Beauty, politics and ‘our Indian culture’.

On Sunday evening I attended the Miss Indianz beauty pageant. Of course I went for the cheap thrills and because I had a free ticket. I am totally against beauty contests. They degrade and objectify women firmly placing them within the patriarchy. Did anyone see the sketch of an Indian man going into spasms when he sees a scantily clad gori rolling out chappatis on A Thousand Apologies? That is the ultimate Indian male fantasy. That is what beauty contests do. This is not to disparage the young participants. Mostly sixteen and seventeen, the ‘follow-your-dreams’ drill indoctrinated into them, they were obedient Indian girls probably unaware of feminism or the post-feminist world or that the right to vote was hard won. I seriously doubt if they know who Arundhati Roy/Vanadana Shiva/Medha Patkar are. They were merely showcasing Indian culture!

And wherever there is showcasing ethnic culture the politicians turn up. To smugly revel in the multicultural nature of our Aotearoa New Zealand. So Phil Goff, Chris Carter and Rajen Prasad were there. I’d seen Chris Carter the previous evening at the Ethiopian New Year celebrations. Him, Ashraf Choudhary, Farida Sultan and Helen Clark, lots of grateful refugees even more beholden in the presence of the MPs  and funky young Africans who want to represent themselves. Multiple identities and all. tyipcally Chris Carter mentioned, the pan-African-New Zealander website as if it would not have happened if these people had not been supported. Nuredin, one of the founders and very articulate, emphatically told me they did not want government funding or bureaucrats appropriating them. They wanted to do this themselves, as they deemed fit. Imagine another showcasing of culture in the hands of government officials!

Not that Miss Indianz is there yet. But Rajen Prasad promised more ‘celebrations of Indian culture’ when he got into parliament. That is before he removed his jacket and walked the ramp.

Utterly, utterly vacuous.

Someone tell him Obama he ain’t. And, if as he says, he is a novice at politics, then he should maybe get Sarah Palin’s speechwriters or John Key’s spin doctors to do his spiel. Or it does not matter because the copy-paste ethnic Indian media is beholden to him anyway?

The phrase ‘Indian culture’ was thrown about so much at this event it was like vomitus after excess indulgence. I know, terrible analogy but the words have lost there meaning. What does Indian culture mean? Whose Indian culture? What version? Should not there be a discourse to argue about and qualify this phrase? Different meanings for different people ya? And all legitimate ya? Yet this singing-dancing exotica that ghettoises the ‘ethnics’.

At least that is what was showcased at the pageant. Out of the seven finalists in the talent round, one did her version of Stupid Cupid and another spunked out in a coconut bra. The rest all did Bollywood dances! Even the girl who came out dressed in a nine-yard saree. Ah, I told my colleague, she is going to do the lavni, Maharashtra’s folk dance. Instead she just did a Bollywood version of the lavni. As if there is a dearth of lavni songs-even from Marathi films. (Seriously I wanted to shout Jai Maharashtra!) Then an entertainment item had very young girls opening their legs wide open and shake the pelvis. Our great Indian culture! Such dance steps so normalised now that perhaps neither the parents nor teacher thinks it is sexual? Or I have a dirty mind? 😀

I guess we are floundering in the whirlpool of mediocrity letting others, especially politicians and bureaucrats, decide what our culture is. Popular culture is one thing and fine in its place. What about other aspects? How and where do we create spaces to integrate into the mainstream and develop ideas coming out of that? Or do we remain the performing monkeys that come out once a year for Diwali/Lantern Festival and go back to the ghetto after that?

The Nats have no clue about the multicultural demographics in this country and putting Asians on the list does not mean anything. On the other hand Labour is stagnating and talks only to those community leaders that are subservient (or invite them for dinner or whatever). And all men too!

So how does one assert the need for creative spaces and cultural interaction? Move out of the ghetto mentally. Take charge. Ask questions. Have a dialogue. Democracy does not mean just voting. And being a minority does not mean just feeling perpetually grateful. We are more than ‘our Indian culture’ (as defined by others). Be brave. That’s all I can say.

And to end this classic lavni from the Marathi film Amar Bhupali. 🙂

2 thoughts on “Beauty, politics and ‘our Indian culture’.

  1. Pingback: Queering The Superficial Multiculturalism Of Aotearoa New Zealand. | DrSapna

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