Buffalo, New York, USA
January 01
Traveling through the universe.....just tarrying on this planet savoring life. I get the "Last Word" sometimes in "The Indian American' and relish the privilege to have a few Op-eds published in "News India Times". Niche 'n nice!


MARCH 6, 2010 11:55PM

Open Objection to Hindu Umbrage over Book!

Rate: 11 Flag

                         book cover


This is an open objection to those, who send (obnoxious) sign-up letters written in the false comfort of thinking that the recipients think in the same straight line as them because of shared ethnicity.  Having fallen off the curve a long time ago, as an outlier I  never found the linearity back.

            I have this irritating email sitting in my Yahoo account which was sent out by the secretary to all members of the local “Hindu Cultural Society” (HCS) yesterday. Asking members to sign up and express false chagrin at a book discussing Hindus. I have an initial objection here: "No emails which require me to put my stamp of approval on your personal beliefs". My email address was given to you only if I was ever needed to come rescue you in a hostage situation when someone sang yet another long and tuneless “bhajan” (devotional song)!  

But seriously dear Secretary Sahib! You expect me to take umbrage over a book written by a Professor of Divinity from the University of Chicago, who has made a life-long study of the Indus civilization, Hinduism and mythology? Even if I was to convince myself after all those wars I had at home (when I was only 21), about not sitting down at the weekly “puja" (worship ceremony), that since I was born of a Hindu, I am a Hindu, I should now, at my mid- age, be rushing around muzzling other people up, expressing idignation at ideas and interpretations of religious texts that are neither mine or anyone’s to possess? 

I have to be honest here… I have not read “The Hindus-An Alternative History” nor do I see the need to. I am sure Wendy has her own theory backed by some line of evidence that supports her point of view, while she traces the evolution of Hinduism from the time of the Indus Valley Civilization quite few thousand years back to the present.  But you sir, have done the job for me and taken the trouble to go through every page and line painstakingly pointing out several factual errors with quite a relish I see. Then you picked out whole passages which you found “derogatory, defamatory and offensive”.  It was just too long winded for me to read. You called the cover jacket scandalous ( ) and the devil in me had to peek! I saw the blue male riding a horse (why does Krishna have to be shown blue… was it just because he was dark and everyone was just too scared to show his true colors or because they wanted to interpret the blue-ness of his blood…? The story given about Vishnu, the sea and ocean and sky just seems too trite) with loads of naked women with buxom breasts. The context is surely sexual. What makes me curious is what caught YOUR eye and made you prickle up that way? 

Do you remember the 1970s, when television first started in India dear man?  At the time there was a brouhaha about some lady news anchor (should it be anchoress??) who wore a sleeveless blouse for her sari. Ministers were censoring the lady and were shocked and what not! Like they really had never seen a woman’s upper arm before! In my youthful vigor I thought the ministers needed a hiding. I cannot tell what made me think of that here…but methinks your imagination needs some cleaning up and a hiding too sir!! Don’t let it run wild around imagery where you may get lost! Everyone lives in their time and sensibilities and since society is not static, I say…move on and look beyond! We do have a huge population back home to prove that we are a sexually healthy lot, procreating along with the bacteria and insects in our famously enabling tropical climate.  (Though I must admit each year I see lesser birds and that worries me much!) Have you visited Khajuraho recently by the way?

I might have never heard of Wendy Doniger until you pointed her out. I, who have lived the better part of my life in India, and don’t necessarily have the urgent need to prove anything to anyone, skip the Western scholars of Hinduism and Indus valley. Not because of anything else other than there is so much to learn and so little time! But since you took the trouble to point her out to me, I have been reading some of her convocation speeches and her writings and whether I agree with her or not (I refuse to discuss that with you dear man!) I find her writing lucid and interesting which I cannot honestly say about your email. Instead of trying to rope us all into this wild and distasteful scheme of yours (of signing this fake-umbrage letter) and get us all tied up in religious knots, I suggest you spend some time and write a counter thesis to her theories. Instead of wasting your so-called talents on Penguin Group, USA and Penguin Books, India to withdraw the book and apologize for Doniger, sharpen your pencil, write your counter point and get them to publish you!

