Arshia Sattar, writer and translator, did her PhD from the department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations from the University of Chicago. The renowned Indologist, Wendy Doniger, was her advisor. Arisha Sattar is a reputed authority on the epics. She has written a wonderful collection of books, for adults and children, exploring the Hindu epics.
It is her fabulous retellings of the epics for children that are under discussion here — Mahabharata ( 2020) and Ramayana (2016), both published by Juggernaut Books. To convert oral stories into print, stories that have had centuries of storytelling behind them, as well as readers have very fixed notions of how these stories are meant to be, this is not a mean task. Arshia Sattar does it well. The stories are immensely readable. They also work very well if meant to be read out aloud. Or if someone is familiarising themselves with the stories for the first time. The books have been beautifully illustrated by Sonali Zohra. In fact, the two publications also highlight the journey of the illustrator, from being relatively unknown in the publishing world, Sonali became a “name” as indicated by her name being mentioned on the cover of the Mahabharata but not the Ramayana.
My only wish is that the publishers would focus as much on stories of other faiths as much as Hinduism. When last seen, India was not a theocratic state, despite an emotional cloud engulfing its citizens in the hope that it is. We are still a “Sovereign, Socialist, Secular, Democratic, Republic” when last heard and as enshrined in the Preamble to the Indian Constitution. So perhaps the publishers who ascribe to secular credentials could consider addressing the spectrum of religions practised in our magnificent country. Thereby enabling children and adults to be sensitised to what else exists in this multi-cultural society. Many of us are proud of this heritage as is evident in the fantabulous stories being documented by the India Love Project on Instagram ( @indialoveproject). It is time younger generations too were acquainted with their rich cultural inheritance.
On 3 January 2021, I wrote about the wonderful books expected to be published in 2021. Here are the original links in the Asian Age and Deccan Chronicle. Given below is the longer version of the article.
The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted innumerable sectors – publishing is no exception. One of the major fallouts has been the front lists where commissioning editors are circumspect about whom to commission and what subjects to explore; it is not said explicitly but it is apparent while scanning 2021 book catalogues that there has been a shift. Tried and tested subjects such as politics, memoir/biographies and narrative non-fiction exist but there is a definite presence of essayists and nature writing. The top 1% of successful literary and commercial fiction authors — internationally and locally—are back with new books. Interestingly there is a large variety of debut authors, from newcomers to well-known nonfiction writers becoming novelists such as Ira Mukhoty Jayal, Krupa Ge and Tavleen Singh. Historical fiction is a robust category with trilogies and quartets being announced by writers like Jerry Pinto and Madhulika Liddle. Surprisingly celebrity publishing and Mind, Body Spirit (MBS) that are constant sellers are not as prominent as they were in the recent past.
During the pandemic, it is a wise decision by publishers to ensure that successful authors constitute a chunk of their front lists. Hence, in non-fiction, there is Shashi Tharoor’s Pride, Prejudice & Punditry: The Essential Shashi Tharoor consists of essays and fiction; Salman Rushdie’s Languages of Truth has newly collected, revised and expanded non-fiction from the past two decades, many of which have never been published before; Ruskin Bond’s It’s a Wonderful Life: Roads to Happiness that calls for small joys to be found in everyday living even in times of extreme stress; A Functioning Anarchy (Eds. Srinath Raghavan and Nandini Sundar) a collection of essays by world-renowned historians, lawyers, scientists and journalists sparked by Ramachandra Guha’s work; Nayantara Sahgal’s The Unmaking of India: Articles and Speeches & Encounter with Kiran contains articles, talks, essays that discuss the “unmaking” of India, where freedom, liberty and equality are replaced by religious bigotry, communal politics, a ‘’tame’’ media and all the accompanying dangers of majoritarian rule and Eric Hobsbawm’s On Nationalism that is considered to be an insightful and enlightening collection of the historian’s writing on the subject of nationalism.
