Sunday, October 22, 2006

A-Kealey's A-Heel

Back when my daughter was first diagnosed with autism at age 3.5, she used to attend a wonderful Montessori school. Since the teachers there frequently were baffled about how to deal with a child like her, I would help out for an hour or so.

She loved that school, but she also loved to do things her own way. She was warned not to touch the bell for Circle Time. If she rang it, she would be given a time out.

But she loved the sound of that bell. So she would dart over to the table to give it a good hard ring. It would startle all the other kids into dropping what they were doing -- some of them would start moving to the center of the room for Circle.

And my daughter would then walk purposefully to the corner of the room, pull out a chair -- and give herself a time-out!

I was with her once when she was doing an activity called the Number Board. Kids are given a board with a numbered grid from 1-100 and a box of numbered tiles. They have to match each tile to the appropriate square on the board.

The other kids were puzzled by my daughter. She wouldn’t answer any of their questions; she wasn’t talking yet; but -- she was able to complete the Number Board activity without a mistake before the fastest kid in that room had gotten up to 25 or 30.

That day, a couple of saucer-eyed little tykes sat watching my daughter do the Number Board. She had problems with fine-motor activities like picking up small objects like number tiles with her fingers. So she broke another rule, as the two little girls watched aghast. She picked up the box and tilted it so the tiles all cascaded down on the carpet. in a mound. Then she went to work like a busy little magpie.

“Why does she always have to be Bad?” one of the little girls asked me.

I was thinking for a good way to explain when the other child turned to her friend. “I know why,” she stated.

“You do?” I asked.

“Yup. It’s BECAUSE SHE’S FROM INDIA,” she said triumphantly.

I burst out laughing. “No, that’s not it.”

She wasn’t laughing. “You mean she’s not from India?”

“Yes she is.”

“See, I told ya,” she said turning to her friend.

We come into this world wired to make assumptions and presumptions. When normally communicating toddlers get through the phase when they seem to ask one question for every intake of breath, they often begin to creatively fabricate answers for things they don’t quite understand. They play “pretend” games. They make up preposterous stories.

I think we can all agree, however, that what is adorably cute behavior for a four-year-old becomes rather less acceptable when it comes from an adult.

Particularly when the adult in question is Vice Chancellor of the University of Buckingham, U.K.

Consider the article by VC Terence Kealey in the Times Online

(“Why is a Hindu Temple Like a Soho Phone Booth? Must I Draw You a Picture?” available at :,,6-2362622,00.html )

I stepped into this article over a month after it appeared. I knew by then that many readers from all walks of life had already responded either directly to Dr. Kealey or to the Times’ forum. I knew that though various Indian discussion forums were still seething, it was old news.

So when I assembled my little commentary of controlled fury, I sent it first to a small circle of friends and relatives. But then having unleashed it, I realized that I had no control over where and how far it might travel. So I decided to forward it directly to Dr. Kealey.

My first email to him appears below. Our subsequent correspondence will appear in my next entry.

I want to make it perfectly clear that I mean no offense to my dear friends of the Christian faith – they are not the ones to whom my words are directed.


October 17, 2006

Dr. Kealey,

I wrote the following commentary in response to your recent article on Indian temples. I meant at first to share it among my friends and like-minded acquaintances -- but since it has begun traveling around the Internet like a live magnesium wire, I thought I should send it to you before someone else did.

I regret any undue personal hurt that my commentary may cause you, and I say this only because I do not know you and want to give you the benefit of doubt that you are essentially a decent person and this article was just an aberration.

I do not, however, regret writing as I did. I have only to re-read your article to be reminded that you had no compunction at all in crassly offending people you do not know.

I intend to send your article to a family friend of ours, a senior scholar at the School of Oriental and African Studies. I'd be interested in his reaction to your deductive leap that ancient temples were used as brothels and that the temple carvings were meant as advertisements.

If you cannot confine yourself to writing about your area of expertise, and if you have no time to write with responsibility, integrity and respect, you should be prepared to deal with an Indian readership that will no longer lie supine and let all manner of unmitigated drivel wash over them.


