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Wanted in China: Cross-border babies

fashion-and-trends Updated: Apr 15, 2012 12:23 IST
Reshma Patil
Reshma Patil
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Wei Wei Han Prabhakar lives in the land of hand-pulled noodles but prefers the Maggi packets and Bikaner snacks lugged to Beijing from the home country he has never seen.

Not yet two years old, the toddler - who also responds to his Indian name, Vihaan - dozes through photo shoots and is oblivious to his modelling agent, and the webpage describing him as a 'Sino-Indian mixed blood baby'.

In a new twist, expanding economic ties between India and China have led to greater people-to-people contact and a small but visibly growing number of Chindian, or Chinese-Indian, marriages.

Now, the offspring of these marriages are also making it into the public domain, becoming increasingly popular as child models because of their wide eyes, curly hair and otherwise appealing appearance.

"Sino-Indian kids are popular as models if they look more Indian," says Vihaan's father Vivek, a Patna native who first visited Beijing as an exchange student in 2005. "We plan to continue our son's modelling projects so that he can earn his education fees himself and be self-dependent from the start."

A number of Sino-Indian couples now live in Beijing and prominent trading centres in the world's largest exporter, where few Indian residents were spotted until the latter half of the last decade. On a micro-scale, these families break deadlocked cultural perceptions in ways that the two governments could not hope to do through diplomacy.

Vivek became a Beijinger after meeting Guo Xiuyi - Nisha, to his Indian family. With their combined entrepreneurial streak, the duo has built a business together. "Our basic rules are to say both 'Namaste' and 'Nihao'," says Vivek. "Vihaan and I do the pooja every morning. We eat Chinese and Indian meals but there is no meat served on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We celebrate Holi, Diwali and Chunjie (Chinese New Year)."

When Vihaan was born, the neighbours flocked to see their 'different' newborn with the curly hair and wide eyes. On a neighbour's recommendation, the parents contacted two modelling agencies and launched their baby's career.

"We are receiving more portfolios of Sino-Indian kids," says Li Wang Ting, a photographer of child models at the Zhima Kaimen studio in Beijing. "There is a big market for foreign baby products in China and for better-looking mixed blood Chinese kids to advertise them. Sino-American and Sino-French children are the first choice."

Going back in history, the most iconic Sino-Indian marriage was of Dr Dwarkanath Kotnis to Guo Qinglan. Kotnis came to war-torn China on a medical rescue mission in 1938 and married Guo before his tragic death in 1942. Badminton champion Jwala Gutta, daughter of an Indian father and Chinese mother, is the best-known Chindian today.

"Language is the only real adjustment required for Sino-Indian children," says Mehernosh Pastakia, a Mumbai native who emigrated in 1991 and is married to Zheng Xiao Wen.

Their son, Kershasp, or Kaisa in Chinese, is now 11 and has modelled for the Garfield and Li-Ning children's brands.

"I like to do more of the action photos," says Kershasp.

His parents run three Indian restaurants in Beijing. The family prays together every morning and celebrates Indian and Chinese festivals. They supervise the son's modelling offers to ensure that homework and Hindi classes are not disrupted.

"More Indians are marrying Chinese women and having stable relationships, compared with the high divorce rate among Chinese couples," says Wei Wei Han's mother, Guo. "Chinese women find Indian men not just handsome but also traditional and family-oriented."