Hinduism Posts

“Reconciliation: Karwan e Mohabbat’s Journey of Solidarity through a Wounded India”

On 4 September 2017, a group of volunteers led by Harsh Mander travelled across eight states of India on a journey of shared suffering, atonement and love in the Karwan e Mohabbat, or Caravan of Love. It was a call to conscience, an attempt to seek out and support families whose loved ones had become victims of hate attacks in various parts of the country. Along the way they met families of victims who had been lynched as well as some of those who had managed to survive the lynching. The bus travelled through the states, meeting with people and listening to their testimonies. It is a searingly painful account of the terror inflicted in civil society that has seen a horrific escalation in recent months. 

The book is clearly divided into sections consisting of an account of the journey based upon the daily updates Harsh Mander wrote every night. It is followed by a collection of essays by people who travelled in the bus. There is also a selection of testimonies recorded by journalist Natasha Badhwar of her fellow passengers. Many of whom joined only for a few days but were shattered by what they saw and heard. 

Reconciliation is powerful and it is certainly not easy to read knowing full well that this is the violence we live with every day. The seemingly normalcy of activity we may witness in our daily lives is just a mirage for the visceral hatred and hostility that exists for “others”. It is a witnessing of the breakdown of the secular fabric of India and a polarisation along communal lines that is ( for want of a better word) depressing. Given below are a few lines from the introduction written by human rights activist Harsh Mander followed by an extract by Prabhir Vishnu Poruthiyil. Prabhir who was on the bus is an assistant professor at the Indian Institute of Management Tiruchirapalli (IIMT), India. The extract is being used with the permission of the publishers. 

Everywhere, the Karwan found minorities living in endemic and lingering fear, and with hate and state violence, resigned to these as normalised elements of everyday living.

…..

Our consistent finding was that families hit by hate violence were bereft of protection and justice from the state. In the case of almost all the fifty-odd families we met during our travel through eight states, the police had registered criminal charges gainst the victims, treating teh accused with kid gloves, leaving their bail applications unopposed, or erasing their crimes altogether. 

. . . 

More worrying by far was our finding that the police had increasingly taken on the work of lynch mobs. There were tens of instances of the police executing Muslim men, alleging that they were cattle smugglers or dangerous criminals, often claiming that they had fired at the police. Unlike mob lynching, murderous extrajudicial action has barely registered on the national conscience. It is as though marjoritarian public opinion first outsourced its hate violence to lynch mobs, and lynch mobs in BJP-ruled states like UP, Haryana and Rajasthan are now outsourcing it onwards to the police.  ( Introduction, p.x-xi)

Prabhir Vishnu Poruthiyil is an assistant professor at theIndian Institute of Management Tiruchirapalli (IIMT), India. He teachesbusiness ethics and his research is focused on the influence of business oninequalities and the rise of religious fundamentalism.

Like many others, I grew up with the usual doseof religiosity and nationalism. But I was also enrolled in a Hindu school (Chinmaya Vidyalaya) that injected an additional dose of Hindu supremacy. Therewas a short phase in my life (jobless, in my mid-twenties) when I went aboutexploring and trying to understand and justify Hinduism. I am the kind of person who tends to immerse himself fully to understand and make sense of theworld. My exploration brought me in close contact with gurus in various ashrams and bhajan groups. I learned Vedic chanting, studied Hindu theology, and even dallied with the idea of becoming a monk. I interacted with groups and individuals committed to Hindutva and attempted to see the world from their perspective (many remain my friends). I could not put my finger on it then, butI was deeply uncomfortable with what I later realised was unadulterated hatred and a stifling resistance to questioning and reason.

Around this time, in 2004, I was admitted into a masters and then a PhD programme in the Netherlands. Lectures by my teachers and exposure to the lives of classmates and refugees with personal experiences of life in theocratic regimes accelerated my disgust with religious nationalism of all kinds. Exposure to liberal political philosophy and to Dutch society made me appreciate the benefits of living in a place run on democratic and rational principles. As my education both in and outside the classroom progressed, my fascination with extreme perspectives rapidly diminished andturned into concern and disgust. It was, however, a visit to Auschwitz in 2012 that made me realise how easy it was for a society to be sufficiently intoxicated by supremacist world views to justify the annihilation of those deemed inferior. That a human tragedy on this scale had happened in the same society that had made incredible contributions to art, philosophy and music was unthinkable.

