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Korla Pandit: An ‘African American’ camouflaged his identity as an ‘Indian’ to break into music business

His real identity was exposed in July 2001, after his death, in an edition of Los Angeles Magazine as being John Roland Redd, an African American, not an Indian, born in St Louis, Missouri

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Korla Pandit Image: lolwot
  • Korla Pandit’s real identity is John Roland Redd, an African American
  • He played the piano and the organ- sometimes both at once
  • During his 900 performances he never spoke on camera

A very prominent Indian personality of 1950s in US, Korla Pandit, became one of the exotic icons. He came to fame when he appeared on a 15 minute show, called “Adventures in Music”, beamed across the US.

Displaying elegance through his jewelled turban and fashionable coat and tie, he played the piano and the organ—sometimes both at once—creating music that was both familiar and exotic. He was a man of mystery and his mesmerising gaze won him countless fans, both men and women.

Press releases from that time say that Pandit was born in New Delhi, India, the son of a Brahmin government worker and a French opera singer.  A magician on the piano, he studied music in England and later moved to the United States, where he mastered the organ at the University of Chicago. Except his talent, none of this was true.

Two years after he died in 1998, his real identity was exposed in July 2001 edition of Los Angeles Magazine as being John Roland Redd, an African American, not an Indian, born in St Louis, Missouri, who had transformed himself in the Indian persona to break into the music business. In 1939, his sister Frances Redd appeared in a film called Midnight Shadow, with a central character named Prince Alihabad. However, this revelation never affected his prestige.

This brief video explains why –

During his 900 performances he never spoke on camera, instead designed only to communicate with viewers through that endearing stare. With friends like Errol Flynn, Bob Hope, and Sabu, the Elephant Boy, he became one of the first TV stars ever. Eventually, he conceded his TV performances, because of an argument over the contract, to the young pianist Liberace. And the way he came to fame is one of those only-in-America tales where the audience and the performer are both invested in the illusion.

A documentary by John Turner and Eric Christiansen, “Korla” chronicles Pandit’s extraordinary life and career. The filmmakers grew up watching Korla on TV and listening to his music.

In an article published on What It Means to be America, Turner wrote that he was in touch with Pandit till his death.  “I first got to know Korla Pandit in 1990, while I was working at KGO TV in San Francisco. I was producing a series on Bay Area eccentrics and a colleague at the station mentioned that Pandit had a live show on KGO in the ’50s”, Turner wrote.

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His self-invented persona had a familiar way of greeting by saying ‘Namastey’ to everyone. By considering his clothings and way of greeting, it was impossible to concede the fact that he was not an Indian. Turner and Eric found that Pandit was indeed John Roland Redd, one of seven children born to Baptist pastor Ernest Redd and Doshia O’Nina Johnson. His love of music took hold in childhood and he played a mean boogie-woogie piano.

The filmmakers tracked one of Redd’s childhood friends in a desire to solve the mystery behind this exotic personality. They got to know that there wasn’t much mingling between the races, as Jim Crow laws were in effect. Blacks weren’t served at the soda fountain and if they wanted to buy clothes at the department store, they couldn’t even try them on.

Turner said, “Hollywood was also kind to shape shifters who’d invented their biographies. And Pandit and his wife understood that Americans knew very little of India outside of the magical rope-climbing swamis or men-of-mystery they saw in the movies. With their sets and music, they created an exotic escape in people’s living rooms. Female fans of Pandit have told us that he was their first teenage crush. He was an image that came through their TV screens that they could safely fantasize about.”

-by Pashchiema, an intern at NewsGram. Twitter: @pashchiema

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  • AJ Krish

    The whole Indian persona adopted by Redd was intended to get him into the spotlight. If it is so easy to fool the public for so many years, I really wonder whether a turban and a fancy coat is all that is required to be an Indian.It truly is amazing that he never spoke on television for all his 900 performances. Talk about his determination!

    • Pashchiema Bhatia

      May be that’s why he is known as the man of mystery. But this never affected his reputation even after his real identity came to light. His endearing eyes and music is all that is still remembered.

  • Pete

    Looked like Tony Curtis with a turban.

