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Friday 18 April  
Vikram Gandhi as Kumaré

The State We're In - Don't Shoot the Messenger

On air: 24 December 2011 2:00 (Photo: Kumaré/Kahlil Hudson/Daniel Leeb)

More about:

The State We're In, 24 December 2011. A man frustrated in his search for spiritual answers decides to become a guru. His message, don’t fall for fake gurus; become your own. An African American who lives in Holland wonders if the Dutch holiday tradition of Zwarte Piet is not only zany good fun, but also deeply racist. And a man in Afghanistan believes poetry not only gives us wisdom and beauty, but hope – and he should know. He turned to poetry when his son got kidnapped. Comment on the show.

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Vikram Gandhi as Kumaré
Vikram Gandhi as Kumaré
For fun and prophet (listen in new player)

Vikram Gandhi has always been frustrated with fake spiritual leaders, so he decided to become one: Kumaré.

He set up shop in Phoenix, Arizona and quickly attracted a group of devotees who believed deeply in what he told them.

Then he actually started believing what his own alter-ego preached.

Kumare unveiled

Vikram tells host Jonathan Groubert about the day he revealed his true identity to his followers – and why he believes that posing as a guru named Kumaré was actually a good thing.

Vikram Gandhi tells his story in a documentary film - Kumaré - The True Story of a False Prophet.


Radio Netherlands Worldwide’s Davion Ford
Radio Netherlands Worldwide’s Davion Ford
Black Peter power (listen in new player)

Zwarte Piet (Black Peter) is Sinterklaas’s (Santa Claus) helper in Holland – usually a white person with a black, curly wig, red painted lips and blackface - see photo below.

The tradition is increasingly criticized as being racist.

Yet its defenders are digging in.

African American presenter at Radio Netherlands Worldwide, Davion Ford, has his own take on the tradition in this essay.


Wazir Gul Anis
Wazir Gul Anis
Poetry and peacemaking (listen in new player)

Wazir Gul Anis in Afghanistan is a civic leader who has a deep love for classical Persian poetry.

It's helped him cope with the Soviet invasion, the Taliban's takeover, and getting warring clans to reconcile.

A poem even got him through the darkest hours of his own life when his own son got kidnapped.

  • Zwarte Pieten parade in a Dutch town<br>&copy; Flickr/Hans Pama - http://www.flickr.com/photos/hanspama/4121311445/

Discussion

Patricia Kayden 2 February 2012 - 2:00pm

The Dutch are known for their racism so not surprised that they refuse to give up their racist traditions like "Black Pete". Look how they behaved in South Africa.

Jim Harrold 30 December 2011 - 9:35pm / USA

Sorry, quite late in responding here, but I enjoyed the piece on "Kumare." The piece reminds me that in things not only religious, but social, relational, and political, "a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest", as Paul Simon would have it. I am undecided whether "Kumare" provides a public service or is simply a showman. On one hand, it seems he (Vikram) is sincerely trying to demonstrate that we have more power within us to solve our problems than we imagine. On the other hand, he truly seems to be a huckster taking advantage of the emotions of his clients. Either way, I am hoping the film makes it to my city. By the way, I hear you (when I can and usually in my car), on KIOS-FM in Omaha, Nebraska, USA.

Anonymous 27 December 2011 - 9:20pm / Canada

Really, really enjoyed the piece on "Religion for Fun and Prophet" - what a great story and thank you so much for putting it together. I heard your show on CBC and now I'll see if we can get the local cinema to bring in Kumare, thanks

user avatar
Greg Kelly 28 December 2011 - 8:51am / Netherlands

Thanks! Where do you hear us and where are you thinking of bringing Kumare?  I know Hot Docs in Toronto would be a likely venue... all the best, Greg

Anonymous 25 December 2011 - 1:23am / USA

An excellent point by commenter Ritzoniyah..how easy it is for people to forget to ask themselves "what if the shoe was on the other foot?" (i.e. if the situation was opposite)

Vikram Gandhi's story was interesting, too..however the interviewer Jonathan Groubert made an error of omission when he said gelatin is made from cow hooves. It is made from bones (not only the hooves) and from the hides, that is, skin, of animals. Specifically from the bones and skins of cows and pigs, as the fact checking snopes confirms.

Not very appetizing, and something that makes us uncomfortable so we want to brush it under the rug..but we shouldn't brush it under the rug, whether it is Swarte Piet and its relation to slavery and racism that we wish to brush under the rug, or the gratuitous use of animal flesh (often deliberately hidden from consumers) in food, we should not look away from the truth, even if a part of us wants to. Could it be that JG, who so loves to and so delights in making many of the people he interviews uncomfortable (not the best aspect of your show, by the way), would rather pretend it's hooves without skin, because he himself ironically has an aversion to being made uncomfortable? Something else to think about..

user avatar
Jonathan Groubert 26 December 2011 - 2:25pm / Netherlands

Hi Anonymous,

Thanks for your comments. If I made an error of omission, it was simply to quickly make the point that marshmallows aren't vegetarian, so my guest could make a bigger point: the guru at the Ashram was being hypocritical. I never intend to make my guests feel uncomfortable, but sometimes their stories have uncomfortable elements to them and I feel it's my job to ask questions about those elements. Our guests are, of course, under no obliation to answer. Happy Holidays!

 

Jonathan 

Ritzoniyah 25 December 2011 - 12:07am / united states

What if the tables were turned? What if our white brothers and sisters were in the position many of my brothers and sisters find themselves in today; Having to accept a mockery of the hardships that brought them to many of the lands you will find people of African descent in. Would it be so easy for one to say get a life if they knew how their ancestors had their children ripped from their stomachs and hung upon their necks as a necklace? Knowing that the very people who are painted in that pale paint (if it were you in that position) were the people who ripped your great great grandmothers baby from her body? Would it be so easy to say get a life???

Anonymous 29 December 2011 - 8:51pm / United States

It indeed could be so easy. Our world is making such great progress towards unity in color, yet the times I feel we take the biggest step back are the times when people cry out RACISM at every turn, rehashing old issues that died long ago. So the likelihood that Piete derived from the days of slavery is quite possible, yet the understanding of that depiction is completely different today than it was understood 200 years ago as a direct result of the progress we have made as a society. Rascism is not a black and white, clearly drawn-out line all the time... it's a matter of where your heart is at. And if the Dutch celebrate an old tradition of a black Santa's helper, and is even lauded as a hero!, the real problem lies not with those that celebrate that tradition, but with those that pick a racial agenda with a non-existent problem. Did slavery exist? Yes, and it was a very wrong era in our history. It's time to move forward and leave behind the "witch hunt" for racists and leave behind the hatred of white people for the sins of our fathers.

user avatar
The State Were In 30 December 2011 - 5:00pm

There's more Zwarte Piet debate going on at our Facebook page, join in here.

Paul Burton 24 December 2011 - 8:17am / New Zealand

On today's show I was listining about white guys dressed in black makeup.
Or " Blacking up " To the person who was offended by this. All I can say is get a life. Ok I am white of British decent. I enjoyed The black and white minstrel show's on the BBC way back in the 60's. My understanding is. It came from the Victorian time when black people were not allowed in the entertainment industry. Let alone on stage. So hence the Blacking up.
Now days. I still like the show ( On DVD ). I do not take it as racest .
It is just how it was. It is a part of history.

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