Over time, I have lost what remains of my beliefin the supernatural and purged myself of superstitions. I would now call myself a rationalist or secular humanist. Ibelieve that the irrationality promoted by religion is a barrier to progress and that religion is unnecessary for morality, and not a guarantee of it.

When I returned to India in 2013 to join the IIM, I did not expect religious nationalism to influence my research in, andteaching of, business ethics. My focus was on inequality. With the BJP’s victory in 2014 and the support of the corporate sector for the party, it became impossible to disentangle business ethics from religious nationalism. Istarted research on a paper on how religious nationalism emerges and whatbusiness schools could do to resist its advance.

When the lynchings began, more than thepsychology of the vigilantes and their victims, my sociological interest waspiqued by the nonchalance and even the endorsement of cow-vigilantism by many people I cared for, particularly among my family, friends, colleagues andstudents. Their unwillingness to recognise bigotry for what it was and rejectpolitical leaders who create an atmosphere of hate resembled the attitudes prevalent in Germany during the Nazi era. It disturbed me deeply to see sectarianism slowly taking hold of persons I loved. I started to worry that the possibility of concentration camps being built in India was no longer a gross exaggeration.

In the meantime, I had initiated a conversation with Harsh Mander. I wished to invite him to give a lecture at the IIM inTrichy. When the Karwan e Mohabbat was announced, I felt it was important to take part. I wanted to see for myself and talk about it to my friends and family and to students in my classes. The experience of looking into the eyesof persons who had lost loved ones was emotionally tough. After each meeting, my mind was constantly wondering how human beings could allow such tragedies to happen. A quote by Gandhi kept ricocheting in my brain: ‘It has always been a mystery to me how men can feel themselves honoured by the humiliation of their fellow beings.’

Looking back now, the memories and emotions of my visits to Auschwitz and of the victims of Hindutva are difficult to distinguish. The same helplessness, resentment and fear captured in the countless pictures of Jews subjected to the Holocaust seem to be reflected inthe eyes of the victims of cow-vigilantism. In contemporary India, I worry it may be unnecessary to build a standalone Auschwitz to implement a sectarian agenda. Terror has been decentralised and imposed through a variety of spaces. The entire country now risks being transformed into one large concentration camp.

How do we push back? Being a committed rationalist, my first instinct is to train citizens to use their reasoning and the language of liberalism and human rights to push back against bigotry andreligious nationalism. But the inroads made by Hindu nationalism into thepsyche can make it difficult for liberal vocabularies to reverse. The languageof ‘human rights’ and ‘freedom of speech’ can be branded as alien and hence ridiculed and dismissed. Furthermore, there are studies that show how groups tend to cling more firmly to their beliefs when threatened by outsiders.

Observant Hindus can be convinced more easily that sectarian hate and bigotry goes against the grain of Hinduism. The definition of Hinduism could be expanded to encompass empathy and compassion.This strategy would require formulating something like the liberation theologythat emerged in Latin America to challenge the interlocking interests of thebusiness elite and the top echelons of the Church that perpetuated inequality.

Excerpted with permission from RECONCILIATION:Karwan e Mohabbat’s Journey of Solidarity through a Wounded India, Harsh Mander, Natasha Badhwar and John Dayal, Context, Westland 2018. 

The pictures in the gallery are from Karwan e Mohabbat‘s Facebook page. 

19 December 2018 

Wendy Doniger’s “Beyond Dharma” ( an extract)

One of the world’s most acclaimed and engaging scholars of Hinduism Wendy Doniger’s presents in her new book Beyond Dharma a groundbreaking interpretation of ancient Indian texts and their historic influence on subversive resistance. Ancient Hindu texts speak of the three aims of human life: dharma, artha and kama. Translated, these might be called religion, politics and pleasure, and each is held to be an essential requirement of a full and fulfilling life. Balance among the three is a goal not always met, however, and dharma has historically taken precedence over the other two qualities, or goals, in Hindu life. In Beyond Dharma Wendy Doniger offers a close reading of ancient Indian writings—especially Kautilya’s Arthashastra and Vatsyayana’s Kamasutra—unpacking a long but unrecognized history of opposition against dharma.

Doniger argues that scientific disciplines (shastras) have offered lively and continuous criticism of dharma over many centuries. She chronicles the tradition of veiled subversion, uncovers connections to key moments of resistance and voices of dissent throughout Indian history, and offers insights into the Indian theocracy’s subversion of science by an exclusivist version of religion today.