  • AJ Krish

    The whole Indian persona adopted by Redd was intended to get him into the spotlight. If it is so easy to fool the public for so many years, I really wonder whether a turban and a fancy coat is all that is required to be an Indian.It truly is amazing that he never spoke on television for all his 900 performances. Talk about his determination!

    • Pashchiema Bhatia

      May be that’s why he is known as the man of mystery. But this never affected his reputation even after his real identity came to light. His endearing eyes and music is all that is still remembered.

  • Pete

    Looked like Tony Curtis with a turban.

Next Story

Top US Women Diplomats Speak Out on Sexual Harassment

Women from all sectors are coming out to speak against sexual harassment cases, this time U.S women diplomats lashed out against such incidents

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FILE - Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, who served as the US Ambassador in Malta, addresses participants during a gay pride parade organized by the Malta Gay Rights Movement in Sliema, outside Valletta, June 30, 2012.

As U.S. lawmakers grapple with allegations of sexual harassment in their ranks, some senior American diplomats are speaking out about their struggles over the years.

Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, who was U.S. ambassador to Malta from 2012-2016, told her story about serving at the State Department and the White House.

“There was one occasion in the department when a boss touched me and I told him if he did it again, I’d knock the s— out of him. He did not repeat it, but he did try to get me to curtail from the position,” Abercrombie-Winstanley told the Foreign Service Journal, a publication by the American Foreign Service Association.

The former U.S. envoy recalled another incident in which she said she was harassed by a senior lawmaker while serving on the White House National Security Council.

“Initially, I parried the advance from a senior member of Congress, but when he continued to call me, I reported to the NSC’s executive secretary that it was happening, and told him that if I had to do violence to repel it, I would,” Abercombie-Winstanley said.

“I was letting him know beforehand, I said, because I did not expect to lose my job as a result,” she added. “After a moment of shocked silence, he said ‘Thanks for letting me know.’ And the member stopped calling me.”

She later told VOA these occasions are an “extremely small part of my professional journey” and declined to either comment further on details or identify the congressman.

‘Zero-tolerance’ policy

In a letter electronically distributed to all American diplomats around the world earlier this year, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the department upholds a “zero-tolerance” policy regarding discriminatory and sexual harassment.

“Effective harassment prevention efforts must start with and involve the highest level possible,” Tillerson said in his policy statement.

For years, secretaries of state release their statements on diversity and harassment in the workplace at the beginning of their tenure and review annually thereafter. They usually highlight two anti-harassment policies: one prohibiting sexual harassment, the other banning discrimination.

U.S. Ambassador Laura Dogu. (U.S. Embassy in Nicaragua website)

Male-dominated circles

Still, female ambassadors said they must learn to adjust and handle the challenges involved in working in mainly male-dominated diplomatic circles.

“I am frequently the only woman in meetings outside the office with the host country, and when I have control over the guest list, I insist that we include at least 30 percent women, if not more,” U.S. Ambassador to Nicaragua Laura Dogu said in the Foreign Service Journal article.

Like Ambassador Dogu, former Ambassador to Mongolia Jennifer Zimdahl Galt said she has been the only woman or one of the only women in the room at virtually every meeting throughout her career. The key to working in such an environment, she said, is to be well-prepared and a good listener.

FILE – U.S. Ambassador to Mongolia Jennifer Zimdahl Galt and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry past a traditional honor guard upon arrival at Chinggis Khaan International Airport in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, June 5, 2016.

“So you can speak authoritatively and there is no question that you are on top of your brief. It’s also important to dress professionally, which in my book means wearing a suit at all times,” said Galt, who was appointed as principle deputy assistant secretary for educational and cultural affairs earlier this month.

She also said, “Being sure to listen carefully to what others have to say so that you’re not repeating, but rather amplifying and adding value with your remarks.”

Building minority leadership

In a speech to student programs and fellowship participants in August, Tillerson said he had directed relevant committees to develop “minority leadership” at the State Department.

“Every time we have an opening for an ambassador position, at least one of the candidates must be a minority candidate. Now they may not be ready, but we will know where the talent pool is,” Tillerson said.

Seen as part of these efforts, Irwin Steven Goldstein will begin his new position next week (December 4) as the first openly gay undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs.

