Category Archives: Diversity

Critical debate on Asian coexistence with Africans

The Loneliness of the Sikh Walker on BBC’s EastEnders

He appeared a few years ago and has been often seen on EastEnders- walking purposefully in the streets and demonstrating either self-imposed silence or a specially prescribed form of ‘nil out by mouth’ regime ever since. No one has had anything to say to him and Mr Singh as a character in the soap does not seem to have anything to say to anyone else either. His sole purpose in life is to walk around at variable speeds at precisely timed intervals but with his mouth mostly tightly shut. He is generally in a great hurry with his eyes focussed on the ground in front of him. Other EastEnders characters always surround him. The costume people seem to like his colourful turbans, loose shirts and occasional display of very thick gold rings on his right hand and also the bangle that he wears.

Mr Singh is good for cultural diversity but no one knows who he is and why has chosen to remain silent for so long on EastEnders. The presumption is that Mr Singh is happy with his life in the soap. No one has ever asked him. So, why has this become a concern? It appears that he has never spoken to Phil, Dot, Ian, Shirley and even Patrick who are all of the older characters on the soap. It can be imagined that Bianca would not have anything positive to discuss with him either. Of course, Mr Singh may try talking to Masood when the latter is not running around delivering the post. Has Masood ever delivered registered letters and parcels at Mr Singh’s address? They might actually know each other but on the set they are silent friends. Dennis may have learnt a few things about Mr Singh’s community, culture and religion in the diversity lessons in school but no one seems to have the courage to walk up to him and greet him.

Where does Mr Singh live? He is also never seen in the café but he did once turn up in the Old Vic where he had orange juice. That was the highlight of his week. Mr Singh was recently seen with a female but given the absence of pertinent information it would be unfair to deduce that there is a relationship between the two or indeed was this yet another instance of impeccable timing when two culturally diverse people were seen next to each other for no real benefit?

Masood and his family have played a major role on the soap, perhaps because there is an urge to explain that he is actually quite normal and that he does not go around threatening anyone. He is also cast in a most trustworthy role as a postie where his dedication to duty must be exemplary. Masood is a role model.

On the other hand, how would Max treat Mr Singh as a customer at Brannings’ Car Sales? Mr Singh desperately needs a motor car. Would Max give him personal service? While post sale warranties are not really an issue because Mr Singh prefers to walk everywhere anyway, a car would offer Mr Singh a form of job extension. He could drive the cast on out of town trips. A picnic would be an even better idea as Mr Singh could provide parathas, samosas, chicken curry and daal, followed by ladoos, barfi and pendas and glasses of lassi to down everything. However, would Dot eat Mr Singh’s samosas? Would the Carters serve lassi at the Old Vic? Besides, Carol probably makes better chicken curry than Mr Singh’s new female friend. However, Mr Singh could be a vegetarian and there hardly any point in showing him entering the local burger bar.
If Mr Singh was suddenly to be given a voice and was to incomprehensively become a witness to the murder trial of Lucy Beale, wouldn’t Mr Patel, Miss Bagchi, Mr and Mrs Mubende and their African friends also expect to be cast into future programmes? Did they see anything when Phil’s rough friends ran out of Sharon’s bar after attacking her? Ah but Phil is not having the police looking into his stage managed affray in Sharon’s bar. However, people like Mr Singh who know a great deal about the streets of Walford should be able to help, surely.
EastEnders would indeed reflect the local diversity but the programme’s makers would have to learn a few tricks. How would they create the story-lines in which the local Hindu trader would have a distinctive role in taking over Denise’s shop? How would she earn her living after that takeover? African people in the East End could have competed against the Brazilians to portray their footballing skills in the flavour of the month that even the makers of EastEnders have just missed out on. No worries. The next football World Cup is only four years away.

Does Mr Singh have a son or a daughter? Would Mr Singh Junior want to take Whitney out? Would Whitney like to go with him anyway? There is a small problem though. Would Mr Singh even allow his son to have an affair with Whitney? There is only one way to find out. Create a son for Mr Singh and let him courteously pursue Whitney.
Returning to the question of depicting integration on the television screen, it is not just about marriage or relationships. Will Mr Singh visit Patrick in hospital? Will he go to Lucy’s funeral? Will he provide the vocal accompaniment to the loud Bhangra music often heard in the open market? Mr Singh is probably very well read and highly informed but it is not his knowledge and potential for becoming a social agent and community leader that EastEnders is interested in. No? It is his visual appearance and unique propensity to turn up at low profile events wearing lovely colourful turbans and shirts.

More recently another Sikh character has been seen on EastEnders. This is good news but no one knows what he has in store for him. Will he be allowed to talk? Will be even allowed to talk to the original Mr Singh?

