An Open Letter to Manu Joseph,Editor, Open Magazine.

published on January 18, 2013

Dear Manu,

Interesting name ! Is it from the Hindu Manu as in Manusmriti or is it from the Christian Immanuel (name for Jesus) ? My own predilection is also based on Immanuel Kant the famous 18th century German philosopher who wrote the famed Critiques, which are compulsory reading for any philosopher, either eastern or western.

My own name Vijaya is the name for Durga, as in Vijayadashami. Thus having cleared the decks let me proceed to the main points of this open letter.

I read with interest your article in the New York Times  ( ‘US Hindus hear the call of India’ Jan.17, 2013). Entertainingly written. You begin with a reference to the play ‘Ganesha and the Third Reich’ which was first staged in  Australia in 2011 and presumably is now being staged in New York. After a few lines about the play itself you move on to the topic of the Hindus in the American diaspora.

I am a Hindu (so you will forgive my partisanship) and I watch with some interest the activities of the US Hindus, although I do not live in the US. I first learned about the Hindu American Foundation when they reclaimed Yoga from those who would try to deny its Hindu origins. Ms. Shah of HAF was actively involved, and I read the
fine articles by Dr. Aseem Shukla who took on world famous guru Dr. Deepak Chopra. I am an admirer of the latter but I threw in my two cents worth of support for Dr. Shukla’s arguments which were both historically and content wise an accurate reading of the origins of Yoga. Dr. Chopra, in this instance, was mistaken.

Dr. Chopra was, in his own way, trying to universalise the message of Yoga but  omitted to emphasise the Hindu origins. That was primarily what the dispute was about. He seems to have learned from the experience and is a little more circumspect in disowning the Hindu origins of Yoga. At the time there were some strident voices that tried to sever the link between Yoga and Hinduism, not Chopra himself, but some others. It was important that a well known Hindu voice should have set the record straight.

But let me comment on your use of the word ‘Hindu’. This was refreshing since there has been a tendency among some Hindus  to avoid using that word to describe themselves. This is because in the US especially, there was a great deal of Hindu bashing and young people found it difficult in schools to both integrate with the adopted country and yet retain their Hindu identity. The Christian component of the Indian immigrants did not find it as hard since they were promptly taken under the wing of the Christian Church and ofcourse, they also naturally distanced themselves from the Hindu religion. They wisely stayed aloof from the disputes and given the violence in US schools (which you must have read about) this was natural. So, it was left to the Hindus to carry the banner of their ancestral faith.

Back to your article. It began with a nod to the play. I have not seen it but I read an account of it in the New York Times. It was difficult to decipher what was going on owing to the writer’s roundabout interlocutions. One point came out clearly : it was about reclaiming the ancient  sacred Hindu symbol of the SWASTIKA from the evil that had been perpetrated in its name. Ganesha goes to defeat the asuric forces because he is the destroyer of obstacles. Jai Ganesha !

So far so good. However, Hindu audiences in Australia objected to certain scenes that showed Ganesha, the beloved god of Hindus, in a purely comic light. I have  not seen the play and cannot comment on it.

Whatever the merits of this play, there is an attempt elsewhere, especially in India to ridicule the Hindu pantheon of gods and goddesses. I want to draw your attention to an article in the Kerala publication Haindava Keralam , which as a Keralite you might want to look at. The article is ‘In the name of comedy Asianet ridicules Hinduism’ (Jan.17,2013).

This is clearly open mockery of Hinduism(in the guise of the genre of comedy) and unfortunately both Hindus and non Hindus are involved. The Hindu component is surely composed of young Hindu actors who want to achieve name and fame, and possibly some Macaulayites. The others have Christian and Islamic names. The main point of the article is that it seems curious that comedy is employed about Hindu themes, not Christian or Islamic !

In your article you give a thumbnail sketch of two types of Hindus in the American diaspora : the older first generation immigrants (now naturalised citizens) and those who were born and raised in the US. These latter you seemingly accuse of being the wind under the right wing in India. Kudos to them, I say !

And you yourself wandered away from the topic of Ganesha   to insert your own dislike of Shree Narendra Modi by a gratuitious reference to the Gujarat riots. The young lady whom you quote as being hostile to Narendra Modi, has obviously been influenced by the endless negative propaganda disseminated both in India and abroad.

That seems to be coming to an end, mercifully. Shri Modi is being correctly assessed.
 These days the Macaulayite brigade is in retreat. That has happened not only because of the so called right wing in India,  the various Sangh organisations and similar organisations, but also owing to the diligent efforts of the Hindus in the diaspora.

Forgive my Open partisanship. You will appreciate why I am enthusiastic about the Hindus of the diaspora, defending not only their ancient faith, but also Bharat-India’s ancient culture and civilisation.

Best wishes,

Dr. Vijaya Rajiva

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