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Keep calm and let karma find Zapiro

I’ve tried, really, really tried, to get offended by Zapiro’s cartoon, but I just cannot. I really don’t get what all the fuss is about.

Even as I stare at a picture of our beloved Hindu god Ganesha, who is mythologised as the son of Shiva and Parvathi, and brother of Muruga, and as I stare once again at the caricature in the Sunday Times, I’m simply unfazed. Maybe my sensibilities are a bit warped, but as a Hindu, my beliefs don’t hinge on what others think of them.

The story so far is that Cricket SA (CSA) is sacrificing its CEO Haroon Lorgat to please the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). When Lorgat headed the International Cricket Council (ICC) from 2008-2012, he allegedly had strained relations with Indian cricket, and they were unhappy with having to deal with him during the planning of this December tour in South Africa, threatening to pull out. We would’ve lost about R500 million in revenue from the tour. Lorgat’s sudden suspension comes under the guise of an ICC probe into alleged misconduct, but critics say he’s the scapegoat.

The cartoon is rather clever.

Ganesha represents Indian cricket and this works on many levels. He is an instantly recognisable deity of India’s biggest religion, Hinduism. He is worshipped first before the start of any prayer and plays a gatekeeper role, allowing us access to the other gods. Our invocation of Ganesha is essential to progress further in any ritual or process. Cricket in India is like a religion unto itself, uniting Indians in a mystical frenzy that few could understand. The adulation given to their men in blue, the Tendulkars of the game, is not unlike the unwavering devotion reserved for deities. Yet, the economic fruits of cricket make it a multibillion-rupee industry, generating 80% of global cricket wealth. To access this Indian powerhouse you’ve got to curry favour with the BCCI. Their ability to generate such huge revenue means that countries like South Africa have good reason to hang onto its coattails.

Back in February, Australian commentator Dean Jones wrote that “money speaks all languages, and India’s power has made all cricket nations bow to the needs of the BCCI”. The trance-like obedience of CSA, willing to sacrifice whomever at the altar of sport capitalism, is well depicted by Zapiro.

The SA Hindu Dharma Sabha, however, has understandably taken the knee-jerk, emotional reaction and did the usual hullaballoo about being outraged and mocked. That’s their role, I suppose, and we need cultural watchdogs to protect minority rights.

But I disagree. I’m with Sunday Times editor Phylicia Oppelt whose diplomatic response was that the cartoon isn’t about Hinduism, it’s about corruption in cricket. Merely using Hindu iconography isn’t disrespectful, and “to read the cartoon as an expression of disrespect to Hinduism is to misconstrue the point”.

It’s with some irony that this debate broke out as matriculants geared up for their English examinations. Knowing the difference between literal and metaphorical levels of meaning is really necessary here to ensure we all keep our cool when satire stings.

Zapiro — who owes us no apology because he has done nothing wrong — concedes that “my criteria as to what is an appropriate metaphor may be different from the criteria of some devotees”. He’s politely telling us to take a hike, because if you feel insulted, that’s your business. His job is social commentary.

Given the metaphorical intent behind the image, I’d be surprised if anyone could make a decent philosophical argument that the cartoon was so morally reprehensible to the point of it needing to be censored – which it what Ram Maharaj and other Hindu officials are claiming.

If social commentators — cartoonists, columnist, poets, filmmakers, novelists, artists, academics etc — all started self-censoring what they felt will offend others, we will lose all stimuli for a robust public sphere. You need a thick skin to enjoy a secular democracy.

As one cyberspace reader commented, “beliefs are open to mockery and criticism — you can practice it freely of course, but you cannot dictate to those outside your religion to adhere to your religious prescripts”. But of course, bigotry cannot masquerade as free speech, and when there’s a real violation of others’ dignity, even satirists must be called out.

But those blurred lines that traverse into hate speech or blatantly disrespectful intentions were not crossed here. As another blogger pointed out: “When Rihanna behaved inappropriately at the mosque, she did it on a Muslim property in a Muslim country so I feel they had every right to ask to not do so. In this instance, Zapiro did not desecrate anything and he certainly did not accuse Hinduism of anything.”

When we untangle ourselves from the emotions roused by seeing our homely icons being re-appropriated for confusing and uncomfortable purposes, we awkwardly have to allow such trespasses for the sake of the greater good. Like in politics, there can be no holy cows in religion, not even Hinduism. And if Ganesha really is irked, karma knows where Zapiro stays.

Author

  • Suntosh Pillay works as a clinical psychologist in a public hospital in Durban. He is a PhD researcher at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and has written extensively on a range of topics in various media. He is grappling with social dilemmas and paradoxes that we are faced with every day & hopes to trigger debate, controversy, reflection and connection via his writings. He is past chair of the Board of Directors of the Mandela Rhodes Community and is part of various national committees of the Psychological Society of South Africa (PsySSA). Suntosh Pillay on ResearchGate To chat, network, or collaborate, email [email protected] Twitter: @suntoshpillay

30 Comments

  1. Paula Paula 30 October 2013

    Wish everyone could see the humour and artistic brilliance in cartoons as you do. Zapiro has at some stage ‘offended’ everyone, except you and me it seems. He is soo clever and the cartoons are just brilliant, summing up any boring news report.