No Sir, you hardly know me. Even in this town of a single temple, I shy away from even Goddess Durga …the most significant socio-cultural event in my ethnic society. I confess I used to go only for the “khichdi”, “labra “as the food and sweets and the odd Ray or Bengali movies they screened.  There was a time long long ago when I would pay my dues, cook the food, put up shows, teach the children Bengali and actually support “Prativa” with yearly advertisements. But then they got wind of me. One day the editor changed the wordings on MY ad and cut me out of it. Not a kind thing to do to an aspiring writer, Secretary Sahib and I was told that my money would be gladly refunded. Ever since then we have not bothered to offer. Surely you do not blame me for that?

To tell you the truth, I would really prefer the usual innocuous announcements of cultural nature which covers the mission statement of HCS. Leave the personal nonsense out. You do not know me and you do not miss much, that much I do assure you. The year shall pass and I shall try my hardest not to pay my dues for another membership.  I discovered much to my sorrow, and near empty pockets that my city is not big enough for disagreeing scientists to live and let live. I wonder if this world can allow dissatisfactions to simmer but not boil over ,  false chagrin  uncommunicated, prudery to perhaps exist never leading to censure, religiosity (if it must) to be realized yet not evangelized , “mokshas” to be attained and not offered, spirituality be touched not sold, freedom of speech to be a right not a wrong.



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IT is a fairly common practice here in the states to "sign people up" as a show of concensus and strength..and you have to wonder how many people put their name on the page without knowing what they just signed up for. You do well to be thoughtful in your with holding your agreement with such a thing.
You certainly lead an interesting life. Teaching Bengali? Living in India for so long?
It makes Kansas City seem so mundane.
rated for sure this i can sign up for
I have also lived here for 21 years JD and the one thing that always bothers me is when people think they can speak openly of their extreme view points just because they might share a name or a color or a ethnicity. People join organizations to feel secure in their arguments taking it for granted that all organization members think in lock step. That is dangerous!
All this religious anger and marginalized umbrage just makes me shake my head. have too much of a diverse background in my own family to feel insecure about such matters. Thank you for the visit as always!
I always totally enjoy reading you, Traveller.
You are welcome.
I am sending this letter for publication and hope to get some valuable feedback about the topic.
This reminds me a little when the Greeks went up in arms as a film stated the historical fact that Alexander the Great was gay. I agree that this practice pulls weight only in the US. I believe it is a bit insulting.

Good to read you again, Traveller1; great thread, as always, beautifully done, rated.
Thoth I have been out of circulation for months now and only something like this could have got me out of everything just to get my bile out.

Thank you for visiting since I have not reciprocated in a bit . I will come back as soon as my daughter's wedding is over which is wa-ay out!!! Hang in there!
You are a great writer, and you have a sound mind, traveller. This was enlightening...oops...hope no one takes offense at Americans gettin' enlightened.

Thank you for allowing my post to enter your space for a bit. Is'nt it amazing how we learn from everything around us? Even irritating emails. One learns about oneself as one feels strangely taken advantage of and when the self goes through writing about it perspectives clear up. This email made me know about Wendy Doniger and read her up.

My editor writes ...."Rama just wanted to let you know that I read Wendy's The Hindus. It is a an extraordinary lifetime work, the most comprehensive work on our history. It is almost a culmination of 50 years of her work. You must read it. It is among other things academic, written with exquisite sense of humor. I never thought anyone can write Indian history better than Romila Thappar. But this is it. "

