Last week we wrote an article about the Case of Two Financial Journalists and how they pronounce their first names. This article created a level of response that was as varied as it was voluminous. It seems that we struck a nerve among people who are frustrated with the way Indian names are pronounced and spelled. It also generated responses that focused on regional variations of how names are spelled and pronounced within India.
Today, we describe why the case of Mr. Krishna Guha seems important to us.
The MahaBharat, in our opinion, is the greatest story ever told in the Indo-European literary world. Unlike other stories that bear this label, the MahaBharat is not a religious tale. It is described by scholars as Iti-Haas or “the way it happened” – in other words History. It is a story that is as vibrantly alive today as it has been through centuries and millennia. Go to any remote village in India and you will find people who will discuss the epic at a level of scholarly insight.
Krishna (with long “a” sound suffix like Carla) the woman or कृष्णा is one of central characters. She was celestially beautiful. In fact, she was considered to be the most sensual and desirable woman in the world. Notice the second vertical bar on the right in the phonetic Devnagari script. This is the bar that tells you to pronounce the “a” sound like Carla or कार्ला.
Krishna (silent “a” like Carl) the man or कृष्ण (“a” silent – notice the absence of the second bar on the right from कृष्णा ) is a major character in this story. He is one of two greatest figures in Indian history. Krishna is regarded as God or an Avatar of God on earth. Any one with the most rudimentary acquaintance of Indian culture knows about Bhagwan Krishna.
The story of how कृष्ण or Bhagwan Krishna came to the rescue of कृष्णा or Queen Krishna in the moment of her greatest personal crisis is a story that is known, recited and sung in every part of in India.
These two names have the same grammatical structure as nouns with “a-stems” in the Indo-European family of languages. We demonstrated this in our first article by comparing the names Carl & Carla with Krishna (silent “a”) and Krishna (pronounced “a” sound). The pronunciation of the “a” sound in Krishna, Carla, Roberta, Sharpova, Medvedeva distinguishes the feminine name from the Krishna (silent “a”), Carl, Robert, Sharpov, Medvedev male names. Yes, we do know of a Ms. Medvedeva and Ms. Sharpova is the name of a famous tennis player.
Even Wikipdia knows this basic grammatical fact. We quote:
A-stems (/ə/ or /aː/) comprise the largest class of nouns. As a rule, nouns belonging to this class, with the uninflected stem ending in short-a (/ə/), are either masculine or neuter. Nouns ending in long-A (/aː/) are almost always feminine. A-stem adjectives take the masculine and neuter in short-a (/ə/), and feminine in long-A (/aː/) in their stems. This class is so big because it also comprises the Proto-Indo-European o-stems.
Feminization of Masculine Names
It should be evident now that calling a man as Carla, Roberta, Medvedeva or Krishna (with “a” sound suffix) should be described as changing the man’s name to its feminine version. We termed this feminization of a masculine name. We think this is valid terminology.
Imagine an official of the US State Department calling the President of Russia as Medvedeva? Do you think it might make the Russian people angry? Do you think it might cause an international incident? We do.
We also think that feminizing the male name Krishna (silent “a” like Carl) is far worse than feminizing the male name of the Russian President.
Names with deep emotive and religious significance
Krishna is the name of God, the name of the Avatar who recited the Bhagvat Geeta or the Words of God to his disciple Arjun in the MahaBharat. The Bhagvat Geeta is the most widely read scripture in Indian Culture and Religion.
In our opinion, feminization of this deeply emotive and religious name, the name of God, is an insult of paramount proportions. Feminization of names of the Russian President and a CNBC Anchor pale into significance compared to this insult, we feel.
Speech Matters, American National Television Matters & United States Federal Reserve Matters
Language and its usage are far more influenced by speech or pronunciation than by written syntax. People tend to remember what they heard and tend to repeat what they heard. This is especially true of Sanskrut which was developed long before writing was invented as technology. Even today, Sanskrut is more easily learned by listening and speaking than by reading. As children, we learned Sanskrut verses by listening to our parents and reciting with them.
American Television is broadcast and heard all around the world. Wherever we have traveled for business or pleasure, we have found CNBC. So if a sacred Indian name of enormous emotive and religious significance is feminized on a nationally and internationally televised CNBC Show, that feminized pronunciation is likely to stick and spread around the world.
The United States Federal Reserve is the greatest and most powerful monetary institution in the world. We are great admirers of Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the US Federal Reserve. We believe that Chairman Bernanke singlehandedly saved the world’s financial system by his dramatic, unprecedented and effective steps in late 2008. The New York Fed is the single most important component of the US Federal Reserve. Mr. Tim Geithner, the current US Treasury Secretary, served as the President of the New York Fed prior to his current appointment.
Mr. Krishna Guha is today the Executive Vice President of the New York Fed and its Head of Communications. In our opinion, his words and, in particular, his pronunciations of sacred Indian names will carry ginormous weight around the world and his pronunciations are very likely to be copied with conviction.
