Apu of the Simpsons was a thorn in my side for years. That fake Indian accent made my skin crawl. What was worse, my white colleagues and friends seemed to think it was hilarious and then they’d suddenly grow thoughtful and say, “Hey, so how come you don’t have an accent?” What layers of that was I supposed to take on? I have the vocabulary ofr it in 2021. I didn’t back then.
I do have an accent. Everyone does. Mine is a chameleon. Its American overlay, grown over years, slips easily away when I travel to India, so my consonants flatten out and my vowels deepen and widen. I’m watching myself these days to make sure I don’t suddenly find myself narrowing my “o” and “u” together in the Canadian manner of saying “about.” I can’t help myself. I absorb the sounds around me. My accent, however, is mine, with my particular slices of experience layered into it.
Hank Azaria’s Apu came from another space altogether, as Mellini Kantayya makes clear in her Washington Post opinion piece, and as comedian Hari Kondabolu did in his documentary, The Problem With Apu. He was also the only representation of Indians in popular culture for 20 years!
Maybe its children’s lit analogy is the Seuss estate pulling a few titles that feel, to say the least, dated, not to mention unkind.
Like Mellini and the Azaria apology, I’m good with that.