How much I need to learn.
Traveller, it was interesting reading your post. It made me read about Doniger a bit. Her work is focused on translating, interpreting and comparing elements of Hinduism through modern contexts of gender, sexuality and identity.
It is an 'alternate' account of Hinduism (as the title says) - from the perspective of people who were denigrated in the religion. Not the traditional view, to which the common mass silently succumb (and for whom, someone says, religion is opium). We know some rebels: Rushdie and Taslima.
I've heard of this book. I haven't read it. I may or may not get around to reading it. I do know I hate "chain mail" and all other examples of group think.
I agree this has actually made me know about Doniger. She is being felicitated in NYC with an award for this book and I believe the word is out for a protest march in NYC!! When religious line thinking goes up in arms to muzzle discussion and debate it is a dangerous thing. Without vibrant and intelligent conversation/discussion/interpretations there is no growth, no knowledge and no light. The entire premise of
"असतो मा सद्गमय
तमसो मा ज्योतिर्गमय
मृत्योर् मा अमृतं गमय
ॐ शांति शांति शांति - बृहदारण्यक उपनिषद् 1.3.28.

Which is why I suggested the author of the email to write his own view point as a thesis. Thanks for the visit.
Chain line thinking is just weird. Share your dislike Robert.
Haven't read the book. But...I'm intrinsically somewhat suspicious about people such as Dr Doniger who write books on culture without actually living within it. And by that I mean living here.

Here's Pankaj Mishra's review of the book.

Incidentally, William Dalrymple's "Nine Lives" is pretty good.
Bad or good is matter of debate and discussion. Not for muzzling dear sibling!
Am reading Dalrymple's White Moghuls...

Delighted by the visit Manish.
My protest is being published in News India Times this week because of its topical nature. Any debate is good .....for the movement of all.
I am a practising Hindu in that I believe in it’s principles and values but all this umbrage brouhaha, is just fundamentalism.

After Gujarat and Orissa I have no patience for any of that. I wish your post finds greater circulation not specifically on OS but throughout the blogosphere as after Nazism and communism, religious fanatism is the latest “ism” to bring us a little closer to Armageddon.

We as a race have a enviable record for religious tolerance and cultural assimilation.

India has never attacked another country in all the years of it's existence, it was conquered and plundered by the Greeks, the Afghans, the Mughals, the British, each raping the country of wealth, honour and peace and yet we have our culture thriving, each time we have risen from the ashes.

All this because the very core of our philosophy is assimilation, not conversion. We have always believed in tolerance and absorbing what is better in other cultures. That is the reason why Hinduism is the only one of the classical philosophies still alive today.

Note that I say philosophy not religion. That is exactly the problem with these "guardians of Hinduism", they strive to restrict Hinduism to a religion which is demeaning it, and stripping it of it's best features.
After reading your post, I'm inclined to think I should have given it a little more thought before I signed the petition. A friend sent it to me and I think of her as the gatekeeper for the representation of the religion here in the States. She is always on top of what the textbooks in middle/high school are saying and I respect her passion and sincerity in being a self-appointed analyst. But I do agree with your point of view–that no one (definitely not a prof) puts a work out there without sufficient research and detail to back up his/her opinions. And airing your thoughts is really what freedom of speech is all about so why would we squash that–especially given that Hindus are especially proud of the freedom of thought and action that their religion affords them. Rated!
Thank you Moana for coming in and feeling confortable enough to formulate your thoughts and join in. You see how we get sucked in usually? Read the comment by Kalpana. As she says ....she got pulled in for a signature....It is usually someone we trust and perhaps its not even them. They are simply passing something on and slowly it becomes too big to handle . Thus you get a Theo Van Gogh murdered for an art piece.

It is not even the actual book at all or the research or the painting because anyone who studies a subject or practices a craft should be allowed to present a cogent thesis or express themeselves . But to make ablanket "NO" /ban on free speech is silly to put it mildly and dangerous at its extreme. The entire world is goign nuts about religion.
Must those who live the Hindu way of life enter the arena??

I salute your sahas against the Hindu Culture Society. You must have stirred the hornets nest.
I read your blog and was v impressed .Congrats on the was brilliantly written.
I read your blog and was v impressed .Congrats on the was brilliantly written.
I very much enjoyed your article. The time is nigh for "hiding" all those narrow minded asses that want to suppress any views (especially those in print) that don't line up perfectly with their own. As you suggested, rather than start a petition for like-narrow minded asses to sign, they need to do their own research and publish their interpretations.

Hear! Hear!