Non-fiction sells consistently especially on politics, history, business, self-help, memoirs/biographies etc. Some of the exciting titles scheduled are historian Upinder Singh’s Ancient India: Culture of Contradictions ; Amit Varma’s podcasts converted into four books, collectively known as The Seen and the Unseen; Amitav Ghosh’s The Nutmeg’s Curse: A Parable for a Planet is about conquest and exploitation and geopolitical hierarchy; Manu Pillai’s The World of Raja Ravi Varma: Princes and Patrons describes the portraits of the Maharajahs stood up to the Raj and developed visions of modernity that were deeply Indian in nature, and women who defied norms as well as colonial expectations; City of Gated Walls: The Map of Shahajahanabad by Swapna Liddle is a reproduction of that map created in Bahadur Shah Zafar’s time by a mapmaker, working in 1846, who painstakingly depicted important buildings, streets, and landmarks, providing a wealth of information about the city as it had evolved up to that time. In Search of the Divine: Living Practices of Sufism in India by Rana Safvi, is a unique treatise on the core of Sufi beliefs. Some others that are eagerly awaited include 1946: The Indian Naval Uprising that Shook the Empire by Pramod Kapoor; The Gujaratis: A Portrait of a Community by Salil Tripathi; Congress Radio by Usha Thakkar about the establishment of the underground radio by Usha Mehta during the Quit India Movement; Aparna Vaidik’s Revolutionaries on Trial: Sedition, Betrayal, and Martyrdom uses a variety of sources to reconstruct a dramatic period in India’s struggle for Independence; and Angellica Aribam and Akash Satyawali’s The Fifteen: The Women Who Shaped the Constitution of India. Rupa Gupta and Gautam Gupta’s Lifting the Veil from India’s Past is about the Archaeological Survey of India. In Language of Remembering: Generational Memories of the Partition, Aanchal Malhotra shifts attention to the post-memory generation – how the generations that have not witnessed Partition engage with its history. Yashaswini Chandra The Tale of the Horse: A History of India on Horseback is a tale of migration and permanent intermingling whereas Winged Stallions and Wicked Mares: The Horse in Indian Myth and History by Wendy Doniger examines the horse’s significance throughout Indian history and culture even though the animal is not indigenous to India. Voices from the Lost Horizon is a collection of a number of folk tales and songs of the Great Andamanese that represent the first-ever collection rendered to Prof. Anvita Abbi and her team by the Great Andamanese people in local settings. The compilation comes with audio and video recordings of the stories and songs to retain the originality and orality of the narratives. In Fellowship of Rivals by Manjit Kumar that tells the story of the first great Scientific Revolution, and how a small group of individuals – including Isaac Newton, Robert Hooke and Christopher Wren – produced an explosion of knowledge unrivalled in the history of western civilisation. Pranay Lal’s Virus is a deep dive into its origin and evolution and his The Cretaceous is meant for younger readers. Anjana Chattopadhyay discusses Women Scientists in India: Lives, Struggles and Achievements.
Militant Piety and Lines of Control: The Lethal Literature of the Lashkar-e-Taiba edited by C. Christine Fair and translated by Safina Ustaad is the first scholarly effort to curate a sample of LeT’s Urdu-language publications and then translate them into English for the scholarly community studying this group and related organizations. The Muslim Problem by Tawseef Khan gets to the heart of Islamophobia and is a compelling mix of journalistic investigation, historical analysis and memoir, full of research and interviews. Tawseef Khan is a solicitor specialising in Immigration and Asylum Law and a human rights activist. In Project 39 are deeply personal stories that emerged from interviews conducted with death-row prisoners and their families. These were collected by Jahnavi Mishra and Project 39A, a research and litigation centre based out of National Law University, Delhi. is awaited as is India’s First Dictatorship: The Emergency, 1975-77 by Christophe Jaffrelot and Pratinav Anil that draws upon a trove of new sources. From the bestselling military historian, Shiv Kunal Verma’s 1965: A Western Sunrise is the definitive account of the 1965 war between India and Pakistan. Meanwhile Samira Shackle’s debut Karachi Vice is considered to be a fast-paced journey around Karachi in the company of those who know the city inside out. Some others that are expected: When the Mask Came off: A People’s History of Cruelty and Compassion in Times of Covid19 Lockdown, edited by Harsh Mander, Natasha Badhwar and Anirban Bhattacharya; Jana Gana Mana by musician-activist T.M. Krishna who through the idea of ‘national symbols’, examines the idea of citizenship and belonging, while also investigating and problematising the symbol itself. Graphic narratives such as Azaadi: A Biography of Bhagat Singh by Ikroop Sandhu; Shaheen Bagh: A Graphic Book by Ita Mehrotra and Incantations over Water by Sharanya Manivannan.