Following is an extract from the book published with permission of the publishers:

*******

Shastra means “discipline,” in both senses of the word, “knowledge system” and “command” (the root is actually related to the English “chastise”). It also designates a text that contains such knowledge. So ashvashastra in general means the science of breeding and training horses (ashva corresponds to the Latin equus), while the Ashvashastra attributed to a particular author is a textbook about the breeding and training of horses.

Ancient Indian sciences lived in the shastras. Shastras had been composed from about the sixth century CE.7 They began as sciences that were appendixes to the Vedas, the oldest sacred texts of India, composed in about 1500 BCE. These sciences were called “the limbs of the Vedas” (vedangas), intrinsically connected to religion. Grammar (the queen of Indian sciences, as theology was once in Europe) was needed to explain the meanings of complex Vedic texts, mathematics to calculate the intricate proportions of Vedic ritual structures, and astronomy (as well as astrology) to determine the auspicious days for Vedic rituals. The Kamasutra, the textbook of sexuality, assumes that both priests and ordinary people use the paradigmatic Sanskrit scientific texts of grammar and astronomy for religious purposes (1.3.5).8

But the sciences soon developed secular as well as religious uses and eventually branched into separate schools. The shastras covered a number of fields, including—in addition to grammar, mathematics, and astronomy and the care, feeding, and training of horses and elephants—architecture, medicine, and metallurgy. India also had logic and knew how to argue from evidence. I would also contend that the textbooks of politics and erotics, the main subjects of this book, are proof that ancient India had psychology, anthropology, and sociology. As for the sort of science that produces useful tools that work—that is, technology—India had wonderful telescopes, which eventually did enable its astronomers to predict eclipses. These schools amassed truly encyclopedic knowledge, in a spirit well defined in a famous verse from the Mahabharata, the great Sanskrit epic (with over 100,000 verses): “Whatever there is here . . . is also found elsewhere; but what is not here is no-where” (1.576.32; 18.5.38). This is the shastras’ totalistic claim, despite the fact that the seemingly exhaustive lists of every-thing under the sun often insist that they offer only a few representative examples.

The foreign flux on the one hand loosened up and broadened the concept of knowledge, making it more cosmopolitan—with more things to eat, to wear, to think about—and at the same time posed a threat that drove the Brahmins to tighten up some aspects of social control. The formulation of encyclopedic knowledge recognized the diversity of opinion on many subjects; at the same time, some, but not all, of the shastras closed down many of the options that Buddhism had opened up for women and the lower castes. Both the diversity encompassed by the shastras and their authors’ drive to control that diversity are best understood in the context of the turbulent period in which they were composed.

Wendy Doniger Beyond Dharma Speaking Tiger, New Delhi, 2018. Hb. pp. 248 Rs 599 

PubSpeak: Total Recall

PubSpeak: Total Recall

My column, “PubSpeak”, in BusinessWorld online focuses on the Wendy Doniger book controversy. Here is the url to it:   http://businessworld.in/news/economy/total-recall/1266222/page-1.html   . ) 

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose On 11 February, Penguin Books India reached a compromise drawn up in a Delhi Court that insisted it cease the publication and sale of American Indologist, Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History in India within six months. Dina Nath Batra of Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samitri had filed a civil suit against the publishers to withdraw from circulation all copies. Given that Batra had filed the case four years ago and it was still subjudice, the news of this compromise spread like wildfire. Later that day, Doniger issued a press statement “I was, of course, angry and disappointed to see this happen, and I am deeply troubled by what it foretells for free speech in India in the present, and steadily worsening, political climate. And as a publisher’s daughter, I particularly wince at the knowledge that the existing books (unless they are bought out quickly by people intrigued by all the brouhaha) will be pulped. But I do not blame Penguin Books, India. Other publishers have just quietly withdrawn other books without making the effort that Penguin made to save this book. Penguin, India, took this book on knowing that it would stir anger in the Hindutva ranks, and they defended it in the courts for four years, both as a civil and as a criminal suit. They were finally defeated by the true villain of this piece — the Indian law that makes it a criminal rather than civil offense to publish a book that offends any Hindu, a law that jeopardises the physical safety of any publisher, no matter how ludicrous the accusation brought against a book.”Wendy Doniger

PBI logoPenguin Books India released a statement on 14 February stating “a publishing company has the same obligation as any other organisation to respect the laws of the land in which it operates, however intolerant and restrictive those laws may be. We also have a moral responsibility to protect our employees against threats and harassment where we can…. The settlement reached this week brings to a close a four year legal process in which Penguin has defended the publication of the Indian edition of The Hindus by Wendy Doniger. We have published, in succession, hardcover, paperback and e-book editions of the title. International editions of the book remain available physically and digitally to Indian readers who still wish to purchase it.”

