Are “Educated” Indians Different From Americans & Europeans? A Case of Two Financial Journalists

Mr. Carla Quintannia is a veteran journalist with CNBC. Carla anchors Squawk Box, a daily three hour show that is often described as CNBC’s franchise show. The buzz is that Carla is being groomed to become a future anchor of NBC’s Evening News.

Mr. Krishna Guha has been a veteran journalist with the Financial Times. Krishna’s last position with FT was US Chief Economics Editor. Today, Krishna serves as the Executive Vice President  & Head of Communications for the NY Federal Reserve.

This is the story of how these two veteran journalists tell others to pronounce their first names.

Mr. Quintannia pronounces his name as Carl and not Carla. If people were to pronounce his first name as “Carla”, we suppose Mr. Quintannia would correct them and ask them to pronounce his first name as Carl. He might even explain that Carla is a woman’s name and Carl is a man’s name. Our guess is that Mr. Quintannia would get testy if people continue addressing him as Carla rather than Carl.

Mr. Quintannia would be right. First names ending in the “a” sound are generally female. Look at the names of his own female colleagues, Rebecca, Maria, Melissa, Diana, Bertha, Amanda. No shortage of female names ending in the phonetic “aa” sound.

He would also be correct in pointing out that adding the “a” sound suffix to a masculine name turns it into a feminine name, like Carl to Carla. This is a characteristic of many European languages. In fact, in Russian, the convention applies to last names as well. Sharpov, Pavlov  are masculine names. Add the “aa” sound suffix and you get the feminine Sharpova, Pavlova names.

Mr. Quintannia would be correct in admonishing us for spelling his name as Carla. We mean no disrespect to him. We did so here to make the next point. 

That point is about the other man, Krishna Guha.The name Krishna pronounced with the “a” sound (like Carla) is a feminine name. Not just any feminine name, but the name of the most sensual woman in the universe during her time, a name that every Indian kid learns. Draupadi, the daughter of King Drupad, was a celestial gift to her father and she was called Krishna (pronounced like Carla).

The masculine name Krishn or Krishna (pronounced like Carl without the “a” sound suffix) is one of the two most revered names in India (the other being Ram). Some people think of Krishna as God, some as the Avatar of God on earth and some as a great human being. He is the one who composed and recited the “Bhagvat Geeta” (the words of God) in the Mahabharat. There is no one in India who does not know how to pronounce the masculine name Krishna (like Carl without the “a'” sound suffix).

In India, the addition of the “a” suffix also converts a masculine name to a feminine name – Neel to Neela, Veer to Veera, Lalit to Lalita, Megh to Megha, Arun to Aruna, Deep to Deepa, Susheel to Susheela, Sunand to Sunanda, Subhadra (the a is silent) to Subhadra (a pronounced like Carla) and so on. Names ending in the “a” sound are almost always feminine names, Anita, Anuya, Geeta, Manisha, Meena, Meera, Padma, Pratibha, Sheela, Surekha, the list goes on and on.

This is not surprising. All Indian & European languages are derived from the Indo-European language family and Sanskrut is the oldest living Indo-European language.

This brings us back to Mr. Guha. He is an erudite man and an accomplished journalist. He is no stranger to basics of Indian culture or the phonetic structure of Indo-European languages.

Yet, Mr. Guha allows people to call him by the feminine pronunciation, the phonetic “Krishnaa”, rather than the masculine pronunciation. We checked CNBC videos for confirmation. We found a videoclip in which CNBC Anchors Sue Herera & Michelle Caruso-Cabrera call him by the feminine name Krishna (like Carla). To our recollection, neither has ever called Mr. Quintannia as Carla, though Michelle sometimes calls him by the diminutive Carlito. We also recall that Hank Paulson, the US Secretary of Treasury, once addressed Mr. Guha with the feminine “Krishnaa” pronunciation in a public press conference.