Nature writing is proving to be a well-defined genre as well. The titles to look out for are The Bera Bond which is about Sundeep Bhutoria’s startling discovery of a little-known leopard colony in the forests of Rajasthan where the big cats live harmoniously with humans. The Braided River: A Journey Along the Brahmaputra, journalist Samrat Choudhury sets out to follow the river’s braided course from the edge of Tibet where it enters India down to where it meets the Ganga at a spot marked by the biggest red-light district in Bangladesh. Award-winning wildlife conservationistNeha Sinha’s Wild and Wilful is about fifteen iconic Indian species in need of conservation and heart. Earth’s Incredible Oceans by Dorling Kindersley is a must-have encyclopaedia. Waiting for Turtles by Pankaj Sekhsaria, illustrated by Vipin Sketchplore is a gorgeous picture book sensitising children to the urgency to save turtles. Scientist-cum-author Sukanya Datta’s Animal Architects is about the homes that animals build and are in themselves architectural wonders. The Heartbeat of Trees by Peter Wollehben (translated by Jane Billinghurst), reveals the profound interactions humans can have with nature, exploring the language of the forest and the consciousness of plants. Worryingly climate change can wreak havoc to these ecosystems. Hence the relevance of environmental activist Vandana Shiva and Shreya Jani Slow Living: What You Can Do About Climate Change. Bill Gates too has a forthcoming book on How to Avoid a Climate Disaster.
Memoirs have always proven to be popular. Some of the prominent ones are MK Gandhi’s Restless as Mercury: My Life as a Young Man; the celebrated Hindi writer Swadesh Deepak I Haven’t Seen Mandu, translated by Jerry Pinto is a most revealing and powerful first-person accounts of mental illness; Feisal Alkazi’s Enter Stage Right: The Alkazi / Padamsee Family Memoir; Gulzar’s Actually… I Met Them: A Memoir, Vir Sanghvi by journalist Vir Sanghvi; Bollywood actors Neena Gupta, Deepti Naval and Priyanka Chopra Jonas have written Sach Kahun Toh, A Country Called Childhood: A Memoir and Unfinished: A Memoir respectively but the big one will be Hollywood actress Sharon Stone’s The Beauty of Living Twice; screenwriter Nikesh Shukla’s Brown Baby explores themes of racism, feminism, parenting and our shifting ideas of home; publisher Ritu Menon’s ADDRESS BOOK: A Publishing Memoir in the Time of COVID; Kobad Ghandy’s Fractured Freedom: A Prison Memoir gives an insight into his decade-long journey of arrests and time in prisons across India; Dead Men Tell Tales by forensics expert Dr B. Umadathan (translated from Malayalam by Priya K. Nair) is the riveting memoir of Sherlock Holmes of Kerala. Former cricketer and commentator and current head coach of the Indian national cricket team Ravi Shastri’s memoir written with Ayaz Memon.
Biographies whether authoritative or not are hugely popular such as Yasser Usman’s Guru Dutt: An Unfinished Story; Kaveree Bamzai’s The Three Khans about Aamir Khan, Salman Khan and Shah Rukh Khan; Gautam Chintamani Vinod Khanna: A Biography; Zohra! – A Biography in Four Acts by Ritu Menon about thespian Zohra Sehgal; Francis Wilson’s biography of DH Lawrence called Burning Man; Adi Prakash’s Umar Khalid: Beyond the Anti-national is the story of Umar Khalid is the story of media fairness and it is the story of student politics and of growing up Muslim in India. Also expected are the Hindi writer and the first real standard-bearer of the Nayi Kahani movement Nirmal Verma: A Biography by Vineet Gill and The Master: The Brilliant Career of Roger Federer by Christopher Clarey.
Business books are another category of nonfiction books that sell perennially. Investigative journalist Josy Joseph’s The Business of Terror explores the militancy theatre as a flourishing, multi-faceted business enterprise in India where most of its actors are beneficiaries of it. Technology journalist Jayadevan P.K. writes about Xiaomi: How a Start-up Disrupted the Market and Created a Cult Following that in less than a decade, has gone from being a Chinese start-up to a global player in the smartphone market. Munaf Kapadia with Zahabia Rajkotwala writes in How I Quit Google to Sell Samosas: Adventures with the Bohri Kitchen how he had grown a weekend pop-up at his Cuffe Parade home—The Bohri Kitchen—into an F&B start-up with a Rs 4 crore turnover, and was catering to Bombay’s biggest celebrities. Liftoff: Elon Musk and the Desperate Early Days That Launched by Eric Berger is the dramatic inside story of the first four historic flights that launched SpaceX—and Elon Musk—from a shaky startup into the world’s leading edge rocket company. Tata: The Global Corporation That Built Indian Capitalism by Mircea Raianu is a eye-opening portrait of global capitalism spanning 150 years, told through the history of the Tata corporation. Forgotten Brands: Fresh Marketing Lessons by Ramya Ramamurthy is about colonial Indian brands (both home-grown and foreign) were produced, distributed and marketed between 1847 and 1947. Finally, House of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe is the story of the Sackler Dynasty, Purdue Pharma, and their involvement in the opiod crisis that has created millions of addicts, even as it generated billions of dollars in profit.