    Love your article, thanks for sharing your views with us, perfect answer from a Hindu person and yip karma knows where we all stay!!

  2. The Creator The Creator 30 October 2013

    In a sense you could argue that Shapiro’s cartoon is implying — shock! horror! — that SA cricket is dominated by Indian crooks. But it’s interesting that Hindus are pretending that he’s a religious racist. I suppose they’re insinuating that he’s Jewish and therefore prejudiced against Hindus.

    Boring, really. Ganesh, by the way, is the coolest god I know — except maybe for Hathor, the Egyptian cow goddess.

  3. Varsha Varsha 30 October 2013

    Well done. A very well articulated article that makes a lot of sense

  4. Maggs Naidu Maggs Naidu 30 October 2013

    Suntosh – I’ll start off with the premise that religion, all religion, is utter nonsense.

    Zapiro, and through him the Times and Mail and Guardian, has reduced what was an assault on our nation to silly symbolism that has profoundly racist stereotyping and generalisations.

    All Indians are not Hindu. All Hindus don’t revere Ganesha. All Hindus are not Indians. Hinduism is not synonymous with corruption. All Indian cricket is not corrupt. All Indian cricket is not associated with religion …

    The notion that all who look like me, think the same, act the same, pray the same surely has to be deeply flawed?

    If Zapiro was not offensive then we should accept Phumelani Mfeka’s proposition that all Indians in South Africa treat Africans badly or that every Indian is like the crooked Shaiks, Guptas and/or Reddys!

  5. GGG GGG 30 October 2013

    Oh, well said – ” my beliefs don’t hinge on what others think of them”. I wish more people understood this.

  6. Mahendran Govender Mahendran Govender 30 October 2013

    Suntosh,

    I think you nailed this one. Well said.

  7. Jean Mackenzie Jean Mackenzie 30 October 2013

    Thanks for the explanation because I just didn’t get Zapiro’s cartoon, not know the background with cricket. I have embraced the Hindu tradition hugely and was a bit surprised initially at the use of Lord Ganesh but Zap’s excellent brush strokes depict the deity with his usual style. And, the last sentence about karma knows where to find Zap, probably says it all. Why would we need to get our knickers in a knot!!!

  8. Hameeda Hameeda 30 October 2013

    “Knowing the difference between literal and metaphorical levels of meaning is really necessary here to ensure we all keep our cool when satire stings.” – I love this line.

    Well Done. I think you managed to capture lots of different aspects of this current event in a well thought out piece. Sometimes we need perspective and someone to tell us that we don’t have to follow the indignancy of others.

  9. Vinayak Bhardwaj Vinayak Bhardwaj 30 October 2013

    This is wonderfully lucid, articluate and beautifully written. I can’t say enough what an excellent piece this is!

  10. PrettyBelinda PrettyBelinda 30 October 2013

    I still dont understand why the Hindu god is at the centre of this satire. Indians are diverse as much as Chinese, Africans and Europeons are in their religious persuasions.

  11. MoodleyfromtheOutback MoodleyfromtheOutback 31 October 2013

    Brilliantly written article sir. People reacted to the cartoon in the same way South Africans react to many things: with a defensiveness that betrays a great deal of insecurity (this trait is of course not limited to people in SA). People with very fixed ideas about religion, politics and life get very angry when these are challenged. Anger is pride’s defence against insult. Zapiro must be characterised as ‘mad’ or ‘bad’-in this case, as ‘bad’. So they try to use the law, media and powerful entities like the BCCI to punish him.Wish that there were more with your wit and intelligence in Durban. I would move back tomorrow.

  12. Charles Charles 31 October 2013

    Thanks for the really great commentary and viewpoint. If only more religious people would have this type of mature, progressive and lucid understanding of religious matters and contexts within a secular society…maybe then we’d see a far more tolerant and integrated society. Thanks for writing this, thoroughly enjoyed.

  13. JanB JanB 31 October 2013

    What an interesting read, thank you. Knee jerk reactions to satire invariably leads to some Streisand effect. Unless you intend that to happen, stick to the high ground and don’t make a scene.

    My opinion about the whole saga ambivalent. On the one hand it pleases me that it is not the British (or Americans) who sway the sceptre yet again. It is good that other large economies and (dare I say) developing countries throw their weight around.

    On the other, I think I will skip this tour and not watch any of the matches. For the BCCI to boss around our chap is unacceptable and for CSA to fall for it is even worse. In my very small way I will speak to CSA’s wallet and cancel my DSTV subscription. One less target for the advertising. I dare everyone else who pretend to be upset by the matter to do the same. The Proteas are our boys and I love supporting them, but they decided to make the game a professional one. That immediately made me a client and not just a patriotic supporter. This client is not happy with the product on offer.

  14. justmythought justmythought 31 October 2013

    Yep, spot on Suntosh. Many of us SAFFER’s are just too sensitive. We can laugh at others, but whine when the tables are turned.
    I say enjoy Zapiro’s cartoons when you still can. He’s an absolute master of satire.

