Hyderabadis in Blackface?

It’s been an adjustment, to experience this website’s growth and witness our readership change. People leave, others join, many lurk. While I miss some of our now-absent personalities who were prolific with their pondering (Punjabi Boy, Jai Singh, DesiDancer and Espressa come to mind), I’m thrilled about our new commenters, who are expanding our discussion and bringing their unique points of view to our cacophonous, rowdy, online adda. I’m especially looking at our first-gen contributors, like Runa and Malathi, because for stories like the one I’m trying to blog, I think their perspective is invaluable, for helping us find nuance and context. What I’m trying to say is, HELP.

Al Mujahid for Debauchery left this on our news tab:

Unbelievable. Pakistani actor Moin Akhtar (a muhajir/Indian origin himself) plays Hyderabadis from India in blackface in this ‘comedy’ show.

Wait, WHAT? And here is where the DBDs come in, because I don’t understand the clip below or know who these actors are, and as I’ve stated before, I like to get as much information as possible before I get my outrage on– and believe me, I could rage about actors in blackface.

What on earth is going on? And would someone who watches desi tv please tell me that this an uncommon practice? I fast forwarded through the clip, but I don’t get the greasy, huge-black-glasses-equipped, buck-toothed character, and by “don’t get”, I mean my spider sense is tingling. What, if anything, do all of you know?

568 thoughts on “Hyderabadis in Blackface?

  1. Bytewords – do you realize that BIMARU contributes upto half the MPs. I for one certainly dont want those chaps making political decisions that directly impact me. Their decisions are made to benefit their consitutents who share nothing in common with me. Give me one solid reason why South / West India needs to be aligned with the BIMARU states except for the quaint notion of ‘India’. e.g. Maharashtra / Gujarat could easily separate and be more successful. I say it is high time that BIMARUs were cut loose. Then each of the states can be masters of their own destiny. eg. In a joint family why should the winner sons prop up the loser sons especially when the loser sons are more powerful and have the ear of the Karta. It is time for the winners to leave the fold.
    The only people who benefit from the current india are the chaps from the BIMARU states. What does you dating a north indian girl have to do with the issue of freedom. This is not about Northies being insular. This about the right to self-determination / the right to a better life. Talk to a few south indians (both politicians and the others) about how they feel re: a separate nation – loosely tied together. My experience is that many of them are unhappy with the current arrangement. The Southern nation state would be like the European Union or UAE or the Caribbean with English being the medium of communication. Tamil is not an issue in this whole debate.

  2. Give me one solid reason why South / West India needs to be aligned with the BIMARU states except for the quaint notion of ‘India’. e.g. Maharashtra / Gujarat could easily separate and be more successful. I say it is high time that BIMARUs were cut loose. Then each of the states can be masters of their own destiny. eg. In a joint family why should the winner sons prop up the loser sons especially when the loser sons are more powerful and have the ear of the Karta. It is time for the winners to leave the fold.

    i am not sure the analogy of the joint family holds here—we are masters of our own destiny. it is not true that the union government is likely to be adverserial with regard to the south. besides, the govt is playing a lesser role today than ever before and its role will continue diminishing.

    raw-resource wise, the north is much better endowed. like i pointed out, none of the states in the south could have achieved, or can maintain food security on their own—today the notion is quaint, but it was very important even a decade back. likewise, manpower wise, there is no reason to say that the north is worse off. the north, as i pointed out, is a huge market as well.

    the south is better equipped to harness manpower. it is definitely not true that we lose if we play right. on the contrary, because we have already have systems in place, the financial centers, and the associated prosperity will gravitate south—as they are already happening. mumbai and bangalore didn’t come up in isolation—if maharashtra or karnataka become independent, neither will reach their full potential. at the same time, we must find a way to balance local identities with their cosmopolitan side.

    my point is, i don’t think it is as simple as north vs south. the issue we are dealing with is how do you balance differing aspirations? even if there is balkanization, this needs to be addressed. else the current set of problems will just be replaced by another set. the tamil/hindi point was just to illustrate this. my personal experience was also just an example to say that it is not as if there is something fundamentally different between south and north indians.

    there is in my opinion, another advantage of living in a big nation. i think we have survived as a democracy because of our extreme diversity, not in spite of it. it builds a self correction mechanism because in every battle you have with another interest, you will find allies.

