This paper traces the career of the musician Korla Pandit, a mid-century US television star whose show "Adventures in Music" ran from 1949 into the later part of the 1950s in California. Throughout his career, Pandit was celebrated as a pioneer of the post-war genre "exotica," not to mention one of the first South Asian entertainers in American pop culture. Three years after his death in 1998, a journalist discovered that Pandit was not Indian at all but African American, born John Roland Redd in St. Louis,Missouri. This paper argues that understanding the success of Pandit"s "masquerade" requires contextualizing his celebrity and his object of impersonation within early Cold War culture. In his performance of the "exotic" South Asian, Pandit constructed a figure that embodied the harmonious union of the West and East, White and Black, allowing his audience to imagine global and racial harmonies that betrayed the realities of postwar imperial expansion and the persistence of anti-Black racism. Such a performance produced what I call a "fantasy of containment," an imaginary which effectively used the tropes of exoticism to "contain" 1) the looming threat of the postcolonial nation within the geopolitics of the Cold War, and 2) the anxiety of racial integration andcitizenship in the post-war America.
About the Speaker:
Dr. Manan Desai teaches South Asian American Studies at the Department of American Culture at the University of Michigan. After completing his Ph.D. in English at the University of Michigan in 2011, he was part of English faculty at Syracuse University. His book manuscript examines how transnational exchanges influenced the emergent political discourses of nationhood, race, and caste in South Asia and how these exchanges provided a new vocabulary for race and class politics in the U.S. He has begun work on a second project, based on original and intensive archival work, in three languages, in a study of representation of South Asian Americans in 20th-century visual culture and broadcast media. Prof. Desai is a member of the Board of Directors of the South Asian American Digital Archive(SAADA), which documents, preserves and shares stories of South Asian Americans.