We decided to check how Mr. Guha prefers to be called himself. So we contacted his office at the NY Fed and spoke with a wonderful lady who answered the phone. When asked how he prefers his first name to be pronounced, she instantly answered Krishna with the “a” sound suffix like Carla.

So we have a case of two veteran successful men in the same field, Mr. Quintannia who probably demands to be called by his given masculine name Carl and Mr. Guha who prefers to be called by the feminine equivalent of his name as Krishna with the “a” sound suffix. 

Inquiring minds usually want to know why. And ours is a highly inquisitive mind. We requested to speak with Mr. Guha and followed up with an email request for a conversation with him about the pronunciation of his first name. We have not heard  from Mr. Guha or his office.

Mr. Guha is by now means alone. Many successful Indians allow their names to be feminized by Europeans and Americans. In fact, this feminization by Westerners has now become a phonetic ritual in Indian English. Even revered Indian names are now routinely pronounced in the feminized manner – Ganesh is pronounced as Ganesha, Shiv is pronounced as Shiva, Ram is pronounced as Rama.  Addition of the feminine “a” sound suffix is also common for names of epics, witness Mahabharata, Ramayana, Purana.

If this were not enough, English speaking Indians in India now add the “a” suffix to almost any Indian word when speaking in English. For example, the Sanskrut word Rasik is pronounced in Indian English as the feminine Rasika and the plural is pronounced as Rasikas. We heard this horrible distortion on Bloomberg-UTV channel in Mumbai. The Mahabharat is the story of the Pandav and Kaurav brothers. In this newly degraded Indian-English, the plural becomes Pandavas & Kauravas.

This is not true of all Indians. If you call an Indian taxi driver by the feminine “Krishnaa” sound, you would get beaten up. Never call any Indian laborer, farmer, soldier or a “real” Indian by the feminine version of their first names. You would not be pleased with the response.

Today’s India has a new category of people, people who call themselves “Educated” Indians. These self-described “Educated” Indians perceive themselves to be different than the ordinary Indian. They think of themselves as new Indians who can mix and socialize with Europeans & Americans.This has virtually become a new “caste” in India.

Membership in this caste requires their acceptance by the Europeans & Americans they know. So fit in with the western crowd, they mould themselves. Dress is the first change. The next step is language. This is why you see “Educated” Indians pronounce Indian names the way the British did and the way Europeans & Americans do today. If that means feminizing their own masculine names, so be it. 

Some people who resent this feminization privately accept it publicly to fit into the new caste. As one such “educated” man said to us “What does it matter? I am not going to become a woman if they call me by a woman’s name. So let it go. What to do if they are stupid?”

There is another factor at play here. “Educated” Indians don’t like to be embarrassed, especially in public. They would just die if their English is publicly deemed to be of lower calibre than that of the British. This is why “educated” Indians strive to speak exactly the way the British speak. When you speak with call centers in India, you still hear old English phrases like ” we will do the needful”.

The practice of feminizing their names is getting so ingrained that many “educated” Indians don’t even realize it. Now these “educated” Indians have begun using these feminized versions even when speaking Hindi. Some time ago, we attended a concert by an Indian Singer at the American Academy of Indian Classical Music in Manhattan. The Indian Singer said the words in Hindi and his Irish-American assistant translated into English. The Indian-American male singer used the anglicized feminine term Ganesha when speaking in Hindi. In stark contrast, his assistant, a lovely young Irish-American woman, spoke with perfect Sanskrut diction in English and pronounced the real name Ganesh.  We guess an Irish-American woman did not feel the need to appear “educated” as the Indian-American man did.

The above is our attempt to come up with some answers, some analysis of why “educated” men of Indian origin willingly allow themselves to be addressed by feminine versions of their masculine names. If our readers can think of better answers, we would love to listen.

We began this article with the example of two veteran successful men, a Western man who insists being called by his given masculine name Carl and a man of Indian heritage who himself tells others to call him by the feminine version of his masculine name Krishna.

The sad reality is that this example is symptomatic of the difference between Western men and today’s “educated” Indian men.

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