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HomeUS/UK'Probably half of my social circle is Indian': Scott 'Dilbert' Adams, accused...

‘Probably half of my social circle is Indian’: Scott ‘Dilbert’ Adams, accused of racism, said in 2003

America’s celebrated cartoonist Scott Adams’ strip Dilbert has been canned by hundreds of newspapers across US following a racist outburst in which he suggested segregation between blacks and whites. But back in the 1990s, Adams introduced the Indian character Asok, an IIT-ian, into the strip, to illustrate diversity in the American workplace. In 2003, Chidanand Rajghatta spoke to him about the origins of Asok, who was eventually “killed” by Adams in 2007 before being partially “reincarnated.” Excerpts from that interview:
Tell us about the origins of Asok and how he came about.
Well, I live in Northern California and you know there’s a sizeable Indian population there. Probably half of my social circle is Indian. I used to work at Pacific Bell in the 1980s and there were a lot of Indians there. And there was a guy named Asok.
Asok, as in A-S-O-K? He didn’t spell it A-S-H-O-K?
No, he spelt it A-S-O-K. And I modeled a character after him for the Dilbert strip because I wanted to add greater variety and bring an Indian to the mix to reflect the diversity of the American corporate world.
But why Indian?
Well, it was impossible to add an African-American. When you are as white as I am, you have to be careful. To make a comic strip character funny, you have to make him flawed, and that is a sensitive issue. I’m not sure other communities would have taken it well. Asok’s flaw is that he is inexperienced, although he is smart and intelligent. It’s a gamble that has paid off.
And how did the real Asok react to the introduction of this character?
Oh, he was quite happy. But he has moved on also from Pacific Bell and I haven’t heard from him in a while.
So how did you hit the idea of using the IIT reference in the strip?
Again, I have known several IIT grads over the years from my days in the tech world. But frankly, until I recently read Michael Lewis’ The New New Thing, I really did not have an idea how important they are to the US economy. I never had anyone volunteer that kind of information. I mean, when you meet guys from Harvard, they will tell you within five minutes of meeting you that they graduated from Harvard. With the IIT guys, you have to ask. So I thought I’ll throw it in and see what is reaction is.
And what has been the reaction?
Oh, lot’s of feedback. Funny thing is, I got a mail from this other IIT called Illinois Institute of Technology.
Yeah, the joke in India is that it’s the other, lesser-known IIT.
Yeah. Well these guys were writing to thank me for mentioning IIT thinking it was them.
But the strip also sort of poked fun at IIT-ians. Did you get any hate mail?
No, not really. And I was hoping not. That joke about Asok keeping a cup of tea to his forehead to heat it up is one of the funniest jokes I have written so I hope not.
Do you get feedback from India at all?
I do get e-mail from India but I don’t see all my e-mail (Adams was probably the first cartoonist to provide his e-mail address with his cartoon strip). But I hear a lot from people anecdotally about the Dilbert strip.
And have you been to India?
I can’t even imagine leaving California! Like I said I have a lot of Indian friends. Doctors, engineers, retired professors, and a whole family, three generations of lawyers. So I have India here.
And hey, I believe you now own a restaurant in Pleasanton. How did that come about?
Don’t ask me I’m not sure why I do anything really. A friend of mine wanted a partner so I just put in some money.



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