    Bytewords – do you realize that BIMARU contributes upto half the MPs. I for one certainly dont want those chaps making political decisions that directly impact me.

    it doesn’t matter. democracy is not about nubmers alone—lobby and special interest group politics are equally important. and don’t underestimate financial clout in a capitalist democrary: money=power. the trick is to play your cards right. yes, socialism hurts the south pretty nastily. but we are unlikely to go there again.

    This about the right to self-determination / the right to a better life.

    i disagree. i don’t think there is anything lacking in the current setup with regard to these rights. on the other hand, for example, you had the nation of karnataka. what stops a konkani fellow from saying the same thing as above? if you have a nation for konkanis, what stops a saraswat fellow from saying the same thing? how long are you going to split states?

    there is a point at which you stop, right? i think india is at that point: fundamentally, everyone has recourse to get what (s)he wants. the advantages of being in a nation together outweighs the marginal increase in self determination you will get. that is the reason we are a nation, it is pragmatic not quaint. true, the north clearly benefits from the south. doesn’t mean the south loses from it—the south benefits as well (like i mention in the previous paras). it is not a zero sum game.

    regarding politicians—like i mentioned, the far right in TN likes the idea of north/south divide. however, even the most radical fringe of the political spectrum in karnataka, maharashtra, gujarat (and i am guessing kerala and andhra) don’t entertain this idea.

  3. The north has neglected the south when it came to divying up funds in the past. Only Telugu Desam was able to use their leverage to get more federal funds for a little while.

  4. The north has neglected the south when it came to divying up funds in the past. Only Telugu Desam was able to use their leverage to get more federal funds for a little while.

    the “neglect” part is something every state claims. but infrastructure wise, the south is ahead of the north.

  5. I agree with Melbourne Desi. The richer, progressive parts of India should not have to prop up the poorer parts, which are also much more numerous and therefore politically in full control. It is 100% true that the Central Gov’t, due to democracy in action, will bend to the political might of the BIMARU states. What people don’t realise is, that even if let’s say South India becomes independent, there’s nothing stopping them from TRADING with other parts of India (or anywhere else in the world, a right which is currently denied to them by the centralist structure). If food can be imported from BIMARU, then it will be…benefitting BIMARU farmers as well.

    Sentimentally, many of us are attached to the notion of India as ONE COUNTRY…I share that sentiment too…but I think the only fair way to do that is give each state full economic, educational, and political autonomy. If Tamil Nadu wants to reach out to Japan or Argentina or Nigeria as trading partners, let it. If Israel and Gujarat cut a sweet deal that benefits both, let them. For that matter, if land-locked Punjab and coastally-blessed Gujarat (two of the most business-oriented peoples in India) want to cooperate with each other on their own terms, maybe building some great infrastructure and economic ties (which would help Rajasthan a lot too simply by being in the middle of all that activity), then let them do it. Of course, there can be a tax structure which will send SOME of the profits of this towards helping other parts of India, but the vast majority of it should stay in the state it was generated, and help the people of that state.

    The Central Govt should be restricted to currency, defense, foreign policy (that one could be tricky), and maybe handling some internal disputes (like if TN and Karnataka go to war over the river water dispute or something, or if there is some glaring human rights issues or educational/social issues which are not being adequately addressed by a particular state govt. There has to be SOME central oversight otherwise all sort of local crackpot leaders could emerge who if unchecked would wreak havoc).

  6. Byte : By being one country the benefits to the North far outweigh the benefits to the South. I dont agree with you about money overriding votes. Yes, money buys you influence but only to a point. Democracy is about numbers at the most fundamental level – votes determine the makeup of the parliament. The konkanis may demand a separate state – but will it be economically viable? I am still not clear how being one nation helps the South / West. Incidentally, Bangalore grew despite the governments (central/state). The taxes that the Mumbaikars pay go to fund the Lallus of the world!!! The far right in TN are nuts – tis the mainstream youth politicians who grumble about the Delhi durbar. Give it a few years and the rumblings will become more open. Obviously, you believe that a unified india is a win-win for all while I dont. Lets agree to disagree.

  7. As Ramachandra Guha says, India is sui generis – just because a multi-lingual democracy has never happened in Europe does not make it illegitimate. None of the advocates for the “stans” has come close to achieving their aims. Nationalism is not “sentimental” — its felt by a large body of people who share a civilization. The fact that so many stans have been bandied about here in the last couple of days is evidence of the truism that particularisms – whether Sikh or Dravidian or whatever – will always be stronger in diasporas than they are back in the home land. To go with Guha again, so long as everyone is free to speak their own language, the army is reasonably strong and free of corruption, and a national culture continues to develop amongst the elites in cities, India will endure.