In Senate testimony, Goldstein thanked his spouse for supporting his career of developing and executing communications strategies that connect diverse audiences. (VOA)

Next Story

Prince Charles Arrives in New Delhi for two day Visit to Meet PM Narendra Modi

Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, accompanied by his wife arrived New Delhi for a two-day visit to India to complete their 10-day four-nation tour

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Prince Charles
Prince Charles visits India with his wife for two days. Wikimedia.

New Delhi, Nov 9: Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, accompanied by his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, Camilla Parker-Bowles, arrived New Delhi on Wednesday on a two-day visit to India at the final leg of their 10-day four-nation tour that also took them to Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei.

“Their Royal Highnesses Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall arrive,” the British High Commission in India tweeted.

Prince Charles is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday evening and discuss a wide range of issues, including that of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) which will take place in April 2018 in the UK.

Prince Charles
Prince Charles arrives in India with his wife. IANS.

Ahead of the royal couple’s arrival, External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said climate change, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), economic cooperation, and other bilateral issues would also come up for discussion.

Bilateral trade between India and Britain stands at $12.19 billion. India is the third largest investor in Britain and the second largest international job creator in that country.

Britain is the third largest inward investor in India, with a cumulative equity investment of $24.37 billion for the period April 2000-June 2017

The Indian diaspora in UK is one of the largest ethnic minority communities in the country, with the 2011 census recording approximately 1.5 million people of Indian origin equating to almost 1.8 percent of the population and contributing 6 per cent of the country’s GDP.

This will be Prince Charles ‘s ninth visit to India. He had earlier visited India in 1975, 1980, 1991, 1992, 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2013. (IANS)

Next Story

India will soon ask Malaysia to extradite Preacher Zakir Naik

India will soon approach Malaysia with a request to extradite hardline Islamic preacher Zakir Naik.

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India will Request Malayasia to extradite Zakir Naik
India will Request Malayasia to extradite Zakir Naik. wikimedia commons
  • India will seek the Malaysian government’s help in extraditing televangelist Zakir Naik who faces charges of money laundering and inciting hatred through his sermons broadcast on Peace TV, the foreign ministry said Friday.

Zakir Naik obtained permanent residency in Malaysia 

Officials will approach their Malaysian counterparts with the extradition request sometime within the next two weeks, Indian foreign ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar told a weekly news briefing in New Delhi.

“Any formal request seeking the assistance of a foreign government in cases of extradition requires a completion of the internal legal process involving consultation with other ministries involved in the case,” Kumar said.

“At this stage, we are nearing the completion of this process and as soon as this process is complete we will be making an official request to the Malaysian government in this matter,” Kumar said. “It could be a couple of days or a couple of weeks. But it would be soon and the nature of our request would also be clear.”

Naik fled India a month before terrorist carried out a massacre at a café in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in July 2016. This week, Malaysia’s deputy prime minister said the Islamic preacher legally obtained permanent residency in the country, and that Malaysian authorities would arrest him only if he broke local laws or was found to be involved in terrorist activities.

Naik’s speeches allegedly inspired some of the militants who carried out the siege at the Holey Artisan Bakery café in Dhaka, where 29 people, including 20 hostages and five gunmen, were killed.

In November 2016, the Indian government banned Naik’s Mumbai-based NGO Islamic Research Foundation, which partly funded the Peace TV channel that is banned in India, Bangladesh and several other countries.

Kumar said because the Indian government had knowledge of Naik’s whereabouts, the legal procedures would be tailored to requirements between the two countries in their extradition treaty.

Advocate challenges charges

“Naik is being hounded because he hails from a minority community. The charges that the investigating agencies are trying to frame are all stale and are hardly incriminating,” advocate S. Hariharan told BenarNews in a phone interview from Delhi.

“The charges lack veracity and would not stand scrutiny in the court of law. We will be challenging the extradition and deportation.”

Last week, the Indian government filed a 61-page charge sheet against Naik alleging he was involved in a criminal conspiracy by lauding terrorist organizations. In April, a non-bailable warrant was issued against him in an alleged case of money laundering through his NGO and a shell company.

In Malaysia meanwhile, the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) has urged the government to ignore any request from India to extradite Zakir Naik, Reuters reported.

“For Muslim individuals, even when they won by using arguments and not weapons, like Dr. Zakir Naik, they are considered terrorists because their arguments cannot be countered,” PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang wrote last week in an opinion piece published in Harakah Daily.(BenarNews)