick bright red jacket, which mama bought for me from Bangladesh. The other kids smell of bidis and make faces at me. Sinking further into the material.

The glow of winter night fires in the family room. Memories of wood and coal like smoke. Poking the flames incessantly to command gas out of stone like a blowtorch. Everyone crowding the fireplace. The cats enjoy the embers.

Portrait

There are a number of things that have changed within me in the last 5 years. One was, of course, my break with religion and my slow reach towards agnosticism. I thank Joyce for that. ‘Portrait’ was the one thing that empowered me to destroy my old beliefs and build new ones – it is a thing because it is not simply a book to me – it strengthened me paradoxically like some weaker strain of religious conviction. I gave up on the god idea for humanist aesthetics at 21. And I thought I would be like that forever. That I had concretized my being into some definite enduring form.

But that was not true. Even my aesthetics, and my love of it, were subservient to something else – a politics. Re-learning, or perhaps unlearning this as well was another step. To relearn is something beautiful. To re-see, to revisit your old convictions and be embarrassed that you once held them so firmly, that you once thought that way, is precious. Quite often, we think we can define people analytically but we do not understand that people change and that change is absolutely natural and essential. Change is deep too and it isn’t explained in a few terse lines or a disposition. One must know why they’ve changed and defend it.

More than a year ago, I was casually Left, or Liberal-Left, if it suits illustration. Somehow I think I owe Noam Chomsky and Noami Klein for that. They were essential reading at the university. I also have to thank those traditionalist Eurocentric aesthetics, beamed into me since I was a small boy, for keeping me firm.  These made me such that I couldn’t stand materialism and “contemporary corporate art” (I still can’t, often enough). In that way, I suppose I came to the political through the aesthetic. My scepticism about the merits of certain aesthetics kept me from subscribing to the overall political framework which engendered it. I am very glad.

Perhaps my anti-materialism was a remnant of my orthodox Christian beliefs. If so, I am very grateful to have known it. As I write this, I think of all the Christians who busy themselves chasing after shoes, looking up dresses and trying new cars and touching phones and who do not look on Christ the Cynic except for ceremony. Like many other followers, they practice and are satisfied without the theory. They are devoted to the floating symbol of their faith, not its message.

Anyway, another chapter has begun now. Re-discovering Marxism has been a spiritual journey, or rather a journey of the Spirit. Many people ask me how I can say that about something so cold, mechanical and exacting. They don’t seem to understand the basis of it. It is a way to help people; it is a way to help my people. It lays emphasis on the local and contextual and not some abstract globalism. New Marxism undermines prejudice and ancient manacles. It is the only system which gets down close to the “lowest of the low”; it is about justice – which for me – is emotional and spiritual.

Now I am re-discovering all the great art works and songs and poems and films by Marxians and I keep asking myself – where were they hiding all this while? It is me, of course, who like many others never gave due credit to these giants nor even knew about them because they were crowded out by the more self-loving and flamboyant (and thus marketable) heroes of the (mostly) Anglo-American pantheon. Actually, even many heroes I had from the old days were extremely political people but these are never things we should talk about. We should simply read and wonder about the word-smithy, about the narrative and the character development and should forget about their many-a-times Leftist politics.

Right now, this change is there, it will add another layer to my life further. It will deepen it. Having not learned my lesson, I think this is how I will remain for the rest of my life.

Polo

There is the dump where the chicken bits would rot in the open air. Nearby, a wine shop and a wall where men line up to piss into the drain. Across the road, the women stand, waiting for cars, in front of the butchers’ shops. For some reason, I hated this place as a child, inheriting bias for the squalor and the smells. I always said it was a place for mutants because of the old woman whose back was so crooked she walked with her face downwards. She frightened me in her white sari then – which now is pure and poor in the mind, now a symbol of resilience. Polo was also where I saw the man in tattered clothes with one enlarged ear lobe that hung like an earring on the side of his face. He was always coughing and I would make a face whenever I saw him, unable to stomach the sight. I do not see him anymore. Here too, I would see the woman with the asymmetrical face, her left side slightly drooping. I do not see these people anymore and I want to, now. Now I think about them and, of course, I think about myself then. Then, I wanted to see Polo mowed down and yes, they have tried so many times to do that. Polo, after all, is unsightly and lumbering and diseased and its people pollute the river that runs alongside the length of it. Yet somehow the crazy people, the poor rag-pickers, the broken men and the bad women manage to roil every time under the boot. Every time the debris crumbles into a familiar position, these people find their place again; every year there is flooding and the moment it subsides they are out again- just a matter of shoveling out the slime, I suppose. Polo seems to have a place for everyone in the way a Church is supposed to be.