It is difficult to imagine a brown or a white man doing for me what a black classmate did at college in 1956. I scored 63 per cent in the subject of Modern Europe and 55 per cent in Modern India, a total of 400 marks maximum, in the final B.A. examination of the University of Bombay in 1956.
Incidentally, 60 per cent marks, which are deemed a first class, were quite creditable in those days. I achieved all this by merely reading my African friend’s notes twice; I had hardly done any preparation in those subjects for my exam and had to borrow his thorough notes which he generously lent me.
We had been friends, class and hostel mates for four years. His name was Robinson Martin Muyunda Musole. He was from Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia and had come to Elphinstone College, Bombay, on a bursary of Rs 200 or more per month.
This was India’s way of making friends with Africa’s young.
My friend went on to become the head of education in Zambia, immediately north of Zimbabwe. Someone else called Omolo from Kenya eventually became his country’s Attorney General.
In our hostel as well as college there were boys from East Africa. They were older than their classmates, better read, knew more English.
With Musole, I became a close friend. In the first two months, he complained to me that Indians harboured racial prejudice. In all these two months, not a single girl had spoken to him.
Was that not prejudice, he asked me on the way to college from the hostel, a distance of two kilometers. I answered his query in the afternoon in his hostel room since it had to be in private. My advice was to take his several pairs of cotton shirts and trousers and send them to the dhobi for washing.
I also suggested he shower twice a day for the next three months with sandalwood soap.
At home, he was used to wearing woolen trousers and a good quality English shirt, which he seldom sent for washing. This had turned out to be a problem not only with girls but also with the boys who had to interact with Musole.
In a month’s time with the new clothes, he had many more friends, both boys and girls. In two or three months’ time, he had learnt to sing Hindi film songs, particularly from one Dev Anand movie, Patita.
Musole had a melodious voice and was a hit with the girls at picnics.
Thereafter, he had no social problems that I came to know of. We remained in fairly frequent contact but less than at the start of his Mumbai sojourn.
Evidently, he had made many more friends. I was happy for him. The moral of this experience was that when two races came in contact for the first time, some organised introduction for a few days should take place.
This is necessary so that the visitors come to know of the culture of the people they were visiting. A great deal of prejudice arises from lack of familiarity, which, if it takes long to come about, would lead to misunderstanding. If that persists, it is bound to grow into prejudice which would endure indefinitely, often across generations as has happened across races.
In the USA, it is explicable because unfortunately the Blacks there began as slaves. By the same token, cannot the reverse be true? In recorded history, we find that wealth has commanded respect.
This phenomenon began with the advent of feudalism and has continued with capitalism. Communism was a direct assault on wealth, whether it was called means of production, landed property or by any other term.
The wealthy were delighted with the demise of communism although the rich did not wisely celebrate the defeat lest it provoke a backlash. To think of an Indian example, though quite unrelated, the educated among Dalits generally support capitalism.
Those of them who become rich command respect, which this writer has seen for himself. Even successful politicians, ministers et al are saluted, as was President Barack Obama and his lady wife, in a big way.
To begin with the commercial rich, the industrialists or the traders did not evoke an equal status. The landowners were the aristocracy while the commercials were the business folk; there were the boxwallas, who in turn called the shopkeepers ‘shoppies’. Respectable clubs would not normally admit such beings however rich, merely because they lived off shops or stores. If they applied for membership, they were blackballed, a name that possibly takes after the lingo of a game.
This distinction between the wealthy without a business and rich without an industry still exists. The former curiously evokes more deference.
Nevertheless, over a period of time, Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped most by those who empathize with wealth. When feudalism and land ownership fell, the industrialist took his place.
For capitalism, there is no better society or country than the USA. The solution , therefore, lies in letting capitalist enterprises flourish on parallel lines. In any case, most businesses begin as family enterprises.
Let them grow larger and larger; if necessary, along the lines of colour. If blacks wish to invest in white companies, let them do so as they do now. If whites find some black enterprise(s) profitable or lucrative, they would be free to invest in them. If they are reluctant to invest in such companies, so be it.
If there are any behavioural problems of the blacks, let the whites come out openly and speak out frankly about those. This writer says this frankly as he knows that there are certain problems in India that are not nearing solution largely because the Hindus are reluctant to come out openly and tell the others what they disapprove of. This would provoke a debate and possibly bring about a substantial solution.
Neither the blacks nor whites are so shy as to not express their feelings frankly.
A specimen is worth quoting here, which is a statement on this issue by Robert Mugabe, the late President of Zimbabwe ~ “Racism will never end as long as white cars are still using black tyres. Racism will never end if people still use black to symbolize bad luck and white for peace. Racism will never end if people still wear white clothes to weddings and black clothes to funerals.
Racism will never end as long as those who pay their bills are blacklisted and not white-listed.
Even when playing snooker, you haven’t won until you’ve sunk the black ball, and the white ball must remain on the table! But I don’t care; as long as I’m still using white toilet paper to wipe my black ass, I’m happy”.
Evidently, the colour black is objectionable in some countries; in such societies, its use in this sense could be abolished and replaced by another colour of mutually popular choice, for the simple reason that no community considers black to be either an auspicious or benign colour.
Normally, when a compromise is reached, one side or the other, or both, have to give up something. Whereas in this suggestion, there is no giving up by anyone on either side; it is what may popularly be called a “winwin situation”. There is therefore, no need to resort to any form of radicalism, whether political, ideological or religious.
The central spine of American culture happens to be Christianity. For the blacks, therefore, it is best to stick to the central theme, rather than by the slightest show of revolt. For example, what did Cassius Clay gain by becoming Mohammad Ali?
The writer is an author, thinker and a former Member of Parliament.