Ganesh Chaturthi – NYT & WSJ Try Hard But Can’t Stop Offending

There is tremendous diversity among Indians in the various Roop or Representations of the Supreme Entity, otherwise termed as Brahma or God. Each community has the freedom, under the central Duality of Indian Dharma, to choose their own Roop, the one that looks similar to them, the one they feel deeply attached to.

But there is one Roop that appeals to all Indians everywhere, to young and old, regardless of their language, customs and ethnicity. The sheer love for this Roop is on display everywhere in India at this time.

                                                         (Children whispering wishes – src Huffington Post)

This Roop is what is appropriately called Mangal-Murti – the Murti or the physical realization of “Mangal”. The term “Mangal” is so hard to deliver in the English language. English just doesn’t words to describe it. Mangal stands for everything that is completely positive, happy, noble, enervating and so pure in its goodness that there is not even a trace of anything negative that comes anywhere close.

At this time of the year, every town in India joyously celebrates the arrival of this Mangal-Murti or Bhagwan Ganesh. Even the name is appealing to the hearts and minds of devotees. The word “Gan” means followers or simple folk. And the word “Ish” means the Lord or God. So the composite word Ganesh (Gan+Ish) or its other equally common Gan-Pati (Leader-Protector of Gan) means the Lord closest to the common folk.  

                                                (Mumbai – src WSJ article)

First kudos and thanks to both New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Their India blogs wished their readers Happy Ganesh Chaturthi (the first day of the celebrations). That was great. Secondly we are very happy to see these American newspapers use the correct Samskrut name Ganesh rather than the British created feminized contortion Ganesha. Kudos again to both NYT India Ink and WSJ India Real Time.

How we wish we could have stopped this article right here. But alas, we seem far away from that happy state. Because despite trying, and trying hard we concede, these two publications just can’t avoid giving serious offense.

The Offending Part

Each specific Roop of Brahma or God is endowed by devotees with specific attributes, properties and features. This is the Sa-Gun, Sa-Kaar component of the Indian Duality. The attributes of Ganesh are exquisitely positive. The two most important are:

  • the deliverer of Buddhi – the combination of English words Intellect & Wisdom  (Buddha means the possessor of Buddhi) and,
  • the remover of obstacles.

This is why virtually every Indian seeks the blessings of Ganesh with the following words before beginning any work:

  • Make my path obstacle-free, O Mine God, in every effort every time (Nir-Vighnam Kuru Me Dev Sarva Karyeshu Sarvada).

We understand the need of the NYT & WSJ to describe the Roop of Ganesh to an American or global audience. But we don’t understand why these two organizations did not use the real attributes of Ganesh. Why didn’t they write “Lord Ganesh, the remover of obstacles” or “Lord Ganesh, the deliverer of Intellect “? That would have been a much more accurate description of Ganesh.

Instead, both NYT & WSJ used the defamatory “elephant-headed Hindu god” to explain Ganesh. Try as we do, and we do try hard, we simply cannot ignore the sting of these words. Both NYT & WSJ know the negative effect of the words “elephant-headed Hindu god” on American readers and yet they deliberately use these words.

Allow us to explain why we feel so:

  • The physical description “elephant-headed” is accurate but of far lower importance than the attributes of deliverer of Buddhi and remover of obstacles.
  • Contrast this with the description of Jesus Christ. The image of Christ nailed to the Cross evokes deep feeling among devout Christians. We know the meaning of that symbolism. Now imagine a global news organization routinely and solely writing “Jesus, Roman convict nailed to the cross“. That, while true, would be considered deliberate defamation and condemned in every country with a Christian community. Well, this treatment of the Jesus Christ symbolism would be almost an exact parallel to the “elephant-headed Hindu god” description of Bhagwan Ganesh. Don’t the NYT & WSJ understand this? Or do they do it anyway?
  • Ganesh is “God“, a Roop of “God“. Ganesh is not a “god“. Using the lower case for Ganesh is a soft, subliminal putdown. It is not just a putdown but a completely wrong, utterly false characterization. The most basic prayer of Ganesh states “Tvam Brahma Asi” or “You are Brahma, the one and sole Supreme Entity that governs creation“. So calling Ganesh as ‘god’ is incorrect and defamatory.

It is time that both NYT and WSJ understand the Core Duality of Indian Religious Thought – that there is Only One Supreme Entity that is without Attributes, Properties or Features and that is worshiped by devotees via the infinite Roop or Representations that are endowed with specific Attributes, Properties and Features. And each Roop of God is Complete in Itself. (For a more detailed treatment, see our article The Search for Eternal Truth).