  15. Satish Soni Satish Soni 31 October 2013

    Very well said:) would give you 3 thumbs up, but I only have 2:) My wife and I are sleeping in different rooms right now because of this cartoon….not literally, and I’m going to use your line to win and close this argument at home!

    “Knowing the difference between literal and metaphorical levels of meaning is really necessary…”

    my only objection was around the human sacrifice to Ganesh…why not choose a more fitting deity who accepts sacrifices? but your connotation of the gatekeeper is spot-on!

  16. Kanthan Pillay Kanthan Pillay 31 October 2013

    Suntosh: you have perfectly summarised the philosophical difference between hinduism and young religions. Nice one.

  17. Sarel Botha Sarel Botha 31 October 2013

    He he he, do not hold your breath.

  18. Ash Ash 31 October 2013

    Waffle, waffle, waffle. At the end of the day, it is the disrespect shown to others’ beliefs that have lead to many ‘wars’ in this world. It is irresponsible for people like Zapiro to continue to do so.

  19. OneFlew OneFlew 31 October 2013

    The cartoon uses a recognisable symbol as a shorthand signifier for India. Not in itself good or bad. An Eiffel Tower to represent France is ok. But we can all think of stereotypes of, say, Germans, black people, gays, that would be offensive.

    Offensive is not necessarily bad. If it’s true, or a reasonable interpretation. Or if the point is important enough to warrant the offence. But free speech isn’t the only moral value and it doesn’t trump all others.

    Germans are serious, efficient people: ok. Literal-minded and lack a sense of humour? Well, ok then… Engorge themselves at the expense of the Greeks and others? Ouch. They are Nazis? Bad. Which caricatures would pass muster for a particular purpose?

    Not that any of them should necessarily be banned, but there are important questions. E.g. whether a caricature is smart, promotes insight and is likely to deepen understanding.

    Zapiro takes a symbol which carries a particular moral freight and attributes to it the venal motives he wishes to attack. Irritation about a small matter of politics results in an attack on the moral symbolism of a nation’s belief system. It’s easy. But it’s gauche and stupid. And that’s unforgivable.

    No holy cows in religion? That is arrant nonsense. Religion is entirely about holy cows. They are the evidence-free stock in trade of religion. We all have them: even atheists like me. But we all deserve basic respect. Even my quaint beliefs in democracy and equality.

  20. Ricardo Ricardo 31 October 2013

    Hi Suntosh
    All of you are missing the point – even Zapiro.

    It’s not the BCCI bullying CSA – Just like the Proteas it’s really a case of CSA “choking” in the face of a clearly superior entity!

  21. JustThinkin JustThinkin 1 November 2013

    Hmmmm……….. seen any Zapiro cartoons depicting Zionism on metaphorical levels of meaning ……………… lately?

  22. bernpm bernpm 2 November 2013

    A very rational justification of a touchy issue.
    Touch on religion and the believers come into action, some at full force. Rationality flies out of the window.
    @justthinking: maybe we should challenge Zapiro to do some cartoons on the Middle East and current negotiations ith the Palestinians and Israel.

  23. Charlotte Charlotte 3 November 2013

    @ Suntosh
    It is rationality,intelligence and reasoning like yours that gives one hope for the future.
    Any form of ‘religious ‘ judgment or opinion should be separated from logical thinking.
    We need people like you at the helm – able to think for oneself, think sense, and stand up for your right to think it and say it.
    Three cheers! Excellent article.

    .

  24. mandlenkosi Matiko mandlenkosi Matiko 4 November 2013

    A very good, rational and enlightened piece, especially from a Hindu, who is supposed to be offended.No holy cows in the public discourse. The difference between literal and metaphorical levels of (satires)meaning,made my read

  25. Rosemary Shapiro-Liu Rosemary Shapiro-Liu 5 November 2013

    A very steady take on this. Satire will always push some buttons, and it’s meant to. But this cartoon – yes – is using metaphor, and I think that your article is very helpful in just finding balance.

  26. JitsZa JitsZa 7 November 2013

    Its his right to draw what he likes. It’s their right to object if they are offended. Right or wrong who knows. One thing is for sure, someone got hurt, now is that right?

  27. Jens Bammel Jens Bammel 8 November 2013

    Wow.
    I am really impressed by this commentary.
    It addresses all the legitimate concerns and also brushes them off, as they should be.
    Good cartoons have to hurt. The jester can say things nobody else can. And the pain reveals a deeper truth.
    Anybody who has seen the cartoons published in cold-war East Block newspaper will attest to their blandness and ineffectiveness in the public discourse.

  28. kaustubh kaustubh 25 November 2013

    Well Done !!! :)

  29. Anesh Devlall Anesh Devlall 7 January 2014

    Well said. You just hit this one on the nail.
    It seems that certain so-called Hindu organisations are using this issue to gain brownie points with the butt-lickers and ignorant members of our society.

    Hindus firstly need to come to a realisation that very few of them truly know their religion.

    Those that are making the big hulabaloo should rather spend the same energy and effort spreading the truthful teachings of our beautiful religion.

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