Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Gypsies Are From India

Historians generally argue that Gypsies originate on the Indian subcontinent. It appears that Northwest India is indubitably the universal Gypsy homeland. While there are dozens of verifiably legitimate Gypsy groups around the world who speak Romani or other Gypsy languages and continue to live the Gypsy dream, there is no type of united Gypsy consciousness about their origins. While there are currently more Gypsies in India than in any other country, it is not frequently acknowledged that all of these authentic Gypsy groups actually descend from the same original Gypsy stock that lived around what is now Rajasthan, Punjab, and northern Pakistan sometime around a millennium ago. Yet, recent genetic evidence showing the prevalence of yDNA haplogroup M among Gypsies confirms their common origins in South Asia.

Number of Gypsies in the Diaspora

Overall, it is thought that there are around 12-15 million Gypsies in the world. It is believed that Indian has the largest number of Roma people, with around 2.2 million. Romania and Turkey have rather sizable Gypsy populations, both somewhere around 1.5 million, although these figures are estimates. The numbers are basically all guesses, since many Gypsies do not self-identify as such for fear of persecution by authorities. Official stats on Gypsy populations are generally not reliable. The U.S. apparently has about 1 million Gypsies, with Spain, Egypt, and Brazil both at around 750,000. While most people believe that Gypsies are limited to the Euro-sphere, Gypsies can be found in Palestine, Iran, Iraq, and even Kazakhstan. Gypsies have many different regional categories, the most numerous being Kalderash, Sinti, Gitano, Romnichal, and Romani. In much of the Middle East, they are known as Domari. They are known as Nawar and Ghajar in Arabic, Tzo'ani in Hebrew, and in India - Banjara, Wanjara, Lambadi, Lambani - as well as many other names.

Reasons for Departure from India

There are several hypotheses for why the Roma people left South Asia around a thousand years ago, traveling through Iran to the Middle East, and then the Mediterranean Basin and the Balkans. One theory posits that they were commissioned to fight against invading Muslim armies and never returned to their homeland. Another theory holds that they were low-caste Hindu musicians hired by royal courts. Yet others posit that they were taken captive and transported westward. Perhaps it is most likely the the ancestors of today's Roma people departed for many of these reasons - at different times. Ian Hancock, today's premier scholar in the nascent field of Romani Studies, suggests that the Dom may have even left India about four centuries prior to the Roma. It seems most likely that the westward migrations occurred with a few different groups who spoke similar Indo-Aryan dialects and who ultimately mixed ethnically, religiously, and culturally to a limited degree with other local populations but who preserved many basic elements of the Roma nation.

Occupations & Hustles

Most European Roma groups are known for particular skills, such as bear-training, fortune-telling, coppersmithery, music, and a few more unsavory roles. Perhaps Gypsy music has been the most permanent influence of Gypsy culture on other non-Roma societies. Flamenco owes most of its magic to Gitano traditions. Liszt and Brahms incorporated Gypsy themes into their compositions. Django Reinhardt left a lasting mark on the world of jazz. Today's most notable Gypsy musicians include Goran Bregovic (Serbia), Boban Markovic (Serbia), Fanfare Ciocarlia (Romania), Taraf de Haidouks (Romania), and Beirut (non-Gypsy Americans who play Gypsy music). The Gypsy brass band plays on, without a motherland to call home...

Europe's Other Other & Antiziganism

In most European societies, Gypsies seem to be considered still the most socially and economically backward group, and they fall prey to labor discrimination, residential segregation (both urban Gypsy ghettos and rural Gypsy camps), and general miseducation. Porajmos is the Romani term used to describe the Holocaust, during which about a quarter of a million Gypsies were killed. Europe generally has not been the most tolerant place for Gypsies, one of Europe's largest ethnic minority groups. Borat's choice of a Romani village in Romania to simulate his mythical nation of Kazakhstan is reflective of the plight of many predominantly Roma towns in Europe. While there is some humor in their marginalization and ignorance, there is not much development going on in the Gypsy populations of Europe. Perhaps this is indicative of a reluctance to join the mainstream and could thus be considered a positive thing. While certain pursuits bring the Gypsies considerable infamy the world around, there is undeniable charm in their nomadic, mystical, and largely unWestern existence. Perhaps we should be thankful that the Gypsy diaspora has generally not assimilated into surrounding cultures.

Rajasthani Repatriation

There are a host of reasons why the establishment of a Gypsy nation in the Roma homeland would be a just, desirable, and fruitful event. First, the most numerous Gypsy population on earth today is already in India. The Banjara/Lambani people are spread throughout Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, and other states. They were previously known to provide crucial trade links via their caravans in northern India, prior to the arrival of the British. They retain many cultural similarities with groups still living in the Rajasthani homeland from where they originally migrated. The creation of the sovereign state of Romanistan and the reclamation of their ancestral Hinduism would be an unlikely historical outcome, but it is something worth imagining.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Tecktonik Craze

Yelle - Je Veux Te Voir

These videos are examples of an embryonic form of dance music called Tecktonik, which is also alternatively known as electro-dance, tck, and hardstyle. Predominantly evolved in Paris, the dance form has also been influenced by various types of electronic music being produced in Brussels and Amsterdam, as well as New Rave music (Cansei de Ser Sexy, MIA, Hot Chip), with the fashion mainly taking off with all types of neon in London. It's got a futuristic punk sensibility with heavily hip-hop overtones.