What followed the announcement perhaps was only a natural outcome given the speed at which social media helps communicate information. There was public outrage at this development— newspapers, print, digital, and, of course, social media forums. A number of commentators, journalists, and even Penguin authors wrote passionately against Penguin Book India’s decision to destroy the book. Arundhati Roy in an open letter spoke of her distress and said “You owe us, your writers an explanation at the very least”. Nilanjana Roy, author and member of PEN Delhi wrote on censorship and how to remain free; Jakob de Roover in an outstanding essay “Untangling the Knot” discussed the complexities of governance, judiciary and free speech; journalist Salil Tripathi commented perceptively on the issue on many platforms ; Stephen Alter wrote, “Both as a writer and as a reader, I am deeply offended that anyone should dictate what I may read or write”; Penguin author and essayist, Amit Chaudhuri reiterated that “It’s important that the law protect all texts”; and Antara Dev Sen, Editor, The Little Magazine, wrote that the Indian Penal Code “Section 295A targets ‘deliberate and malicious acts (which include speech, writings or signs) intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs’. In an age of identity politics and hurt sentiments, this has been used frequently by politically motivated people to stifle free speech. But back in 1957, the Supreme Court had ruled that only when there is a ‘deliberate and malicious intention of outraging religious feelings’ is it an offence under this law. Higher courts in India have consistently ruled in favour of freedom of speech and have protected books and people hauled to court under this law.”

In fact, two Penguin authors, Siddharth Varadarajan and Jyotirmaya Sharma, asked for their contracts to be terminated. Another Penguin author, Arshia Sattar (who has translated Valmiki’s Ramayana and the Kathasaritsagara from Sanskrit to English) expressed her dismay at the “complete capitulation” of the firm and how her “pride and that faith has been shaken…of being with a publishing house that protected its people and the books they wrote”.

A counter legal initiative perhaps was expected. According to the website, Legally India, advocate Lawrence Liang, part of the Bangalore-based Alternative Law Forum, has issued a 30-paragraph legal notice to Penguin India, claiming that the publisher has violated freedom of speech laws and readers’ rights by agreeing to destroy all copies of Wendy Doniger’s book ‘The Hindus’. The notice sent on behalf of Liang’s clients, Shuddhabrata Sengupta and Aarthi Sethi, argues that because Penguin has agreed to withdraw the book from India and destroy all copies, after a legal dispute with a religious group, it has “effectively acknowledged that it is no longer interested in exercising” its ownership in the work and should surrender its copyright to the Indian public. Sengupta is a Delhi-based artist and writer, while Sethi is an anthropologist with a “deep interest in Hindu philosophy”, according to the legal notice. Both are “avid bibliophiles” and were apparently “delighted” when Penguin published Doniger’s book, “and as people who have closely followed the scholarly contributions of the said author they regard this book to be a significant contribution to the study of Hinduism. They consider Ms Doniger’s translations of Indian classical texts and her work on various facets of Hinduism from morality in the Mahabharata to the erotic history of Hinduism as an inspiration for their own intellectual pursuits.”

At the recent Globalocal event (German Book Office, New Delhi’s annual B2B conference on publishing), a regional language publisher wondered if it was possible for any other publisher to option this book and publish it, after all it has not been legally banned in this territory. Echoing this sentiment, Shamnad Basheer, IPR lawyer, writing in Spicy IP, reflected upon the pros and cons of compulsory licensing, and whether it was possible if a publisher decides to stop publication, one could apply for a compulsory license.

Globally Penguin has been in the news related to their peripheral businesses and their merger with Random House. In 2012, Pearson PLC (of which Penguin Books India is a part of) acquired the self-publishing firm, Author Solutions, for $116 million. But in 2013, this deal soured as a number of disgruntled authors filed lawsuits against Author Solutions for its poor service. In the landmark case pertaining to ebooks and agency pricing, in April 2012, the US Department of Justice sued Apple and five publishers, including Penguin, for conspiring to raise prices and restrain competition. This was done after Amazon filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. In 2013, Penguin was obliged to pay $75 million. George Packer observes in the New Yorker, “an enormous sum in a business that has always struggled to maintain respectable profit margins”. On 1 July 2013, the global merger between Penguin Books and Random House was announced. It was a strategic alliance, forged as a response to the growing presence of Amazon in the publishing industry. The formation of Penguin Random House (PRH) has created a group that has 25 per cent of the market share. A merger comes at a cost of resources that have to be taken into account for the new firm to begin work on a strong footing.

