In Argentina, Turbans=Maharajas?

If you want royal treatment at nightclubs in Argentina, maybe you should consider investing in a turban!

While playing golf in Buenos Aires recently, R. Viswanathan, the Indian ambassador to Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, had an interesting experience: the Argentinian players asked him where they could buy a turban and how to wear it. When the ambassador probed the reason for their interest, they pointed to a home within the country club complex and said:simmarpal2.jpg

‘Here lives an Indian maharaja. He looks handsome with his turban. When he goes to the night clubs, he gets premium service and gets it free because they think he is a maharaja.’

When Viswanathan tried to explain that turbans do not equal maharaja status, the Argentinians asked him to shut up and not reveal this secret at the night clubs.

Turns out the “maharaja” they were speaking of is Simmarpal Singh, the “peanut prince of Argentina,” an employee of Olam, a 5.6 – billion dollar NRI company and a leading global supply chain manager of agricultural products and food ingredients!

Singh cultivates 12,000 hectares of peanut farms and another 5000 hectares of soya and corn in Rio Cuarto area in Cordoba province, about one thousand kms from Buenos Aires. His target is to take his company Olam among Argentina´s top three peanut players in the next few years. When he came to Argentina in 2005, his company was 28th in ranking in peanuts and he has already made it as sixth this year.

Viswanathan’s story, which profiles Singh’s work, ran in various Indian papers, including the Hindustan Times Punjab and The Asian Age, this past week. It examines the farming industry in Argentina and its potential to assist agriculture in India which is going to face shortage of land and water in coming years. Read it in full here.

37 thoughts on “In Argentina, Turbans=Maharajas?

  1. When Viswanathan tried to explain that turbans do not equal maharaja status, the Argentinians asked him to shut up and not reveal this secret at the night clubs.

    Puh-lese, some Desis are way too humble. If it were me, I’d be playing the Maharaja card to my FULL advantage. Exotify away! We need to learn to work the good stereotypes like our black brethren do. (wink, wink)

  2. Thanks for this blog link. Very interesting personal observations of India’s growing links with Latin America.

  3. When I clicked on the link in the post, I ininially didn’t believe I was actually reading a real-life Indian Ambassador’s first-person account of a visit to a peanut farm. There were multiple cognitive disconnects, the biggest of which was that an Indian Ambassador was actually blogging in the first person in an ordinary blog, leave alone that he would visit a peanut farm. It just couldn’t be, I thought. Then I clicked on the ‘R Viswanathan’ link, and went to his youtube page, and saw the videos of him speaking in Spanish. Although he was speaking appreciably slower in Spanish than anyone else I’ve ever heard speaking Spanish, articulating every word carefully – he was speaking extempore, and he had drawn a capacity white crowd at the elite University of Buenos Aires and other places. And they were actually listening to him and laughing at his jokes. (He was explaining how India’s economy is like an elephant.) Given that Argentina is nearly 87% white, and he rather resembles an indigenous South American, especially when speaking Spanish, I was pleasantly surprized that he was able to draw such a crowd.

    Congratulations Ambassador. And Sandhya, thank you for blogging this and bringing it to our attention.

    The other side of this, of course, as he speaks about Argentina possibly being a future source of arable land for India-bound agricultural produce – and ‘managing’ a ‘global supply chain’ for an India-based agri-conglomerate, is that it also looks a bit like the plantation of old. Except that now it is Indians that own the plantations..

  4. Except that now it is Indians that own the plantations..

    Is plantations a bad thing? The ambassador is not talking about enslaved natives working for peanuts, but industrial farming of peanuts!

  5. This is the reason that I own Olam in my portfolio. No one messes with a maharaja, my friends. The turban makes him look so regal and what’s underneath it makes him majestic.

  6. What about Sikhs in Pakistan. I heard they have have to pay something called jazia? is that, like, a disco fee or something?

  7. Nothing pisses me off more than a story of someone who is filthy rich because of things you never think of.

    Peanuts? Really? Billionare because of something kids like to throw at elephants.

    Someone is walking this planet at this very moment with 10 million dollars in their account because they make toilet seat covers.

  8. Nothing pisses me off more than a story of someone who is filthy rich because of things you never think of. Peanuts? Really? Billionare because of something kids like to throw at elephants. Someone is walking this planet at this very moment with 10 million dollars in their account because they make toilet seat covers.

    Honestly, I’d rather people get filthy rich by actually, you know, making stuff. It certainly beats getting rich by moving digits on a spreadsheet.

  9. R. Viswanathan Simmarpal Singh

    If I was R. Viswanathan/Simmarpal Singh I would be such a dirty playboy in Buenos Aires — a goldmine of hot white girls. I’m a young brown guy and when I become rich — Argentina is defintely going to be on my travel itinerary when I have a gori fetish.

  10. This will add to my GF’s belief that all Punjabis are sardars, regardless of lack of turban or beard, and now, that they are all royalty (and look elegant). She even once half-jokingly asked me to try them out even though I am agnostic.

