Monday, February 24, 2014

The Danger of Doniger’s Book Pulping

Wendy Doniger’s book Hinduism: An Alternate History was pulped. Enough has been written about it by the pundits of prose and I need not go into them here. But there are two aftermathic consequences I wish to draw attention to here. The book must be pulp by now, rotting in the gutter or in the recycling factory but two things give me sleepless nights, i.e., causes for frequent hotness under the collar.

One, first and foremost is Censorship. There is grave danger here. The publishers instead of being editors would turn into censors and will stop considering whatever they don’t like. The excuses they can mouth are so many:
No, this won’t sell
No, the plot line is weak
There’s no market for this
To them I say: first you publish a cerebral author writing about controversial and topical human issues and then see if there is a market for it. With this attitude of censoriousness nothing controversial can be published in India and we will have more cookbooks, hagiographies, and travel directories. It’s better not to take a risk than try out something that could turn controversial. It’s as they say: sit at your desk for 20 years and then complain that nothing ever happens.

The danger is in us becoming a people without history and a people who needs foreigners to write our history. We then become a people whose human condition went unexamined and we complain that foreigners have a stereotypical attitude towards us. Heard that familiar refrain, eh?

Second, is self censorship. This would be a corollary of the one mentioned above, i.e., censorship. When a writer finds that his/her works are slammed even before they could see light, then he/she goes into a shell and becomes his own censor. This is also a virulent disease in society. We find hundred of articulate people who write well and they fail to find a publisher to give them the opportunity. They go into a shell, become depressed and begin to think they aren’t good enough.

This is a phenomenon that is really happening in our society. There are so many narrow-minded vigilante groups around that we tend not to take up issues which we think are important for our own benefit. One of them is culture vigilante-ism. This is the most pernicious of the brain-dead groups advocating going back in evolution. The reasons they trot out are, “but that’s not our culture,” “but, we need to preserve our culture.” Well, if culture is to be preserved then insert it in a bottle, pour some formaldehyde in it, and keep it on the shelf for all time. We would never have progressed from leaf-wearing Neanderthals if we believed this type of people.

A culture is as good as its ability to adapt. And, adapt we must to changing patterns of life around us. Otherwise, we would go the way of the lemmings. Sorry, lemmings, no harm meant.

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