It is no secret that I do not think very highly of his work. He may have reinvigorated the X-Men franchise but honestly, most of his stories are just plain silly (he created Mojo
, for heaven's sake). He also refuses to go away, insisting on completely trampling on ideas thought up by better writers on the X-Men titles.
post is not about Chris Claremont's work. Its to reveal an interesting piece of trivia about the man.
Chris Claremont has never met an Indian.
No, I'm serious. Surprising as it may sound in this cosmopolitan age - the way the man writes Indian characters makes it amply clear that he does not personally know a single person of South Asian origin.
Lets start with the two biggest Indian characters written by Claremont - NEAL
SHARRA/SHAARA and KARIMA SHAPANDAR. No typos, I assure you. That's them on the left. NEAL SHAARA (sometimes spelt as SHARRA - Claremont clearly can't make up his mind), is a boy from our very own Calcutta (which is either in Assam or Bangladesh or both, according to our man). His daddy is the chief of the Indian National Police (huh??) and owner of posh tea estates. KARIMA is a policewoman who Neal falls in love with.
Both these characters have their origin told in X-Men Unlimited #27
. Neal's entry is accompanied by a little write-up on Calcutta by Claremont that is clearly filched from Encyclopaedia Brittanica. Apparently, he thought that by throwing facts like Calcutta's population density in their face, readers would ignore the fact that he had clearly never heard of the place before he wrote the story.
But all this is besides the point. Can someone please tell me how Claremont got it into his head that SHARRA and SHAPANDAR are normal Indian surnames. Call them Patel or Sharma or Murthy or something. In fact he could have even picked up the nearest issue of the TIME magazine and used the first Indian name he came across - considering he had a throwaway Pakistani character named Benazir in one issue, that's not unexpected even. In fact, naming him Rajiv Gandhi would be better than NEAL SHARRA. Interestingly, Google informs me that Sharra and Shaara are common surnames - in Egypt and Ireland respectively.
Since these two are reasonably major characters, I will devote individual posts to them later. But lets now talk about background characters. Two minor characters in titles written by Claremont within the past 6 months have Indian characters. It seems Marvel have been nudging him to add a little diversity to his titles. Looking at the result, one wishes they hadn't. Here's a panel from Uncanny X-Men #473
Ladies and gentlemen - meet AMINA SYNGE! One presumes that Claremont intended her name to be Singh, which lessens his crimes somewhat. But again, he has never read any book or newspaper which has a character named Singh, or he would have known how to spell it.
I'm also a bit confused about the religion of this woman. The bindi suggests Hindu - you know how ALL Hindu girls wear bindis all the time, even in Britain. However, she's named Amina, which suggests she's Muslim. A minor quibble, to be sure, but a little research to improve character believability never hurt anyone.
But if you thought Claremont's India Quotient was getting better, observe this panel from New Excalibur #4.
Deep Breath. MUAHARAM!! What the fuck kind of a name is MUAHARAM RAM? Its like a portmanteau between Muahaha! and Ram Ram! But please be sure to notice how Claremont flashes his knowledge of the modern world - Bangalore and IT. How up-to-date we are, no? I have a feeling he got the idea of introducing the chaaracter after seeing a headline in TIME magazine. If only he had actually READ it.
I think there must have been a conversation between Joe Quesada (Marvel editor) and Claremont that went something like this:
JQ: Chris - we've been getting come feedback from new readers, and we think you should have more Indian characters in your book.
CC: But Warpath is making a comeback in Uncanny, and I think they're using Forge in New.
JQ: Um, I mean Indians from India.
CC: Oh yeah, that place - but I already put that guy Shaara in.
JQ: Yeah, I'd been meaning to ask - how did you come up with the name?
CC: Oh yeah, so this was a good one. There's this brown guy at my local 7-11 called Shah something. So I took that name and added Raa so it would be musical and Indian like. Sha-Ra, get it?
JQ: (sighs). Anyway, we need some more. Why don't you have someone named Singh? Thats a pretty common Indian name.
CC: Oh right, Synge. Like John M. Synge? Didn't know he was Indian. Anyway, thats good. But wait - you're gonna love this. So, my nephew lost his job to some IT people in Bangalore. So I'm putting in this IT guy from Bangalore in New Excalibur. And I'm calling him Muharram. You know like those brown people.
JQ: You're thinking of Middle Easterners. And most Indians are Hindus, not Muslim. And I don't think...
CC: Hindu, huh? Then I'll call him Muaharam Ram like that Hindu god fellow. How's that?
JQ: Umm, see Chris - some Indians have objected to having their names spelt incorrectly in our comics, so I thought...
CC: Come on! Its not as if anyone there reads comics. And aren't they all illiterate or something?
JQ: Well, it is the second largest English reading population in the world, but... whatever you say, Chris. (leaves resignedly).
Now before I end my already overly long post, I will point out that Marvel titles not written by Claremont are introducing Indian characters all the time. Rajani Dhama, Reema Singh and Paras Gavaskar (on the right) are all supporting characters in Marvel stories - and they're believably written.
As a final example of someone who can point India out on the map, here's two panels from Ultimate X-Men #100 written by Mark Millar.
Mr. Pandya dies in the next panel. He's completely a throwaway character. But for a man whose life span was exactly two panels, he's remarkably believable. Hell, I know people just like him. Unfortunately, these examples are lost on Claremont.
My final message to Chris is - "Shaala Gandu". Go look it up. : Native American X-Men
: Thanks to Teleute for pointing out the existence of J.M. Synge