South Asian or Indian: Was larger identity at root of Shah Rukh’s flap?
Posted by jagoindia on August 18, 2009
18 Aug 2009, Chidanand Rajghatta, TNN
WASHINGTON: Did Shah Rukh Khan’s troubles with US customs and border personnel begin because he embraced a larger ”South Asian” persona while forsaking his Indian identity?
Well, that’s what some ardent Indian nationalists would have you believe, even as it transpires that the Bollywood star’s engagements in Chicago and Houston were at a ”South Asian Carnival” co-hosted by Indian and Pakistani promoters.
The ”carnival” was a ticketed event ($ 25) that featured several other Bollywood stars, and included, besides the usual song and dance routines, a fashion parade and a wedding expo. In other words, not the typical Independence Day parade.
In promos of the event posted online featuring Shah Rukh Khan and other stars (Saif Ali Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Katrina Kaif, Dia Mirza, Bipasha Basu) there is make no mention of celebrating India’s (or Pakistan’s) Independence Day. The event was sponsored by Indian and Pakistani companies, including Air India and Sahara One from the Indian side.
In imaginative accounts of the encounter between SRK and the US customs and border personnel widely distributed online, desi nationalists, who have long rankled at the ”South Asian” appellation (which they believe is at the cost of a distinct Indian identity) surmised the following exchange, with the suggestion that the association with Pakistan is what got Khan into trouble with American authorities:
BCP: “So, Mr. Khan, what brings your here?”
SRK: “Well, I have been invited to deliver a speech at the South Asia Carnival.”
BCP: “And what is that?”
SRK” “People of South Asia come together in peace and harmony to celebrate independence day.”
BCP: “Ummm…South Asia. Is that a country?”
SRK: “Oh! no, no! South Asia, people of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan….(BCP cuts him off!)
BCP: “Pakistan, Afghanistan….Oh! Oh! Wait a minute here, dude! (turns around, whispers to the other BCP guy, “Man, this guy is ranting Pakistan, Afghanistan and something about being invited to deliver a speech, er… sermon..I dunno, but sure sounds creepy! No way, I am gonna get him in.” (turns around)
BCP: “Sir, I will have to ask you to step aside. Please follow the red arrows on the floor to the door. Next!”
The author of this fictional exchange then goes on to ask, ”When did India’s Independence Day celebrations take on a South Asian Carnival rubric? See, how easy it is for an Indian to lose his own identity and let others define it for him.” He then goes on to present another fictional exchange that would have spared SRK the trouble.
BCP: “So, Mr. Khan, what brings you here?”
SRK: “I have been invited to deliver a speech at the India Independence Day celebration.”
BCP: “India’s Independence Day?”
SRK: “Yes, it is India’s 63rd year of gaining Independence…”
BCP: “Yes, Gandhi…democracy. Great! Welcome to America. Have a nice day.”
The imagined conversation revives the long simmering debate over the term ”South Asian,” which some Indian hard-line nationalists believe is an entity devised by the west to dilute the Indian primacy.
The term is common in the US, where it is adopted by many organizations founded and run by US-born Indians, such as the South Asian Bar Association (SABA), South Asian Journalists Association (SAJA) and South Asian Lesbian and Gay Association (SALGA). The nationalist expat constituency has long resented this broader rubric for the sub-continent and complained that it results in Indians needlessly having to shoulder the burden of Pakistan’s poor reputation.
Similarly, some Indians in the UK rankle at the term ”Brit-Asian” used to describe all people from the sub-continent. They believe it unfairly clubs people from India with Pakistanis. The largely unspoken view is that they would prefer to maintain their distinct identity and a distance from the Pakistanis because of the terrorism-related troubles linked to them.
But Bollywood stars typically appear embrace the “South Asian” identity, partly for commercial reasons involving a large market in the region, including in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. Bollywood movies and live shows in US and Canada attract fans from all these countries.
However, the unknown author of the campaign against the term South Asia signs of with the following advice for Shah Rukh Khan: ”Skip the South Asia epithet…Stick to identifying yourself (proudly) as an Indian citizen only…And America would have welcomed you with open arms.”