On a serious note there has been some talk about addressing diversity in EastEnders. Should the programme really reflect the true representation of the community in Walford? Should EastEnders be recast to reflect the changing demography of viewers? Or indeed, should the majority of viewers be allowed to see the content of their favourite soap as they always have? Why would anyone want to change EastEnders now? Has the BBC done any research to find out whether potential target audiences in the ethnic minority communities would really want to watch EastEnders anyway? Besides, if we start changing EastEnders by applying these criteria, the lonely Mr Singh must find new roles in Holby City, Glasgow Girls, The Honourable Woman and New Tricks. There will be no challenge of learning the scripts. Mr Singh does not talk. That could be a problem on New Tricks as his silence may be misconstrued.

As far as Mr Singh of EastEnders is concerned, it pays to be silent. Will he ever speak or be spoken to? How would Mr Singh ever perform on ‘The Archers’ on Radio 4? How do producers of radio plays involve silent men and women?

(Great care has been taken to refer only to the two Mr Singhs, the characters on EastEnders).

Why Everyone Needs a True Sister

Many years ago a number of us worked on a new drama production called, “The Story of Asha, Ayesha and Usha”. It grew out my conviction around 1999 that the new Millennium was not going to offer any utopias, not even a world of perfection where no one harmed anybody and women had their fundamental rights protected. Well there are 91.5 years left to prove me wrong. I have placed a £50 note under Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, London, for any reader who cares to remember in 2099 and to check it out. Boris Johnson, may need to be reminded that very important pledges have been made to upgrade the quality of life of Asian elderly and that the £50 note is intended for charitable use only. No Member of Parliament is allowed to use the money to cover expenses.

Our sister Asha grew up with four brothers and had the qualifications of a UN Secretary General but only missed her appointment because Idi Amin had reserved that job for himself,  a security adviser – to inform us when dad was in a bad mood just as we stepped in at midnight after a hockey game had ended in the late afternoon, a fire fighter– who kept all tensions away by making sure that the neighbour, a nosey massi, an elderly Gujarati lady who was everything but an aunt by making sure that she did not have contact with our parents,  a scout– she would keep a lookout for unwanted guests who would always walk in just as we were leaving to go and see an ‘educational’ but ‘ X ‘ rated film at the Norman cinema. You see, our dad had this view that every western picture was a serious threat to our tender Sikh morals and while films relating to war, famine, bank robberies, arson, car thefts, booby-trap bombing and Hiroshima were not going to hurt us in any way, it was scenes of the stuff that goes on between the shameless white women and their men when they did not even switch off the lights….That were the real threat to our outlook on life and would leave us without qualifications.

Asha was also an ambassador- who went with our parents to see three extended families which had so many sons and daughters that someone was always getting married or someone was always having a baby. Why was that so important?  Our parents wanted the relations to know that their children cared for the extended family; an emotional blackmailer– who drove us nuts if we did not slip a 10 shilling note into her chemistry textbook, a smuggler– who made sure that all the nice samosas packed in newspapers were reserved for us in a rusty bucket hidden under the table when we went to the Gurdwara and a hockey player- who executed tasks to a precise finish each time, leaving the players of the opposite side holding their painful ankles, rubbing their groins, pressing their exploding ribs and massaging their swollen fingers after she had complied to our instructions and at each command, raised her stick in the air but always below the regulation height.  The “instructions”, which could be issued at anytime in a hockey match had one common factor – she was only brought in to inflict pain and injury on the good players of the other side by deftly swinging a hockey stick or hitting a ball so hard at close range that the players would hold up their sticks in the air in utter disbelief while the balls found their targets. Many an important hockey tournament was won when Asha was playing in our team and it did not surprise us as much as the local newspapers when we finished the hockey season at the bottom of the fourth division; Asha got married that year. We did not let any of the major companies know that their share price would almost quadruple if Asha even as much as sat in their reception. She was a source of immense good luck but offering her a job was of no use – she used to get bored so easily that once she even demanded we have a hockey practice in board room of IBM where dad’s company had been called in to fix a film screen much to my dad’s displeasure. Was IBM going to screen those nasty films in their Board Room as well? The world was changing so fast…IBM managers were shown sleazy movies as a part of their training in salesmanship.

But it was none of the above qualities that really mattered. In fact the tasks she achieved above were so ordinary that I have use a thousand words instead publishing a single picture. The real achievements had started when Asha was just under nine years old. A departing English colonialist had left a car behind when it was still being repaired by a local garage. The garage owners knew that they were not going to be paid and so they decided to move it out of the workshop to create space for the cars of other English colonialist civil servants who always paid their bills in time, mostly by bringing in bottles of scotch whiskey that had been brought into the country in a large white crate with the words ‘medical supplies’ tastefully painted on the side of the crate. A Red Cross which had its arms longer than its only leg had also been added in a hurry; the red drops of paint had dripped downwards, leading to concerns that Dracula had come to Kampala.