Yelle - Je Veux Te Voir (Remix)

The neon color schemes and attitude that Yelle takes on are quite similar to those of MIA (who needs to visit Mumbai sometime soon by the way - or, for that matter, any New Raver who stays popping, locking, vogueing, and wacking will do).

Yelle - A Cause des Garcons

These dance moves are relatively simple, but the style is killer. Not sure that I could pull of these hipster fashions any more than I could several years back when I first caught wind of hipsternation. But, all that needs to be said is that the Tecktonik movement is on.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Mera Bharat Mahan

This density map shows how great India is in the domain of population. The nation is bursting at the seams, especially in the Indo-Gangetic plain that spans the north of the nation. The world's tallest mountains separate this area of massively dense human settlement from the world's most populous nation - China. Nepal and its gargantuan peaks are the buffer zone between India's masses and the Chinese frontier, which begins first and foremost with the high-altitude Tibetan plateau. India is currently struggling with these masses of people from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, who are not accustomed to a very modern sort of law and order but who are seeking job opportunities all over India as laborers. This has bred the freshest of India's communal conflicts, a disgusting disgrace of a communal dispute between migrant labor from the North and the so-called natives of the cities in Maharashtra.

This cultural conflagration does not bode well for the state of Maharashtra. While there are undoubtedly some legitimate criticisms of the migrant folks, this tension is a despicable manifestation of regionalist chauvinisms. I also see the migrants as bringing many problems to the areas where they have settled, and in this regards, these laborers are so similar to Mexicans in the U.S., Algerians in France, Turks in Germany...It's just that these migrants are Indian too, albeit with a completely different cultural and linguistic history and background. This tension could spin out of control in no time, leaving places like Mumbai with an intractable regional conflict at its doorstop. In order to preserve social harmony in Mumbai and accentuate the feeling that Indian-ness trumps all types of regional, ethnic, religious, and caste identities, this conflict should be squashed.
Some of the greatness of Indian derives from its communion with the spiritual levels of consciousness. India's charm is also a function of the most staggering linguistic and racial diversity found on earth, which makes for a polyglot and melting pot-cum-tossed salad population mix. The sublime becomes all churned up with the ridiculous in this land of sacred wanderers, crazed snack vendors, and untouchable sweepers.

India is a super-national enterprise, since it represents the collective political will of so many distinct yet fluid nations within, each with seemingly definable characteristics but ultimately ambiguous and impossible to pigeonhole. The logic of illogic reigns supreme in India. The survival of India for 61 years as a sovereign nation-state has been nothing short of a miraculous triumph of remarkable inter-group cohesion and some dumb luck that is much more powerful than the ephemeral strokes of constitutional framers, planners-extraordinaire, and corrupt-wallahs. Jai Bharat!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Holy Bombs & Heffers

Just a few short days ago, some fellows associated with a terror org called Indian Mujahedeen struck 8 different locales in the city of Jaipur, located in the northwestern state of Rajasthan. This so-called Pink City was the unfortunate victim of an ongoing and rather obscure campaign to create a more religiously polarized subcontinent. Dozens of people, representing at least three faiths, died in the blasts. These pictures are a tribute to the Jaipur that I visited, months before these attacks transpired.
To what end? What nihilistic purpose did these cycle bombs serve? Whose ego was stroked by these acts of destruction and rage? Whose mental flames were stoked by carnage and grief and ire? Responsibility is diffused. Law enforcement cannot quite grapple with the consequences and the necessary preventative measures. And another tier-two Indian city will fall prey to the same story in just a few months.
Holi in Rajasthan is a holiday for all. Or at least almost all. Color squirting galore renders the place a veritable bath of orgiastic hues, distributed alternatively by sadistic, egalitarian, and fraternal means. The act of dousing a stranger in sharp tones is cathartic to the max. Holidays that involve any means of connection with absolute strangers in a visceral, sincere, and vibrant experience are the best. Every day is a Holi day!
These Jaipur bombers must have missed out on Holi. Or, maybe they have had too many bad Holi experiences. Perhaps, as many allege, they are from elsewhere and never had the good fortune to engage in the glorious Rajasthani Holi festivities. Nihilism need not be channeled into creating combustible devices that wreak havoc on body parts and other contiguous matter. Use Holi for moderately outrageous but ultimately harmless color wars, stop the senseless terrorizing, and Jai Jaipur!
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