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India and fried chicken

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Dave Chappelle has a skit—one of many—which deals with racial insecurity. He is on a plane; a blonde female flight attendant offers a choice of two in-flight meals: chicken on fish. He wants the chicken—really wants it—but doesn’t want to be the stereotypical African American unable to resist the chicken temptation. He opts for the fish.


A few minutes later, the flight attendant returns to say sorry, they’re out of fish, but the chicken is very good. Performing disappointment while two mini-minstrels dance on his shoulder, he asks how the chicken was prepared. “Fried,” says the flight attendant. The minstrels cannot contain themselves. “Take the chicken! Take the chicken!” they squeak. Continuing his performance of reluctance, he accepts the fried chicken.


The minstrels jump and fast-strum their banjos. Chappelle, thinking he has succeeded in both obtaining the object of his desire—fried chicken—and resisting a racial stereotype, is about to feast when a white male passenger leans over and, in a tone of understanding and generosity, says, “You can have my fish.” Chappelle has no choice but to exchange his aromatic fried chicken for the unappetising fish.


Chappelle used the short comedic drama to illustrate racial insecurity, and that’s what I recalled when I strolled into the Queen’s Park Oval on Friday for the West Indies versus India tri-nation series match; I happened to wear an orange dress and although the Indian team’s dominant colour is milky blue, orange is among their tricolor national flag.


I am an avid cricket fan, and I do somersaults with my professional duties each year in order to go to the Oval to see international games. No game is as uncomfortable for me as the games involving West Indies and India. From the moment the announcement was made that the Oval was sold out, voices raised knowingly, “Well, is India playing!” We all know the implication: Trini Indians will flock to the Oval because they support India.


The Oval on Friday was not sold out. Or perhaps it was and many people did not show up. I saw a group of sub-continental Indians supporting their team; I saw one man, who I reckoned was Trinidadian or Guyanese, with a flag representing the Indian cricket team; and there was one man in my stand who was ordinarily dressed—green jersey and black pants, the green reminding me of the pending political meeting in Pierre Road that same Friday night—who seemed to be playing both sides.


 He applauded the Indians’ fours and sixes—many, many of those were being served by Dhawan, Sharma, Kohli and even Ashwin—and when Pollard came on to bowl—Roach had taken out dangerous Dhawan but was getting his balls lashed imperiously around the ground and Narine was being hoisted for six at least once in every over until he conceded 19 off one, went off the field for the second time and I don’t think he returned until it was his turn to bat—the both-sider yelled, “Beat bad bowling!” and grinned from ear to ear, joyous at the accumulating runs.


When Gayle was caught behind, he jumped up and ran up and down, hands raised. The reaction was, “Look, sit down, you hear!” He looked back at us and laughed, pulled off his partner’s West Indies hat, and put it on his own head. When Sammy promised to raise the roof with big hits, the same man applauded heartily. In short, I couldn’t make out whether he was supporting one side or the other, both sides, cricket generally, or if, as in a Chappelle adaptation, he was playing out his own racial insecurity or playing on ours.


I have had conversations on this—do Trini Indians really support India over the West Indies—and I am told this may have been true back in the day—by which they mean the 60s or thereabouts—but that has changed. My own observation is that cricket lovers in contemporary times—the real, hardcore, purist ones who leave Moruga from early early with a big tonkabean for breakfast (and I didn’t make that up)—love good cricket, and are passionate about good West Indies cricket. 


Of course, the larger issue being touched here is Indians’ (from T&T now) claim to full citizenship in this New World space and a questioning of that right by others who feel they have a greater claim to that citizenship and that Trini Indians repudiate their citizenship if they support India against the West Indies.


As is usually the case in matters pertaining to race/ethnicity in T&T, truth resides somewhere outside of both sentiments, and is well concealed. Not so well concealed was the licking we took from India on Friday and our poor response, despite the Roach/Narine flourish at the end, that tail-end combination of batsmen itself a realistic metaphor for contemporary inter-ethnic trust. 



One man promised we would be able to leave in time for a four-thirty; my pensive neighbour could only shake his head and whisper, “They not even fighting.” But Friday was Friday and today is today.


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