In Oct 2013, Penguin Random House announced the completion of its purchase of Ananda Publishers Private Limited’s minority stake in Penguin Books India. It plans to invest Rs 55 crore or $8.6 million for this stake buy. As banker-turned-author Ravi Subramanian, with whom in June 2013 Penguin Books India signed a two-book deal worth an estimated Rs 1.25 crore (approx $210,700) wrote on his blog with respect to Doniger’s case, “publishing is a business”. For any firm, particularly in publishing, this is a lot of money being moved around its balance sheets.  Naturally the ripple effect of these financial adjustments will be felt even in the local markets—it is like conducting business in a global village where in the context of a globally contacted world, the minimum consumption that people desire is also influenced by what is going on elsewhere.

Similarly, with the Doniger case, Penguin Books India has probably taken an informed business decision, based upon a global strategy when it signed this deal on 11 February, in order to preserve a healthy English-language publishing market in India.

Chiki Sarkar, Publisher, Penguin Books India, in a guest blog post in 2012 during the Banned Books week, had this to say: “Injunctions make things costly, time consuming, and take our energies away from the work we are really meant to do. And so we try and avoid them as much as possible. Apart from the fact that we don’t fight hard enough for them, I wonder whether it means we impose a kind of self-censorship on ourselves.”

Ironically this latest controversy broke exactly twenty-five years after the fatwa was issued against Salman Rushdie for his ‘Satanic Verses’ published by Penguin. At the time, his publishers stood by him and did not pulp the book. The fact is publishing is a business that is built upon the creative energies and emotions of people. India is also a functioning democracy. Freedom of speech is the right of every citizen. With the General Elections less than a hundred days away, the need for openness, frank conversations without any inhibitions, and certainly not a capitulation to any ideological position is imperative.

Scholar-journalist and historian Mukul Kesavan points out that that selling books is not like selling any other commodity. Publishers have moral responsibility and a publisher voluntarily agreeing to withdraw a book has previously been challenged with the case of James Laine’s book on Shivaji in 2007. Oxford University Press voluntarily agreed to withdraw the book. An FIR was issued against the publisher and printer of the book in Pune (one charge, under Section 153 A, was ‘inciting class hatred’) and the printer was actually arrested. When the case (‘Manzar Sayeed Khan vs State Of Maharashtra, 2007’) came up before the Supreme Court, however, the government of Maharashtra’s case against the author and the publisher of the book was found to be wanting. So, there is a precedent by the Supreme Court to rule in favour of free speech.

Nevertheless, the Wendy Doniger book controversy raises a bunch of issues pertaining to the publishing industry. Questions about legislation and the freedom of speech, what are the ethics involved in publishing, do readers and authors have a right that they can exercise, what does it mean for licensing, do possibilities exist in a mixed environment of digital and print publishing such as do readers have a choice?

Finally does this self-censorship by a publishing firm mean an inadvertent promotion for self-publishing, encouraging authors to be responsible for their books completely? Interestingly in a space of less than six weeks I have heard John Makinson, CEO, Penguin Random House and Jon Fine, Director, Author & Publishing Relations, Amazon talk about their publishing businesses and both have stressed upon the importance of discoverability of an author. This controversy could not have come at a better time for Doniger and even Penguin. They have achieved the Streisand effect whereby in an attempt to censor a piece of information, it has had the unintended consequence of publicising the information more widely. It has achieved what no PR could have—a boost in sales.