  8. I think India is very viable as a unified country as long as the states get increased rights and federal taxes are decreased so the states can generate their own revenue. The federal government should generate enough revenue to fund national sectors. Leave some of it to the states. It’s amazing that the south had only one IIT. All of the colleges that sprung up were local efforts with no help from the center. The center should not be spending a single rupee to promote Hindi. That is the job of the Hindi states. But I disagree the southern states should secede just because they are richer states. In most countries, the poor will get subsided by the rich. THe problem was for a lot of India’s history, the federal government did not put enough emphasis on the south.

  9. It’s amazing that the south had only one IIT.

    let me counter this one specifically. b’lore did become the hub of iisc, iti, hal, nal, raman research institute, iim and several premier organizations. at the time of inception, iit’s were no more prestigious (and still are not more than iisc) than any other institute. all the above are central govt funded (iisc did start out as tata institute, but was groomed to be the flagship science research location as iisc after independence). other cities have similar examples.

    The center should not be spending a single rupee to promote Hindi. That is the job of the Hindi states.

    i agree—but it is a small objection imo as the amount that goes into hindi pracharan is tiny, and mainly a relic of the past. there should be no more increases till money is spent on other languages as well.

    as long as the states get increased rights and federal taxes are decreased so the states can generate their own revenue. The federal government should generate enough revenue to fund national sectors.

    we are moving in that direction. the strong central govt suited the socialist india. of late, it is increasingly hard to keep it up, coalition governments are the norm now. coalitions are a way of giving special interests more say than their numbers can, since a party with 12 members in lok sabha can pretty much wield a veto because they are the 12 members who push the coalition past the half way mark. analysts complained in the 90′s about this, but the consensus today is that this is here to stay.

    THe problem was for a lot of India’s history, the federal government did not put enough emphasis on the south.

    it is true that the union government could have done a lot more for the south. but then, it is also true that the govt could have done more for the urban poor, the eastern states, dalits (as opposed to obc’s) in the northern plains, kashmiri hindus, and a whole lot of others. they are all mistakes, but i want to point out that the mistakes are not likely to persist. every group will argue for itself, that is life—and it will not change even if states secede. but there is also a will to see that no one gets screwed over by this.

  10. To whomever wrote: “I meant successful nation, i.e. First world, something India should aspire to become within the next 50 years. I somehow don’t think Indians want their nation to be known as “Mexico of Asia”.”

    (1) India would be lucky to become the “Mexico of Asia”. Mexico’s per capita GDP is ten times that of India’s today and the proportion of people living in absolute poverty in India is 35% compared to 4% in Mexico. Mexico is in the group of countries that have attained a high level of human development according to the UN, with rank #53 compared to India’s rank of 126 (latest figures).

    (2) Before India aspires to become the “Mexico of Asia,” perhaps it should first aspire to be the ‘Nicaragua of Asia.’ With a Human Development Index of 112, Nicaragua is 14 positions higher in terms of Human Development compared to India.

    (3) No major country has ever gone from 3rd world impoverishment to first world prosperity in 50 years. I think you will find that the road toe development is a long hard slog. A little more sober reflection on the realities of this world and quite a bit less hubris-laden jingoistic chest-thumping would be welcome.

    (4) Have you ever been to Mexico? I have had the opportunity to travel there and I can tell you that it is a far more developed country (infrastructure-wise, educationally, and socially) than India currently is. To become a country ‘like Mexico’ is a noble goal for a country ‘like India’ and I think it will be harder to reach that goal than most people are predicting.

    http://hdr.undp.org/hdr2006/statistics/indicators/23.html

  11. Most Punjabi Hindus are urban dwellers – a very large number live in Delhi, where Hindi was much more widely spoken, so it made eminent sense to choose Hindi over Punjabi. There was also nationalist feeling at play: Lala Lajpat Rai felt that Hindu Punjabis were better off siding with nation over region. Given the secessionist tendencies in the Punjab that later developed, that too seems to have made eminent sense.

