Wow – I thought this was quite deep. I don’t know if Bhanu Athaiya realizes how her action and words could reflect on Indians in general.
First, the details from a THR report this morning state:
The first Oscar to be won by an Indian has made its way back to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles. Mumbai-based Bhanu Athaiya won best costume design for Richard Attenborough’s multiple award-winning Gandhi at the 55th Annual Academy Awards in 1983. But the 86-year-old, who is suffering from a potentially life-threatening brain tumor, has returned her statuette to the Academy for safekeeping.
And why is she returning it to the Academy?
“I do not trust anyone in India to keep it. If [acclaimed Indian writer and poet] Rabindranath Tagore’s Nobel medal could be stolen from [Tagore’s hometown] Shantiniketan, what is the guarantee my trophy would be safe?” Athaiya said in a statement.
And still further, and I think more damning, she added:
“In India, no one values such things, and we lack a tradition of maintaining our heritage and things pertaining to our culture…”
That’s the line that really struck me. Let me first say that, as the THR report states, she’s not the first Oscar winner to return her award to the Academy for safekeeping, but her reasons for doing so got my attention, and I can only wonder what other Indians think of what she’s said.
I believe I’ve heard similar things said about “African culture” (broadly-speaking), and how black people not only in Africa, but here in the USA as well, don’t value aspects of our culture the way others on the *outside* do. We don’t place as much importance on them, or we avoid them (especially the more painful parts of our culture). For example, I think we’ve all heard/read/been a part of debates that compare how importantly Jews regard the Holocaust, but African Americans don’t hold their own Holocaust (slavery and its aftermath) in a similar regard.
I recall posts on this site about the number of films made that center on some aspect of the Holocaust (a lot) compared to those made about slavery and/or the fight for civil rights, over the years.
I also remember a story Tambay told me about a friend of his (an American college professor) who went to Ghana to visit the Cape Coast where the slave castles are, for research she was doing for a paper, and being really shocked at how poorly records were being kept, and how genrally uninterested Ghanaians seemed to be about this really significant part of our history.
There are other examples, but I think you get the point, and I think that’s why Bhanu Athaiya’s comments struck me so. Maybe they just resonated as familiar. And then I imagined if a black person (no matter where they are from) said exactly what she said – essentially that they don’t trust black people to keep their Oscar because black people don’t value such things, and we lack a tradition of maintaining our heritage and things pertaining to our culture.
So, in effect, what is being said there, without really being said (by Bhanu Athaiya and really anyone with that mind-set), is that there’s more trust in white people to maintain our histories and legacies, than there is in people who look like us. Does that about sum it up?
And if we have any readers from or in any part of India, I’d love to hear what you have to say about this. Maybe it’s not even that big of a deal.
Thoughts on any of this?