West Indian Clubs, East Indian Bullies, and Music   
by Rakesh Rampertab

RECENTLY, I visited the nightclub Tropical Nights. The experience was not particularly exciting because I spent most of the time dancing like a silly matador, warding off fellows who persisted ceaselessly to dance uninvitingly with my female companions. However common this scene sounds, it is disheartening, especially when a woman’s right to chose who she wants to dance with is disregarded. Let’s face the music about club life; single men aggressively seeking women, or “sharking,” is one of the oldest moves to be found in a discotheque. It cuts across both race and culture, primarily because of the lusty pleasure that a man gets from sneaking up and rubbing himself onto a strange woman. But it almost always leads to some sort of a squabble.

I want to point out that these “sharkers” were mostly young East Indian men—most likely, Guyanese and Trinidadians. One disturbing peculiarity about Indian men “sharking” is that they usually select Indian women to torment with their gimmicks. There were a number of black women dancing nearby that night, but strangely, for men who had been drinking and aroused by the bacchanal scene of gyrating hips and breasts, these black women were left alone. I want to point out also, that Indian men are generally too intimidated to approach black or white women for a little “bumping-and-grinding,” and rarely would provoke either, if they had already been refused. Yes, we would not mind “a-piece-of-the-action” that they have to offer, but we are careful in our approach because there is a fear that threads in our manly conscience.

And this “manly conscience” of the young Indian? It is a pathetic joke that is enjoyed by treating Indian women in a manner quite similar to the way our fathers treated our mothers. If our fathers are accused of being hooligans at home, we are the hooligans of the dance floor. It is there that we strive to affirm by disrespect and intimidation, this “manly” spirit over our Indian female counterpart. I mean, since black and white women will not tolerate our immaturity, on whose bodies will we go rubbin’and dubbin’? Being in Tropical Nights does not help to promote respect between our sexes. I believe that these nightclubs may be regarded as being worse than brothels, since they foster such extravagance disrespect for our women without them having to prostitute themselves. For the “sharker,” “coolie” girls are they to be “feel up” and handled. The black or white woman may be handled also, but only on her terms.

Tropical Nights, like other “West Indian” clubs such as Shack Wave, Government, G-Spot and the Docks in the Toronto area, and the famed Soca Paradise in New York City is, as the phrase dictates, “West” and not “East” Indian. It does very little to affirm or promote an “East” Indian culture that is already underrepresented both in the Caribbean and North America, and this is mirrored in the barrage of soca, calypso, and dancehall music that Indians are forced to endure at these clubs. None of these clubs mentioned here has truly tried to accommodate the Indian sense of music or party. 

There must be something terribly wrong with the way Indians reason, because if the common knowledge that many, if not most of these night clubs are both owned and overwhelmingly patronized by people of Indian descend is correct, then why are we so fearful? Spanish clubs will never survive if they are not dominated by salsa and merengue. The Jamaican will rather close a club than listen to “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai” during a “jam session.” If it’s a case of old culture being replaced by new culture, of  Dawn Penn replacing Lata Mangeshkar, then why are Chinese immigrants not playing the music of Byron Lee at their weddings? I wonder—maybe it is time that we boycott these clubs or opens those that will be more accommodating towards our cultural heritage. 

I am aware that the “West Indian” club scene does not accurately represent the Indian personality. I know that not every male who attends these social spots aim to displease. And make no mistake—I do not oppose house or any kind of music, including rock and roll, the most popular non-Indian music genre that has penetrated our community. I also know that as hybrid immigrants, we will incorporate whatever flavors life throws up at us. Nevertheless, the enthusiasm that house music in particular, is receiving makes it the most potent trick being played against Indian culture in these parts. After a few hours of “jump-up” rhythms, what remains is a young Indian mind-set very likely to start humming “gimme punnany” instead of “dafliwale.”  

This makes the “West” Indian night club a direct threat to all that is Indian. The need to be hip, cool,  or part of the “in crowd” is growing, convincing some that our traditional ethnic values are failing, dying—a slow death perhaps, but dying nevertheless. So what does the young Indian male do? He adopts personality traits from other cultures as the “Indian” look withers like a dried up sore—he grooms his hair, trims his mustache, and imitates speech patterns that are more Hispanic or black oriented in the effort to kill his “coolie” self faster. If he agrees that it is terrible to be fooled by a stranger, he will argue that it is not tragic that he is being self-deceived. If, perchance, a decaying culture prepares best for its death by thinking and acting this death, then such is our case. Otherwise, the Indian male is just being plain stupid and should wake up.

[Editor’s Note: This article was written and published in the Guyana Mail in Toronto, Canada, in November 1999.]       rinted from
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