So Asha and some of us decided to check out the abandoned car. It was fast becoming a wreck- its windscreen wipers were used by the farmer to clean his kitchen windows, one of the seats was used by the neighbour’s house worker when he had the rare occasion to take a long rest on Wednesday afternoons – an auspicious time for all Indian women who went to the temple for ‘ladies only’ prayers much to the annoyance of the local cinema manager who had also programmed to screen ‘Ghar Ghar ki Kahani’ at the same time. You see, the elderly mothers-in-laws who went to see this film also found it so gratifying that they were not the only ones who had their sons’ wives beaten regularly. It was the story of every household with daughter-in-laws. Anyway, we decided to check out the car and I was given the first “ride”, except that the wheels had been stolen and the car was carefully placed on building blocks, with the overhanging ends of each axle carefully placed on a block of timber over and above the cement blocks. My “drive” was short but interesting. Then two other brothers took a long time having their fun at driving the car at great speeds. One of them felt that by placing the car on high blocks, the garage owner had deprived us budding rally drivers of a feeling of movement. Far too many screeching brakes had been applied to no effect – the car did not even move a little to its side when cornering. So Asha was asked to push the car, which she did so quickly that the car fell off the blocks. Brothers nearly fell out of the vehicle, with one lying in the legroom of the back seat, with a cardboard flap advertising tampons almost covering his face. We slowly collected our wits and found that thankfully no one was hurt. A missing turban was found under the driver’s seat. There was some smell of oil but that was only to be expected on a race track, you know.

It was then that we suddenly remembered that Asha was nowhere to be seen. The nasty thought hit me that she might be actually lying underneath the car with her eyes shut. Doors were swung open in great haste and on coming out we looked towards the front and back and again to the front looking for Asha. But there was Asha with tears in her eyes. I ignored one brother who was asking me why we were looking for Asha at the front when she was supposed to be pushing the car at the back. On closer examination we discovered that when the car was heaving backwards and forwards, she had forgotten to move her foot out of the way. My brother asked with great feeling, intense care and love “Why did you push the car so hard Asha? You should know that it was placed on these blocks”. Asha replied in a strange voice that she wanted to give us a real feeling of speed. Why was she not wearing her stiff school shoes? How could you push the car from the side? When pushing a car to start, you always pushed it from the b-a-a-ck and the axle would not have dropped on her foot. It was her fault. Soon the technicalities were sorted out but it suddenly dawned on us that it was getting dark and that our parents would be waiting for us at home with very hot vindaloo and supposedly, a tasty chicken curry.  That was the real challenge of the evening; not the curry but how we could get Asha through the back door of the house without dad finding out that she had been injured.

More  on  this very soon.

How You Could Have Entered The Books of Records

 

Yahoo News reports that an Indian woman hopes to enter the record books by munching 51 fiery chillies in two minutes.  Anandita Dutta Tamuly, 26, chewed her way through the chillies before an audience late Thursday in India‘s northeast.

For details see: http://uk.news.yahoo.com/18/20090410/tod-indian-woman-aims-for-chilli-record-451ab4f.html

She consumed the chillies in the company of British celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, who was producing a television show on food and anchoring the event in Jorhat, 300 kilometers (180 miles) east of Assam’s main city of Guwahati. “In two minutes, Anandita gobbled 51 red-hot chillies without batting an eyelid or shedding a tear, and also smeared seeds of 25 chillies into her eyes in one minute,” Atul Lahkar, a chef who organised the show, told AFP. The chillies are known locally as bhut jolokia and are a staple of local diet in Assam. They are recognised by Guinness World Records as the world’s hottest chilli pepper.

It is well known that Indians like to enter the record books by making a name for themselves by doing the oddest things. In addition to the Guinness Book of Records, India has its own Limca Book of Records. Both feature many Indian feats covering many crazy but interesting aspects of life. Why do they do it?

These feats, achievements or successful records are all attributable to the following common denominators, which are fame, recognition and money. It is unlikely that the books of records will pay much to publish the achievements. The real incentive is money in the future via sponsorship, appearances on stage and fees for appearing on television and payment for appearing at private functions. Many successful ‘performers’ have done very well indeed.

What type of achievements could the East African Asians get into the record books? Here are some thoughts which you could have helped to turn into reality:

·       A record for fighting the largest man-eating lion with one’s bare hands in the Tsavo area?

·       A record for sleeping with largest number of black mamba snakes in one’s bed?

·       A record for growing the largest cassava root in one’s shamba or smallholding?

·       A record for swimming with the largest number of crocodiles in Lake Victoria?

·       A record for displaying largest number of yoga positions whilst travelling on the roof of the East African trains from Kampala to Mombasa?

·       Success in running faster than the speediest cheetah in the game park?

·       Achievement for drinking the highest number of pints of pombe, or beer?

·       Successes in driving in reverse from Kampala to Jinja with Idi Amin as a passenger?