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Author Topic: There's a Bong in my lassi  (Read 1377 times)

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There's a Bong in my lassi
« on: April 28, 2008, 08:24:21 AM »

There's a Bong in my lassi
20 Apr 2008, 0000 hrs IST,Bachi Karkaria

This is not a Sardarji joke. Malaysia's 150-year-old Sikh community was being felicitated on Baisakhi, but the Chief Minister of Perak kept referring to them as Bengalis. Disgusted, a large number of them staged a walk-out. The CM later admitted his mistake, but did so merely by sending an sms to the paper which had reported the event. This was insult to injury, but the lack of ethniquette may have a simple explanation. Some aide probably looked up Baisakhi on a tacky search engine, and informed his boss that it is celebrated by Bengalis. As Poila Boishakh, it, in fact, is — and on the same day that Sardars go ballistic over their version.

Ethnicity is a universal errorgenous zone. The Sikhs themselves had a tough time in the post-9/11 US since, to the average redneck, turban equalled terrorist. Remember the gas-station owner killed by this toxic mix of ignorance and paranoia? Forget foreigners, our own North-Eastern brethren are constantly humiliated by being called Nepalese, Thai or Chinese.

Still, the Malay blooper is beyond comprehension. Can you mistake Manmohan Singh for Pranab Mukherjee? You can argue that if a person doesn't know what either a Bengali or a Sikh looks like, he can hardly be expected to differentiate. But this doesn't cut the mustard-field. The Perak expats belong to what is surely the world's most recognizable community. Well, maybe the Longhorn Miao tribe of Guizhou province is more distinctive, but they are hardly a familiar sight. Unlike the turbaned and bearded Sikhs, you don't find them striding through the world's streets in their horned headdress and beaded batik.

Politicos are notoriously incorrect, just as civil servants are neither. So I’m not too bothered about the Malay CM's stupidity. What intrigues me is this: what miffed the local Khalsa more? Not being recognized as Sikhs? Or being mistaken for Bengalis?

The ethnic traits of the two communities do stand at polar ends. True, Bengali matrons can be as militant as Kaur Commanders, and some Sardarnis can also ooze soulful sangeet in long, black loose hair. I know virile Senguptas and cerebral Singhs. But the stereotype is decidedly the opposite. So much so that, when a friend ecstatically announced, "My fiancé is the perfect combination. He's half-Bengali and half-Sikh," a colleague tersely muttered, "Well, it depends on which half is where."

Forget compass-point communalism. Prejudicial quicksand lurks in every prided gene-pool. A Bengali from 'opar' will berate you, albeit in iambic pentameter, if you mistake him for a 'ghoti' from the western side. You could end up in the gurda-Kapoora if you dared presume that a 'Punjabi' was a homogeneous species who didn't care about all this gotra-Chopra. Friendly fire consumes all, from the Aiyars to the Zutshis.

If you're not dyed-in-the-wool, you're dead in the water. Let me also end this column with 'outsider' Sardars. A Penguin collection on Chennai has an essay by Ramachandra Guha, 'Tamils and Turbans in Triplicane'. It features the Sikh cricketer who spoke Tamil like a native and preferred idli-sambar to sarson da saag . But this wasn't enough for the regional 'patriotic test'. "Apparently when the left-arm spinner first came to Madras, Tamilians asked him what his initials were." 'None' was not acceptable. "So his hosts began equipping him with the kind of pedigree that every South Indian is born with," and A.G. Ram Singh emerged. 'A' for Amritsar, 'G' for Gurugobind, he and his sons became the world's only Sikhs with village-caste initials. 
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