The concept of god vs. God is Greek in origin and is completely different from the above Duality that is the basis of Indian Religious Thought. We think it is time for NYT & WSJ understand it and stop using the Greek diminutive ‘god’ for any Indian Roop of God. They would do better to simply stop using words “God” or “god”. 

Again, both NYT & WSJ could simply have written “Lord Ganesh, the remover of obstacles”.

Why the Focus on NYT & WSJ?

These are truly terrific newspapers and great American organizations. More importantly, we still believe that their errors arise out of ignorance and out of their educational programming in school & college. In contrast, the Financial Times (FT) of London neither ran an article about Ganesh Chaturthi nor extended good wished to its Indian readers reeks. We guess the British colonial FT considered Ganesh Chaturthi beneath their coverage. This again highlights the differences we wrote about in our May 2009 article Wall Street Journal vs. Financial Times.

Secondly, the NYT & WSJ set journalistic standards for the world. If they can drop their inherent bias & prejudice, the rest of American media will follow.

So we focus on the NYT & WSJ. And we try to remove their ignorance, to remove the obstacles of the educational programming that clog their minds. In doing so, we fulfill the traditions of Ganesh Chaturthi.

The Strategic Aspects

America’s efforts in Afghanistan are in a state of utter disarray, mainly due to the outbreak of attacks on American soldiers by the Afghan Soldiers they train and fight with. The New York Times reported recently that the majority of these attacks are due to insults Afghans feel over cultural differences. This is tragic on so many counts.

What disturbs us is that none of the American reporters embedded in Coalition Forces ever described this feeling in the past several years. Perhaps they didn’t understand or recognize it either. So the anger that was building up in Afghan soldiers, the anger that festered over years, the anger they, for cultural or disciplinary reasons, never articulated, went unnoticed until the recent explosion in killings of coalition forces.

We see the same forces at work when we read the offensive remarks, the defamatory descriptions of Svastik, of Ganesh in American media.  So we are trying hard to not just express our own outrage but to educate the American media about repeating the mistakes with Indians that they made in Afghanistan over the past few years. Indians may not riot and revolt like global Muslims. But believe us, they feel the insults and defamation just as acutely.

What about Indian writers at NYT and WSJ?

This is really the saddest aspect of it all. Both the NYT and WSJ have several Indian writers in India and in America. But they seem utterly unwilling to express what they must feel. There is no Indian who doesn’t see the defamation inherent in the description “elephant-headed Hindu god“. Yet, they bow to what they see as the conventional Western description.

We recall a conversation with an editor of a major global news organization about what we perceived as deeply offensive to Indian feelings. This man of European descent told us that he was married to a Hindu woman and her parents were religious. His unasked question was that if they didn’t mind, why do we? That is probably how editors of NYT & WSJ feel when we raise a flag about religious defamation in their newspapers. So what’s the deal?

  • First and foremost, regarding the specific case above, very very few parents of an Indian woman would express discontent of their son-in-law’s work, especially that of a prominent son-in-law of European descent who has a senior position in a renowned multinational.
  • Secondly, most Indians are so proud and their families are so thrilled of their jobs at say a NYT or WSJ that they are unlikely to express serious anger or discontent. And they probably feel uncomfortable in challenging conventional Western thinking.
  • Over the past centuries of foreign subjugation, Indians have developed a habit of keeping their hurt, their outrage hidden. Expressing such outrage to a foreign entity only brought them punishment.
  • The environment in BYT & WSJ might be exclusively European Christian-Jewish in its ethos and as such not conducive to expressions of Indian thought.
  • Finally, perhaps the NYT and WSJ only hire Indian writers who think/write or profess to think/write the way the NYT & WSJ want them to.

The above are our conjectures about what might be happening at NYT & WSJ. We have asked to speak with the Indian writers at these organizations only to understand how they think, why they tolerate the defamation we see and to discuss our views in a cordial, collegial setting. But so far, neither the NYT nor the WSJ have responded to our requests.

So in the tradition and spirit of Ganesh Utsav, we end this article with an invocation to remove the obstacles in our way to a cordial dialog with NYT India Ink and WSJ India Real Time.

Casting the above negative feelings aside, we end this article by offering the most sacred, the most ancient of Indian wishes to them and to all our readers:

Svasti Astu Te – Let Svasti Be Unto You.

Editor’s PS: The freedom to construct your own portrayal of a Roop is beautifully illustrated in the two artistic interpretations of Ganesh below. They portray Ganesh in the attire of an Acharya or a Teacher and the second is even more unique in its portrayal of a father-son Ganesh. We are intensely grateful Dr. Ram Prabhoo, to an old friend from Mumbai, an Orthopedic surgeon with a superb collection of Ganesh portrayals, for sending us these two lovely photos.


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