    For some reason, this brings to mind the great scene in Simpsons, when Stampy the elephant is on a rampage and is running towards towards the Peanut factory much to the Supervisor’s horror:

    “This is the moment we feared, people. Many of you thought it would never happen, but I insisted we spend two hours every morning training for it. You all thought I was mad. Many of you requested to be transfered to another peanut factory. But now…(Stampy storms into the peanut factory knocking him over).

    Just the concept that this man was actually drilling people every day for an elephant attack, and then it finally came true – so classic!

    But what a great situation – being asked to sardar-ify them. Could be a lucrative business, for the turban-tiers in India.

  11. What about Sikhs in Pakistan. I heard they have have to pay something called jazia? is that, like, a disco fee or something?

    Joke fail.

    If I was R. Viswanathan/Simmarpal Singh I would be such a dirty playboy in Buenos Aires — a goldmine of hot white girls. I’m a young brown guy and when I become rich — Argentina is defintely going to be on my travel itinerary when I have a gori fetish.

    Except that if you were a sardar your behavior would be considered repugnant and incongruent with the responsibility of the attire.

  12. Except that if you were a sardar your behavior would be considered repugnant and incongruent with the responsibility of the attire.

    I know lots of sardars who are playboys. Thank goodness they don’t have the ‘attire’ taliban breathing down their throats all the time.

    Folks, time for something cool, this is an AFP news item about Sikhs in Argentina who have a Gurudwara in a small provincial town in the north of the country. They originated in the 19th Century when the British helped build railways there, same story with how Indians ended up in Kenya I guess. It’s amazing how many small pockets around the world in the most unexpected places where you will find Indian diasporas.

    Sikhs in Argentina

  13. There is a wider history of Sikh immigration to Argentina. In Buenos Aires, the community is tiny and highly assimilated. You can read more about it here and see pictures here.

  14. This is a picture of a family of Argentinian-Punjabis….a mixed race family which is almost the norm in the tiny community of Buenos Aires. Note one thing though….they are eating DHAL ROTI!!!

    You can assimilate as much as you want but you can never escape the roti!!

    Some other Argentinian-Punjabis here (blonde in shalwaar kameez), wedding in Gurudwara with mixed race Argentinian-Punjabis, researcher with Arg-Pun family

    If there is a God one day we will see an Argentinian player called Javier Singh at the World Cup!

  15. Bobby, Thanks for those links. I had seen an article earlier here, but the one you linked is much more comprehensive.

  16. I know lots of sardars who are playboys. Thank goodness they don’t have the ‘attire’ taliban breathing down their throats all the time.

    Dude, back up. My reference to the fact that there are actual expectations and responsibilities — of a religious nature — attached to “sardar” attire is not some kind of crazy, oppressive, authoritarian position. My comment is not anywhere on the order of the Taliban, and it’s irresponsible to throw that term around to deride any argument with a religious reference. It is doubly offensive and degrading to the actual victims of the Taliban’s rule to conflate an observation with an brutalist, oppressive, human rights violating regime.

    I didn’t get a chance to write a thoughtful deconstruction of my position last night, so I will try to sum it up here. There are certainly “sardars” who are playboys. I would argue that if you are Sikh, however, sporting a sardar’s attire, then playing up your “exotic maharaja” personality to be a “dirty playboy” and scam on chicks stands in complete contravention of Sikhi’s principles, specifically with respect to gender equality and its prohibition on lascivious/lustful conduct. I’m not arguing that anyone who wants to grow out his facial hair and wear a turban is prohibited from being a playboy — if you want to play up your own exotification/fetishism and be someone’s sex object, go right ahead. I’m just saying it is hypocritical and repugnant for Sikhs to do it, particularly because there are actual responsibilities and privileges that attach themselves to a Sikh uniform. An analogue would be the responsibility one incurs not to abuse his authority as a police officer when wearing his badge. It doesn’t mean people don’t abuse that right, but it is still worthy of criticism.

  17. Thanks for the lecture Camille but I didn’t read past the first sentence as it seemed very angry and I am too busy setting up a night out with my playboy sardar buddies in some nice hotel rooftop bars and nightclubs. Sorry.

  18. Only problem is that only baptized Sikhs are the ones who have to abstain from alcohol, meat, gambling, lascivious behavior, etc.

    Most if not all non-baptized Sikhs drink, trim their beards and some eat meat.

    I prefer that if you’re baptized, and keeping the look only due to family pressure, but still drink and smoke, then, please shave and don’t stick with the image – in these cases it is bad.

    But like I said, most other Punjabis can still drink and have fun without it being a ‘uniform’.

    But hey, every Brown person is an ambassador for their culture in some way – so just don’t be a deuche overall :)

  19. I wasn’t angry, Bobby, but I understand that it’s easier to pigeon-hole someone than engage. Have fun with your rooftop soirees.

  20. As a Spanish speaking Indian living in Spain, I have seen other Indian families who are half Spaniard half Indian, mainly Sindhi. But the Pubjabi Argentinian families are a novelty to me, as I didn’t think the Punjabis existed in Buenos Aires and that they were so assimilated into the Argentine culture. An interesting read.

