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Bina Ramani, an uppity fashion designer from India, is currently touring the U.S. She was at Harvard, one recent Friday night, and I sat through her revolting fashion show. The event was presented by Dudley House with the cooperation of Air India.
In a patronizing sales, pitch we were told the clothes being exhibited were objects d'art that sell for as much as $400 at stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and Harrods. Those tempted to buy one of Bina's creations after the show would get a 30 percent discount--just tonight and only for us. The staged exotica, the announcer repeatedly exclaimed, were made in India and handcrafted by refugee artisans from Afghanistan and Iran--I suppose the skills of indigenous Indian craftsman are not quaint or exotic enough to make it to an international fashion show these days.
As the first model strode down the cat walk, the announcer welcomed the audience to what he described was a "East meets West" night at Harvard. For me, what symbolized this quintessential East meets West circus was the announcer's violent mispronunciation of each and every Indian name that he uttered, including that of the fashion designer Bina Ramani.
Why, whenever the cliched "East meets West," is the East always missing?
Notwithstanding the faking, let it be clear that the East represented in the main dining room of Dudley Hall was a pathetic sellout--it was not India. It wasn't the East. The clothes had no trace of the complex and rich heritage which marks India. And not even the most audacious of cultural con-artists can claim to find any trace of the cultural roots of the Afghani and Iranian refugees who purportedly handcrafted the convoluted designs. I find it difficult to believe (a doubt which some of my friends from Delhi confirm) that even the elite in Delhi, where Ms. Ramani has a boutique, would venture their bodies into the tinseled town clothes that passed for "the East."
Why, whenever "East meets West" someone is buying or selling something? I will admit that trade, call it free-trade if you will, does benefit some in the East. But these parasitical beneficiaries, the Bina Ramani's, are vastly out-numbered by those whose lives the West insists on mispronouncing. Have no delusions, the bare subsistence level wages of the Afghani and Iranian refugee workers and more critically, the Indian craftsmen (and women) displaced by a greedy designer's quest for lower production costs, can find no reason to celebrate this capitalistic intercourse of East and West. As my friend, the Indian writer Amitava Kumar notes, this is not a speculation about the future; it is a judgment based on the past. Zahid F. Ebrahim
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