    I totally missed this the first time, but I don’t agree at all. Post-Partition, many states were divided and divvied up by language. By promoting the idea that Hindu Punjabis should speak Hindi, this not only resulted in Punjab losing even more territory (on top of what was lost in Partition), but it also drove an artificial wedge between Punjabi Sikhs and Punjabi Hindus. Punjabi Sikhs in Delhi also spoke Hindi — but their mother tongue was Punjabi. There is nothing wrong with having a regional identity as well as belonging to a national body politic (especially since we’ve already established the “foriegn-ness” of Hindi to many desis language speakers.

    I also take exception to the claim that Punjab was somehow intrinsically secessionist. It’s not like Sikhs are some freak renegade group who are “Sikhi and Punjabi uber alles!” I really don’t want to talk about Punjab’s “secessionist tendencies,” but it would be foolish to think this was somehow based in identity only (be it Sikh or Punjabi). An argument rooted in resource access and political representation in (local) politics became reframed as a religious conflict. We see this the world over — struggles over very basic things are reframed in terms of religion, and then it becomes an issue of “fundamentalism” or “extremism” or “terrorism” (all loaded words) instead of a conflict over concerns more common to the group as a whole.

  12. bytewords:552

    on the other hand, for example, you had the nation of karnataka. what stops a konkani fellow from saying the same thing as above? if you have a nation for konkanis, what stops a saraswat fellow from saying the same thing? how long are you going to split states?

    ..till we climax to a libertarian wet-dream state of a nation of one. ….’mmmm..do you want to go all the way?’ …’yeah’…. ‘ok, but you’ll have to apply for a visa’..

  13. Camille, EXACTLY. This is the post of Risible’s that I wanted to respond to at some length as well. I have so much to say about it, I disagreed with virtually everything he said. I guess my main point would have been that language and cultural heritage is not something that you sacrifice for politics and expediency. And that in much of the politics he refers to, the Punjabi Hindu leadership and Press was far from innocent (and neither was the Arya Samaj, that other major (and pernicious) influence on the cultural and political direction of the Punjabi Hindu community in the 20th century). Actually I wanted to write a lot more, tackling each point of his with a rebuttal, but I simply don’t have time right now. Risible’s stance strikes me as being analagous to a Sinhalese person who blames the Tamils for the violence in Sri Lanka…while ignoring all the things the Sinhalese did for so long to force the Tamils to that point. In the end, no one remains blameless of course.

  14. Curry and Rice girl, are you there ? Your experience seems traumatic and I am now worried about what will happen when I have a child. You see, my husband and I are replicas of your parents because I am Bengali and he is Mallu Christian. Maybe times have changed, because he is adored at my parents house and my in-laws have been very sweet. I love Mallu people and culture a lot…and yes I love the food too. But there are some issues that are worrying me. Could you please email me ?

  15. I have so much to say about it, I disagreed with virtually everything he said.

    No worries, Amitabh. Come back and give it to me. As I’ve said, my family on my father’s side is Hindu Punjabi — refugees from Lahore. The vociferous regional chauvinisms in the diaspora have driven me to a sort of soft nationalism. I should say that I am firstly an American, but emotional, religious, and economic ties to India (in the form of property, e.g.) make me consider myself a stakeholder in the Indian project, so you should understand that that, and not any personal animus to Sikhs, Dravidian separatists, Kashmiris, Nagas, etc., drives my perspective.

  16. ANNA, I think our Dads would be very good friends if they meet each other, because my dad loves a lot of things Mallu, more so after I got married to my Mallu dude. In fact he emails us interesting mallu stuff whenever he finds. But I have found so many things common among the two culture, that I am pretty comfortable right now.

    In general, I have seen that Bengalis think South Indians are more of intellectual (with less brashness etc), than North Indians; maybe prejudiced by bollywood movies ? But from my dating experience, I have to say that South Indian guys tend to be more respectful towards woman than northie guys, and yeah, there is loooot less eve teasing in the South.

  17. This seems like an obvious case of “They came for the people in another town, and I did nothing. They came for my neighbors and I did nothing. They came for my friends and I did nothing. Then they came for me.” Surprise, surprise. If South Asians have done blackface before, then it should not be surprising when they show the same ignorance towards their own.

  18. Whereever the colonials have once ruled, you will find this racial stereotype. In Mexico the films portray the darker pure natives as second class, In USA blacks have a color complex, And India obviously has it. I am an African American of mixed heritage with two children who are half Mexican. My wife is beautiful, but wow, the dark and beautiful women of southern India are the most elegant looking in the world. Bollywood needs to wake up to the dark chocolate because its hot!!!!!!!!

    by the way, darker skin ages more gracefully