  21. Someone is walking this planet at this very moment with 10 million dollars in their account because they make toilet seat covers

    . atleast that we need….but there is someone walkin around with millions because he/she created Snuggie..a freaking blanket w/ sleeves…

  22. He’s Jatt.

    But he does not look scythian at all. Maybe he is a chamar?

  23. But he does not look scythian at all. Maybe he is a chamar?

    Are you actually serious with this question? WTH is a Scythian – is he an INdian; a south asian? Look when you look at white people, don’t you see people with big, elongated noses and some with small stubby noses. Why is there such attention to these stereotypes that are broken everyday?

  24. “Thanks for the lecture Camille but I didn’t read past the first sentence as it seemed very angry and I am too busy setting up a night out with my playboy sardar buddies in some nice hotel rooftop bars and nightclubs. Sorry.”

    Seriously, a lot of Sikh girls are playgirls/pimpettes (whatever you want to call it) as well. Its funny how Sikhs in US, Canada, UK, lecture about Sikhi principles and then go clubbing the same night; and then to the Gurudwara the next morning.

  25. He’s Jatt. But he does not look scythian at all. Maybe he is a chamar?

    He’s probably from the business community of Sikhs. I’m not Sikh but the Sikh hierarchy is something like this

    1)Jatt 2)Punjabi Brahmin 3)Rajput 4)Business community 5)everyone else

  26. Nam:

    I have seen other Indian families who are half Spaniard half Indian, mainly Sindhi

    dado interesante…

  27. Don’t know where you get your Sikh hierarchy from ( contradiction as there are no castes in sikhism, however Punjabis who are sikhs have a cultural caste system based on the hindu one), but whoever he is I am proud of the Peanut Maharaja

  28. I didn’t read Camille’s response because I am scared of being told off like by my angry aunty.

    Sardars are the best company for nightlife and enjoyment, the understand the adage of ‘work hard, play hard’ — this is absolute 100% truth.

  29. Bobby,

    You have your heart in the right place regarding freedom of the individual within Sikhism. So you might be interested in this analysis, Monopoly religion.

    It is deeply sad that a most gloriously inventive, radical and genuinely pious religious community like the Sikhs now seems to be frequently hostage to a regime of internal intolerance. Not only was this tradition founded on the premise of an astonishing synthesis; it allowed an amazing internal diversity as well. In the nineteenth century, there were a large number of traditions with which Sikhs identified: Khalsa, Nirmala, Udasi, Nanak-Panthi, Nihang, Kalu Panthi, Ram Dasi, Kuka, Nirankari, etc. Now it is fair to say that over the course of the twentieth century this diverse tradition has also succumbed to the cardinal sins any religious tradition can commit: establish a coercive set of monopolies. The roots of the current conflict that took a murderous turn in Vienna will, in due course be traced to contingent causes. On the face of it, both the violence in Vienna and the violent response in Punjab will turn out to have political overtones. But underlying this conflict is the fact that Sikh identity has been transformed over the course of the twentieth century, often in the direction of internal intolerance. Some of its followers have succumbed to the idea that there can be only one authoritative interpretation of the tradition, there can be only one authority pronouncing over temporal aspects of the religion, and that both of these monopolies will also be tied to a territorial imagination. The attempt is to monopolise the master narrative of Sikh tradition, to eviscerate its diverse imaginings, and to concentrate power in organisations like the SGPC. You take all of these aspirations, and align them with religious politics and you will get the combustible mix that we are seeing in Punjab. The blunt truth is that the drive to standardise Sikh identity is the root cause of so many of these troubles. It is not often discussed in public, but there is no getting away from the fact that organised groups within Sikhism, including the SGPC, have served to silence internal criticism within the tradition. Openly challenging authority has become a risky business, and a number of Sikh intellectuals feel under pressure not to challenge the insidious monopolies that are putting the liberal imagination within Sikhism at great risk. It is a truism that the conditions for generating an enlarged and liberal outlook are less a function of the doctrine of a religion, but more a product of the fragmentation of authority. When any tradition is comfortable with the idea that there is no monopoly over authority, over interpretation, it is more likely to be comfortable with internal dissent. The fragmentation of authority is important for the intellectual vitality of any tradition. But the move in organised Sikhism has often been in the reverse direction: to uphold monopoly over authority and homogeneity of identity at all cost. Unless the tradition comes to terms with this increasing internal intolerance it will remain hostage to violence. Many religious identities see themselves under siege in the modern world, and are inventing new abstract identifications that do away with the richness of traditions. In that sense Sikhism is not exceptional. But in the Indian context the fact that so much of its authority has been closely linked to politics, complicates its character. Political parties, let alone unfriendly powers, will not hesitate to fish in this political cauldron. It is important that this conflict be contained, and justice done, before it acquires dangerous proportions. And it is important to learn the lesson that monopolies within any religion are dangerous: they generate more conflict. One can only hope that the religion will return to the eternal and limitless verities of the sabda, and not be hijacked by the narcissism of so many little selves.
  30. We keenly follow NRI stories and are delighted to find one here. Sardarji’s are anyways are favourite NRI’s spread throughout the world. Good Article, That what we can say!