This is why we think the feminized pronunciation of his first name, the sacred masculine name Krishna, is an important, material and dangerous issue for Indians worldwide.
The case of Mr. Guha
Let us point out that we did not comment on his pronunciation Guha (with long “a” sound suffix) of his last name. This is considered to be an anglicized version of the Sanskrut name Guh or Guha (with silent “a”). This practice is somewhat common in North India, witness the usage Gupta for the well-known Sanskrut Gupt or Mishra (with “a” sound suffix) for Mishra (with silent “a”). We don’t like the fact that, even 63 years after independence, some Indians prefer the anglicized versions of their last names to the original Sanskrut ones. But we think that is their personal choice.
But then should it not be Mr. Krishna Guha’s personal choice to pronounce his first name the way he sees fit? Yes and No in our opinion.
Yes, he has every right to use any pronunciation of his own name in private. As one of our readers asked, what is wrong if a man wishes to feminize his name? Nothing. We believe in the Seinfeldian “not that there is anything wrong in it” approach.
But when a man bears a name of great emotive and religious appeal, we feel he should be extremely careful in the way he exhibits his personal choice of pronunciation in public. In our opinion, he should, when speaking in public, point out the religiously correct pronunciation and then explain how or why he chooses a different one. The tone of this explanation should be deferential to the religious sentiments of millions of people around the world.
Think of a man with a deeply emotive & religious Christian, Jewish or Muslim name (listed in alphabetical order), say for example, Jesus, Moses or Mohammed. Imagine such a man feminizing his name in public or even using a slightly insulting version of his sacred name! Does any one doubt the explosion of criticism that would result? Depending on the religion involved, the entire Middle East, Catholic Church, the Anti-Defamation League would protest in the strongest possible terms.
Any man who causes any disparagement to a name like Jesus, Mohammed or Moses (listed in alphabetical order) would be told in a firm manner that bearing such a great name creates a huge responsibility to be respectful of what that name means to the followers of that name. He would be told that this responsibility transcends his personal preference, at least in public.
But the name Krishna (silent “a”) is a sacred Indian name. It may be sacred to millions to Indians around the world. But in the world of American Television or the US Federal Reserve, it counts for very little. This is because Indians around the world have forgotten how to protest. They have become inured to religious insults and defamation suffered over decades. They are reduced to expressing their anger in the privacy of their homes, at Saturday evening dinners with friends and to saying “why to bother…let it go” like a reader said to us.
A struggle for respect for Indian religion has to start somewhere. In our opinion, the case of Mr. Guha seems a good place to start.
Behavior of Mr. Guha
We do not know much about the professional achievements of Mr. Guha. The fact that the NY Fed chose him to be their Head of Communications is sort of enough for us.
We did not wish to be unfair to Mr. Guha. So we called his office and requested to speak with him. We also sent his office an email with the request to speak with him about the pronunciation of his first name. We received no answer. After we published our first article, we sent his office an email with a link to the article and another request to speak with him. We called his office on Monday evening and we were told that he had declined to speak with us. At that time, we offered to speak with him off the record to give him comfort. We have not heard back from him or his office.
As a result of Mr. Guha’s refusal to speak with us on or off the record, we are reduced to make our appeal to Mr. Guha in this article.
Our Appeal to Mr. Guha
We would like to appeal to Mr. Guha’s sense of responsibility as a public official of the United States Government, an employee of the US Federal Reserve, an institution that operates under the purview of the United States Congress, a legislative body and the agent of the American electorate.
We would like to make an appeal to Mr. Guha, both humbly and with respect, that he should not ignore the religious feelings of the small Indian community in the United States. however lowly and backward he may think of us. By doing so, he would do injustice to and possibly besmirch the name of that great institution called the United States Federal Reserve.
We notice from his profile on the Fed website that Mr. Guha received his undergraduate degree from England. We would like to ask Mr. Guha whether he is of British origin. If he is, then we would like to ask him whether he shares the opinion of some British elite (the sort of people who use the adjective “paki” in private) that people of Indian origin are of a lower level than the native British. We would ask this question of Mr. Guha because we sense a degree of cultural contempt from Mr. Guha towards our religion.
We would like to ask Mr. Guha whether he realizes that disclosure and transparency are the best way for a public official to address concerns about himself. American history demonstrates that closeting oneself behind closed doors and pulling down the governmental shutter of silence has never been a successful practice. It tends to generate more questions.
So Mr. Guha, we make this public appeal to you. Speak with us. Answer our questions.
If Mr. Guha refuses to speak with us, should we then ask, as American citizens, taxpayers & journalists, whether Mr. Guha is indeed the best person to serve as Head of Communications of the New York Fed, an institution supported by the American Taxpayer?
Of course that would be a question for President William Dudley of the New York Fed and Chairman Bernanke of the United States Federal Reserve!
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