Chitra Raman



In response to the article "Why is a Hindu Temple Like a Soho PhoneBox? Must I Draw you a Picture? " (Times Online, Science Notebook, September 18, 2006) by Terence Kealey, I would suggest that Dr.Kealey expand his reading to include the works of Mark Twain.

Here's a quote by Twain to get him started:

"It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool, than to open it and remove all doubt."

In a truly riveting display of scientific acumen, Dr. Kealey poses two central questions about Hinduism in his essay, reflecting the depth of his inquiring mind:

1. How can a religion be so pornographic?
2. How would anthropologists explain pornographic temples?

In response to question one, I think Hindus should react with compassion rather than anger, only because anger is an inappropriate response to feeble-mindedness.

Besides, anger in response to offensive stupidity is too often misconstrued as defensiveness, or conservatism, or fundamentalism.

The point is that one should not have to explain to an academician --much less a vice-chancellor of an institution of learning -- that attitudes toward sex and the human body in ancient times were far different -- before a certain fascist morality introduced the Original Oppression of Original Sin to the world. And with it, a legacy of anxiety, guilt, hypocrisy, violence and secretive sexual perversions running rampant through their priesthood.

It is evident from the frankness of the erotic sculptures at Khajuraho, Konarak, and Bhubaneswar, as indeed the great tenderness reflected in the expressions of those depicted -- that the blissful union of man and woman was seen in those times as not something dirty and shameful, but a natural part of existence. It was viewed as part of the divine force that is inseparable from every inch of creation. In contrast, the inner sanctum of a temple is much different, reflecting that the journey to inner spirituality is always made through external temporality.

I would answer Dr. Kealey's second question with one of my own: "How would chimpanzees explain the roof of the Sistine Chapel?"

And if he cannot see how the two questions relate, well -- "Quod Erat Demonstrandum."

It is a peculiar attribute of western "rational" and "scientific" thinking with respect to matters concerning Hindu philosophy and culture, that completely speculative analyses by total outsiders to the tradition – are often considered to be the most plausible and reliable. The same towering intellects would have no trouble agreeing, I would hope, that it would be -- umm, somewhat inappropriate -- to have a gynaecologist perform brain surgery.

Hindus everywhere are quick to note that certain other religious groups seem to command greater immunity from disrespect and public mockery by simply threatening widespread economic or physical retribution. In the face of such a collective threat, anyone from the President of the United States to the Pope in the Vatican can be quickly brought to heel.

I happen to believe however, that retaliatory violence – besides being barbaric -- simply drives ignorance underground. I favor the more mature response pioneered by British educators, which is to hand the dunce a cap, seat him in plain view of the class, and make him write multiple times about the error of his methodology.


malini said...

Gently, almost tenderly the blog exposed the uneducated mind that is judgmental and unable to appreciate a different truth. Kealey seemed insignificant, for me what stayed was the picture of Chitra's brilliant daughter doing her own thing, while ordinary mortals wrestle with labels and prejudices.

Chitra said...

You are sensitive and generous as always, Malini. But my next entry featuring subsequent email exchanges will be anything but gentle and tender, I am afraid!

Neeluking said...

I wonder whether Prof.Kealey ever replied to your comment. I am reminded of a novel "The Perfect Murder" which was set in Bombay but written by an English Gentleman who had never been to India. I do not remember any thing about the plot except that it related to a Marathi Police inspector solving the mystery about the murder of a Parsi Gentleman, Mr.perfect.

As a young student, I was intrigued by the title and borrowed the book from the school library. Even though, I faintly recollect having enjoyed reading the book, I must confess that it was only thereafter that I started reading the blurb a little more carefully before borrowing/buying a book.

The likes of Prof.Kealey are those who are satisfied with a mere superficial study( may be the word is ,glance) of things. May his tribe prosper as the future of society lies in mediocrity.

Chitra said...

Hi, Neeluking -- Your remark about the novel written by someone who had never been to India reminds me of my response to a glowing New York Times book review. Let me see if I can dig it up -- it's been a while!

As for Dr. Kealey's response -- Stay tuned!