While perusing ListVerse.com, one of my favorite websites, I ran across an article titled “10 People Who Faked Their Race And Ethnicity.”
Much to my surprise number three on the list was a musician named Korla Pandit. And much to your surprise, I must assume, is the fact that there exists a photo of Pandit and me. Together. Shoulder to shoulder.
From a musty, dusty copy of the Colton Union High School 1966 yearbook comes this photo of a bevy of hot high school cheerleaders, a bejeweled and beturbaned Pandit, and two scrawny guys. I’m the scrawny one on Pandit’s photo left. On his photo right stands Pat Wick, a buddy of mine who went on to become a well-known forest ranger, but that’s another story.
Who, you may ask, is Korla Pandit? And what the hell you may further ask are young Jim and Pat doing in this odd and somewhat inexplicable photo? Well, let’s answer the first question first. Here’s how ListVerse.com described Korla Pandit,
Korla Pandit was a musician from the 1950s who had a musical show, Musical Adventures with Korla Pandit, where he would play a Hammond 3B organ and grand piano. On his show, Pandit never said a word. Instead, he just looked into the camera with his mysterious eyes while wearing a bejeweled turban. Altogether, Pandit released 14 albums, recorded over 900 episodes of his show, and is considered the godfather of the exotica musical genre. During the 1950s, he was one of the most famous Indians living in the United States.
Pandit’s career trajectory had clearly taken a downward turn by the mid-60s because he had been reduced to hauling his Hammond from high school assembly to high school assembly, including his always much-anticipated annual performance at my esteemed alma mater, Colton High School.
ListVerse finally gets to the juicy part of Pandit’s biography:
As for his biography, Pandit claimed that he was born in New Delhi to a French mother and an Indian father who was a personal friend of Mahatma Gandhi. Pandit moved to the United States when he was 12 and later attended the University of Chicago. When Pandit did talk, he spoke with an accent and referenced Indian culture. For example, he compared himself to Gandhi, saying that he wanted his music to touch people from all walks of life.
In 1998, Pandit died of pneumonia. Two years after his death, Los Angeles magazine revealed that Pandit wasn’t Indian at all—his real name was John Roland Redd and he had been born in St. Louis, Missouri. Not even his background was Indian; he was African-American. The revelation didn’t really hurt his reputation; in fact, it revived interest in him after he had passed away.
The story behind the photo of Korla Pandit?
As I recall, I was walking across campus (presumably following a Pandit performance at Colton High) minding my own business when I happened upon Korla, the girls and a year book photographer. “Hey, Jim,” someone said, “Jump into this photo.”
Never one to pass up an opportunity to have my photo taken with a gaggle of attractive girls, I did as was requested. (I do not know how Pat got into the shot, but I suspect that his story is far more sordid than my innocent tale.)
By the way, this might be an opportune time to confess that I am not Indian nor do I own a bejeweled turban. Nevertheless, I think I would look very stylish if I were to begin wearing one and looking “into the camera with mysterious eyes.”
That’s a winner no matter what your race may be.
By the way, let’s give a little credit to the bevy of beauties (from left to right): Chris Ruiz, Susan Nunn, Patty DeArmond, Diane Ryan, Renee Cameron, and Debbie Anderson. There’s another pair of legs and pompons hidden behind Debbie, but I did not know the cheerleaders well enough to recognize any of them by their pompons.)
Photo Credit: Ranger Wick Historical Archives