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Dem Indian People Tief fo' So!

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
Posted: April 27, 2004

"Oh God! Dem Indian people tief for so!" That is what I heard my neighbor say this morning when I wore up. He had seen a photograph on the front page of the Trinidad Guardian that accompanied a story about the arrest of some citizens who, it is alleged, tried to rob the country blind.

"But, boy, how could you say that? "I asked. He was in no mood for subtleties.

"You ah know dem, nah! Dem people will give you dey wife if they want to get something from you."

Hear stupid me: "You can't say so. You can't malign a whole group of people so? You mean all Indian people does tief or that tiefing in dey blood?"

"Doh min' you, nah! You is a doctor and you study abroad. I live here. I know dem!"

"But even then, you can't say so! Supposing de people and dem innocent?"

"Innocent! Dey make laws fo' we and de make laws fo' dem. But I know what go happen. As guilty as dey is, dey bound togetaway and nothing you say can stop that."

"But Abacha and Mobutu tief like hell from dey country and dey black."

I had hoped that I could bring some sanity to the discussion by suggesting that tiefing knows no race. I was mistaken. He did not want to hear that nor was he interested.

"Da is Africa. Dere is not here."

"But you is an African man just like dem."

I was like ah did cuss him.

"Me, African," and with added venom, he continued. "Like dem? You ah hear how dey killing one another in Nigeria today. The Christians can't get on with the Muslim; one want the Christian law to rule de land; the other want Shariah law."

He ketch me dey. I didn't know the brother was so advanced: Nigeria, Shariah law. Now I had the gumption to challenge him.

"Why yo' get down on the African people so? De whole of India broke up just when dey was suppose to get Independence. The Muslim went and form Pakistan under Mohammed Jinnah and the Hindus retained the greater part of Indian under Nehru. So why you want to jump and blame poor, ole Africa for things that you ah know about."

"Blame Africa!" Ah already tell yo', I ent from dey. You could talk yo' shit about 'we is African and we need to come together.' But I knows I is a Trinidadian and know de kind of Indian people we have here."

"But it is not only Hindus that get busted. Is also Chinee and Muslim. Where you think Bash from?"

"He from India. He Indian and tief just like dem."

Again the ambiguity. I see I wasn't getting very far with him so I tried another tact.

"Tell me," I said, "would you marry an Indian woman!"

"Marry an Indian," he mused.

"Yea! I would marry an Indian woman anytime."


"Well, dey kind of soft, have nice hair and they does listen to their husbands."

"How you know that?"

"Yo' tink I ent have eyes?"

"So from what you see, Indian women and dem soft, dey does listen to their husbands. So you find that attractive."

"It good enough for me?"

Now, ah thought I had him trapped. If he found Indian women so attractive, how could he make such large generalization about their tiefing ways or did he mean that only some Indians like to tief.

I started.

"If you think all Indian does tief. And they good fo' nutten. Why you want to marry dey women?"

"Dem is two different things. One is tiefing; the other is loving."

"What's the distinction?"

Well, tiefing is tiefing. Loving is loving. Dem is two different things. Tiefing is something in your nature that you must do. Loving is something that you have and feel you have to give. And let me tell you something. When ah Indian woman love yo', she does really love you."

"Dat ent really true. I hear an Indian woman could love you all she want but when she start to quarrel with you she ain't have no problems calling you ' n...'"

"Dat is true. But dat don't change nothin'. If she didn't love you, she wouldn't live with you."

I was trying to follow his logic. How could he pass the whole corruption brush on an entire people yet try to make subtle distinctions between a woman you love denigrating you (that is, calling you a derogatory name) yet affirming her love for you at the same time. I had read a little Fanon. Fanon said that "the person I love will strengthen me by endorsing my assumption of my manhood, while the need to earn the admiration and love of others will erect a value-asking superstructure on my whole vision of the world." In other words, there is a strong identification between a man and the person he loves. He asserts his manhood through that love.

He must have been thinking what I was thinking. He said:

"You see the problems with allyo educated people is that you try to make too much of fine points. Ask anybody yo' know if Indian don't like to tief and hear what dey say. Dey love money more than anything else in the world and would do anything to get it, even if they have to sleep with the devil."

That "sleep with the devil" talk sounded familiar. It reminded me of Basdeo Panday's famous announcement that he will sleep with the devil if he had to just to get rid of the PNM. Eventually, he slept with the devil but did not like the ride or being in the same bed with the devil. He had to jump out of the bed and try another divinity.

Could it be that Panday was making the larger moral statement that the means justify the ends. And could it be that while politicians are in office they do anything to get ahead even if it means going to bed with the devil which isn't quite the same thing as sleeping with the devil. A woman once told me that when she went to bed with someone she didn't sleep.

"Panday," I informed him, "made that same statement some years ago. He said he would sleep with the devil to get rid of the PNM."

"Dat is de problem," he said. "When Panday say dat he would sleep with the devil you did not understand everything he say. You thought he was only talking about politics. But ah telling you. De Indian and dem would sell dey soul to the devil if they felt they could gain something from it!"

I was getting disgusted. My neighbor was intent on lambasting an entire group. I asked: "Why do you want to twist the man's words so?"

"Because I know dem better than you. Book sense ain't common sense. You may know book but you don't know chapter and beside sense come before book."

My neighbor was convinced that there is something deep within the Indian's soul that caused them to be corrupt although he might also be saying that the Indians of whom he was speaking had stolen a lot of money. That is, 'dey could tief for so."

Hearing him tell it, he seemed to make no distinction between the many and the few; social conditioning and genetic disposal. To him, there is little distinction between biology and the social sciences. He has framed his ideas of the world in a certain way and nothing or no one was going to change his mind even though his statement sounded equivocal or downright duplicitous.

I had heard about the decision about the people in Massachusetts to indulge in their blasphemous ways and marry man and man and woman and woman. Many outstanding Christians and powerful political leaders had taken the position that such unions are unnatural; against the laws of God. How do they know that, I do not know? Could it be that they, too, are guilty of the same generalizations that my neighbor had made: that somehow, a whole group of people are bad because some of them practice behaviors of which we do not approve and which we can never prove scientifically anyhow?

I had to leave. My work was calling me. In fact, I had had enough of the discussion. My neighbor had to get ready for school. He taught at the local primary school. Although most of his students were Africans some were also Indians. I wondered if he took those attitudes to his students: "Dem Indian People tief fo' so!" or "I would marry Indian women anytime. Dey kind of soft, have nice hair and dey does listen to their husbands."

It was all so absurd but then Naipaul had called us a picaroon society and talked about the fact that we are a half made people. Might it not be that we are also a half-thinking people who glorify in a kind of mental schizophrenia?

"Oh Lawd, what a people! When will de glorious morning come? Ambakaila!"

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