This is the most tasteless Sardarji joke ever. It’s no laughing matter at all. In fact, this is the handiwork of utterly humourless dudes in suits with briefcases under their arms — briefcases containing legal briefs. Starbucks has sued the Indian coffee chain SardarBuksh into submission. The new kids on the block have agreed to change their brand to Sardarji-Bakhsh, but only on condition that they are allowed to sue any other Bakhshes who try to go into business. That looks like an unfair trade practice, too. Imagine the thousands out there born to that excellent name, dreaming up business plans that are now ashes.
What’s really unfair, though, is that Western attacks on traditional Indian intellectual property have not been successfully fought off. An epic battle had raged over Texmati, a brand with which a Texan company had entered the premium basmati rice market in the mid-1990s. The case became a cornerstone of the movement against globalisation, and saw massive demonstrations in India and Pakistan. The matter was fought on the notion of indigenous knowledge though, in a certain sense, it concerned a brand. Cola is a product, while Pepsi is a brand. Photocopying is a process, while the commonly used word “Xeroxing” invokes a brand. Similarly, rice is a product, but “basmati” has brand value, even if no legal entity owns it. A Texan company used a rhyming name to encash that value.
SardarBuksh is not the only Indian soundalike to have been targeted by a larger brand. In 2015, a street vendor in Ludhiana who promoted Mr Singh Burger King was forced to change its name by the US major. Like the international coffee brand, Burger King failed to appreciate the humour of the situation. Maybe this sustained contempt for humour will get some Indians mad enough to have another go at Texmati.