21 Feb 2014 

Kancha Ilaiah on “Why I am not a Hindu”  (From Stree Samya blog)

Kancha Ilaiah on “Why I am not a Hindu” (From Stree Samya blog)

This is a blog post that I have taken as is from the Stree Samya Books blog. The link is: http://stree-samyabooks.blogspot.in/2013/03/why-i-am-not-hindu.html

Why I Am Not a Hindu: A Sudra Critique of Hindutva Philosophy, Culture and Political Economy
Kancha Ilaiah
demy octavo pb 3rd rpt 2009 163pp ISBN 81-85604-82-7
rev. ed. with Afterword Rs 300

‘In Kancha Ilaiah’s conceptual universe, you feel the pain of life. In his ideas, you sense the vulnerability of battling unpredicatable waters. But in his intellectual adventurousness, you also sense the gaiety of robust combat and the fun in the fight.’~~Sagarika Ghose, Outlook

Kancha Ilaiah writes with passionate anger, laced with sarcasm on the caste system and Indian society. He looks at the socio-economic and cultural differences between the Dalitbahujans and Hindus in the contexts of childhood, family life, market relations, power relations, Gods and Goddesses, death and, not least, Hindutva. Synthesizing many of the ideas of Bahujans, he presents their vision of a more just society.
In this second edition, he presents an Afterword that discusses the history of this book, often seen as the manifesto of the downtrodden Dalitbahujans. He talks of its reviews as well of the abuse he has received from its detractors. He reminds us of the need of an ongoing dialogue. As he says, he wrote the book ‘for all who have open minds. My request to Brahmins, Baniya and Neo-Kshatriyas [upper class Sudras] is this; you learnt only what to teach others: the Dalitbahujans. Now in your own interest and in the interest of this great country you must learn to listen and to read what we have to say.’

‘The most gratifying thing for me was that it [this book] was listed as a millennium book [by The Pioneer] along with Dr. B. R. Ambedkar’s Annihilaion of Caste. Moreover, it has been translated into several Indian languages. In a way it has become a weapon in the hands of Dalitbahujan activists.’ [Afterword]

Kancha Ilaiah is professor and director, Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad and an activist in the Dalitbahujan and civil liberties movement.

He is the author of Untouchable God published by Samya in 2012,God as a Political Philosopher:Buddha’s Challenge to Brahminism, and Buffalo Nationalism: A Critique of Spiritual Fascism.
Published By:Samya
Enquiries: 16 Southern Ave, Calcutta 700026 tel:033 2466 0812/ 033 6519 5737
email streesamya.manager@gmail.com website: www.stree-samyabooks.com

Wendy Doniger “On Hinduism” ( 15 March 2013)

Wendy Doniger “On Hinduism” ( 15 March 2013)

Wendy Doniger is an American indologist who has been writing for over forty-four years. In her introduction to On Hindusim she says that she always wrote easily and joyously. But her prime audience was an American audience, primarily for her students so she was “totally blinded by the passionate Hindu response to my book The Hindu: An Alternative History“. It simply had not occurred to her that Hindus would read it. “I had figured, the Hindus already knew all about their own religion, or at least knew as much as they wanted to know, or in any any case didn’t want to learn anything more from an American woman ( I was right about that last point, but in some ways I had not foreseen).” But with this book published by Aleph, she has “designed a book specifically for an Indian audience.”

The 63 essays collected in this book have been arranged not chronologically but logically. There are seven sections that deal with the nature of Hinduism, explore the concepts of divinity, consider Hindu attitudes to gender, beginning with Manu’s attitude to women in general, desire and the control of desire in Hinduism, the question of reality and illusion, the impermanent and the eternal in the two great Sanskrit epics and finally four short pieces of autobiography, including an essay on her clash with her Hindu critics (“You Can’t Make an Omelette”). She has revised and reworked some of the essays to make them far more accessible and easy to read.

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading the essays in the section on “Women and Other Genders”. Wendy Doniger’s lucid style makes complicated stories so easy to understand, her academic analysis is sharp and a pleasure but she wears it so lightly that it is not a chore to read these essays. Her autobiographical essays too are just a right mix of the personal and a perspective on her deep engagement with Hinduism and how it has had an impact on her life — personal and professional.

This is a good volume to have, but at a bulky 700 pages of text and a hardback, it is not a book that can be easily picked up. You need to find the time to read it properly, by sitting at a desk. It works as a reference volume but its content is also available to the lay reader. Maybe Aleph could have considered publishing it in two volumes, preferably the notes, the extensive bibliography as the second volume, and presenting the set in a slip case. It would have been easier to read all though a little expensive to produce. ( I would not be surprised to hear if readers do with this volume what they did with Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy when it was first published. It was considered to be too bulky so ripping it apart in to three volumes was not unheard of!)

Wendy Doniger On Hinduism (Aleph Book Company, New Delhi, 2013. Hb. pp 680. Rs. 995)