For almost ten years I wrote a column in The Post called ‘Pather’s Point’. I wrote about everything from politics to the ridiculous sexualization of little Indian girls mimicking Madhuri Dixit in tiny sequined blouses as they gyrated to “choli ka peeche kya hai”.
I have now lived in Johannesburg since 2001 and my contact with the Indian community is frankly limited to my own family circle, a few friends and my monthly forays into Fordsburg. Across the road from me live an Indian family and the retired man of the house and I sometimes share a quick chat as I drive into my garage. As a self confessed voyeur, I troll the Facebook pages of my Indian family and friends and catch snippets of conversations and issues that are really not part of my life.
Compounding the mental and physical chasm is the fact that I am in a permanent live-in relationship with a White man, an actor who can now make a curry exactly like mine, who does a reasonable imitation of an Indian accent, and on occasion can swing his hips and turn a light bulb when a Bhangra song is playing.
The truth is that I never did fit in anywhere. Growing up in Chatsworth …House 682, Road 302 Westcliffe was hard. My accent was wrong, I was argumentative and considered rude because I did not follow the rules for Indian kids which was “respect the elders” even when they were being obnoxious, vulgar, inappropriate or racist. I could have got away with it if I fulfilled the Indian notion of beauty, which is fair skin and thick black flowing hair. Instead I reached my full height of 1.62 m when I was 11 years old and so everyone thought that I had failed a couple of years of school so despite coming first in class every year, boys from my class would scream “dunce” while walking past my house late in the night. I also wore spectacles and because my dad died when I was ten, I did not recognize male authority-at all. For an Indian girl, failing to properly acknowledge maleness is tantamount to smoking openly, which I also did.
So, the Radio Lotus saga is not my outraged response as an “Indian”. It is my response as an informed South African and cultural activist. In the days of the struggle, I actively opposed Radio Lotus like I did the Tricameral Parliament because both breached struggle politics: the cultural boycott and political co-option. When the ANC was unbanned and the sports and cultural boycott lifted, I applied for a job as a part-time radio host with Lotus and was declined because I sounded in their words “European”. Thank god because their style of “ayo-Ama” invocations of supposed Indianness turned my stomach and catered to the lowest common denominator.
I am also aware that it produced good programming and the likes of Devi Sankaree Govender and promoted the language and culture of the Indian community whose cultural aspirations needed to be affirmed.
I have to defend that right because our self appointed spokesmen of the community have been conspicuously
It is so difficult living in this country because of everyone’s insane Apartheid need to label and box you. When I visited India, it was a rush and so weird to be on the surface suddenly a part of the majority. Yet most people I came into contact with including some medical professionals …all thought I was South American. Yet they treated UK Indian visitors as “Indian” and recognized them as such but me!!! I think it’s my very South African, take no prisoners, slash and burn body language.
So this Lotus thing is very confusing. Suddenly so many Indian people who I don’t really know want to be friends. I understand that at a certain level because we are a rather silent community, dispersed, hardworking so we’re generally heads down with our shoulders to the wheel. That silence often means that other South Africans think the Indian community is made up of Guptas and Shaik’s. And that we know is so far from the truth.
If this article sounds confused, it’s because I am confused. I want always to do the right thing but I don’t want my motivation to be misread. Addressing the Lotus radio issue is something that should concern all South Africans because it smacks of an authoritarianism that we must collectively fight and reject.
About: Gita Pather is the Director of the Wits Theatre at the University of Witwatersrand