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Monkey see, monkey do

Theory insists that Indians can only be victims of racism — unless you’re talking about the way we look at those Nigerians sitting at a cafe in Mumbai, writes Indrajit Hazra.

india Updated: Jan 13, 2008 00:11 IST
Indrajit Hazra
Indrajit Hazra
Hindustan Times

Andrew Symonds, as we know in this maa ki daal-fed land of ours where everyone is equal and scrubs each other’s backs under the shower, is a racist. He is a racist because he has accused an Indian of being a racist. Now whether Harbhajan Singh called him a “monkey” or a “Monty”, that is besides the point. Frankly, even if Bhajji had called Symonds a “half-West Indian, half-English, born-in-Birmingham, Australians-adopted, dreadlocked, sunblock lotion-lipped, Viv Richards-worshipping, beer-drinking, 6 feet 1½ inch all-rounder”, Singh still can’t be charged of making a racist remark. Why? Because Bhajji’s Indian, silly!

Theory insists that Indians can only be victims of racism — unless you’re talking about the way we look at those Nigerians sitting at the farthest table in Cafe Leopold in Mumbai negotiating the street price of what sounds like a Bengali saying the word ‘token’. Or the way a lot of us look at young women from the North-east and don’t associate them with any character from an Ekta Kapoor serial. Or...

Was Symonds thrown off a first class coach of a train at Pietermaritzburg? No. Did ex-Arcelor chief Guy Dolle call his batting style ‘eau de cologne’ compared to anyone else’s racially superior ‘perfume’ style? No. Does he ever have to face the taunts that Pakistani players face every time they’re touring outside the subcontinent and are called ‘Pakis’? Never. But I’m not quite convinced about the explanation given by some of our proudest sons that even if Bhajji had called Symonds a ‘monkey’, it was an epithet bandied about without any ill-feeling in our country. The ‘Lord Hanuman’ approach isn’t convincing when you consider that we, Hanuman bhakts, don’t call each other bandars when we’re having a good time — never mind calling Najvot Singh Sidhu a Hamadryas baboon to have an even better time. But whether the word(s) uttered were ‘monkey’ — something that Symonds may have been a bit touchy about after a usually charming Vadodara crowd chanted ‘monkey sounds’ last October when the Aussie was fielding on the boundary — isn’t very clear. But like charges of women molesting men, an Indian making racist comments to even a part-White Aussie makes no sense. Hell, the KKK finds the thought silly!

We’re the race (no subtleties, please) that considers a stamp of approval from anyone with a lack of melanin pigment to be the final confirmation that we’re on the right track. Haven’t you heard how proud we Indians are each time some firang tells us how wonderfully we speak English? Don’t you gush with pride each time a backpacker’s on his way to Benares to learn our sitar? Didn’t we swoon when Aishwarya Rai went on Oprah (Winfrey is American first...)? And isn’t it wonderful when Sunita, away for so long, comes home with her American boyfriend George? (But do watch the horror on the faces at home when George turns out to be a member of the African-American community.)

The founder of animal and plant classification, Carl Linnaeus, a Swede, had classified races in the following manner: Homo Europaeus (lively, inventive and ruled by custom); Homo Americanus (tenacious, contented, choleric and governed by habit); Homo Asiaticus (stern, haughty, avaricious, led by opinion); and Homo Afer (cunning, slow, phlegmatic, careless and ruled by caprice). Next time you’re on a plane bound to or from a foreign land, do ask yourself whether you agree with Linnaeus. If you feel that your flight would have been better without the gaggle of Jats or Mallus or Biharis in the seats next to you, you’re not racist, you’re just uncomfortable.

As for Bhajji, like the French Algerian Kabyle footballer Zinedine Zidane who head-butted Italian midfielder Marco Materazzi — who, according to the reliable (White?) newspaper, The Times, London, called Zizou “the son of a terrorist whore” — he’s the one who’s the victim of racism, not a perpetrator. And just for the record, Captain Haddock should be brought before the ICC for calling variously pigmented people “Pithecanthropic pickpocket!”, “Guano hunter!”, “Gibbering anthropoid!” and — oh, what can I say? — “Polynesian”!