Another popular nonfiction category are cookery books. So, it is no surprise then that practically every publisher has at least one book in the pipeline. Beginning with Sunita Kohli who has collected recipes from celebrities in From the Tables of My Friends; Winner of Nobel Prize in Economics (2019) Abhijit Banerjee’s cookbook; History Dishtory: Adventures and Recipes from the Past by Ranjini Rao and Ruchira Ramanujam and Indian Street food by Rocky Singh and Mayur Sharma. Chitrita Banerji’s A Taste of My Life is both the story of life as an immigrant food writer as well as a story of immigration, belonging, nostalgia, and history, through the lens of food. Rasa: The Story of India in 100 dishes by Shubhra Chatterji is a culinary history of India and the intersection of culture and cuisine told in the most enthralling stories behind a hundred dishes.
Across the board, literary fiction stalwarts return in 2021 with promising new stories. Chitra Bannerjee Divakurni’s novel The Last Queen is an exquisite love story about Maharaja Ranjit’s Singh’s last queen, a commoner, Jindan Kaur; Amitav Ghosh’s Jungle Nama: A Story of the Sundarban, a verse adaptation of the timeless legend of Bon Bibi and Dokkhin Rai that also evokes the wonder of the Sundarban through its poetry, accompanied by stunning artwork by the renowned artist Salman Toor. Asoca by I. Allan Sealy is an imagined memoir of Ashoka The Great; Hussain S. Zaidi’s The Black Orphan centres on Asiya, Osama Bin Laden’s protégé and foster daughter; Anuja Chauhan returns with a grisly titled Club You to Death as does Padma Shri Temsula Ao with six short stories in The Tombstone in My Garden; writers of young adult fiction like Deepa Agarwal’s Kashmir! Kashmir! and Paro Anand’s short stories Unmasked based on the challenges faced by migrants during the lockdown. Annie Zaidi’s novel, One of Them is about people who live on the margins of a big city, and Amitava Kumar A Time Outside This Time is about fake news, memory, and how truth gives way to fiction. The Loves of Yuri by Jerry Pinto is a funny, heart breaking, unforgettable novel about friendship and first loves and the great city of Bombay. Set in the 1980s, this is the first in a trilogy of novels that trace the emotional and intellectual journey of the protagonist, Yuri, from early adolescence to late youth. Nobel Prize winnersKazuo Ishiguro and Orhan Pamuk’s novels Klara And The Sun and Nights of Plague, respectively are hugely anticipated as is the mind bending new collection of short stories First Person Singular by Haruki Murakami. Pulitzer Prize-winners Jhumpa Lahiri, Viet Thanh Nguyen and Colson Whitehead’s novels are called Whereabouts, The Committed and Harlem Shuffle. This is the first novel Lahiri has written in Italian and translated into English. Tahmima Anam’s, already much-talked-about, The Start-Up Wife is considered gripping, witty and razor-sharp, a blistering novel about dreaming big, speaking up and fighting to be where you belong. Second-time novelists who had glittering starts to their literary careers like Anuk Arudpragasam, Sunjeev Sahota and Elizabeth Macneal return with In Search of the Distance, China Room, and Carnival of Wonder respectively.
The debut writers making their mark are Maithreyi Kapoor Sylvia’s Distant Avuncular Ends by experimenting with the form of a novel. Poet Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih’s novel Funeral Nights, where the absurd and the sublime all freely mix,is a history of the Khasis. Krupa Ge’s One Hundred Autumns is set in an era of strict Brahmanical orthodoxy and social mores that sought to bind all women into submission and against the backdrop of the Dravidian movement. Ira Mukhoty Jayal’s Song of Draupadi is a vivid and imaginative novel revolving around the epic figure of Draupadi. Raza Mir’s Murder at the Mushaira: A Novel is a cracking murder mystery & literary novel. Filmmaker Devashish Makhija’s Oonga, a powerful novel that transitions from a film and sits deep in the clash between adivasis, naxalites, the CRPF and a rapacious mining company; Simran Dhir’s Best Intentions, centred on two families in Delhi; Fahad Shah’s The Unnamed, a searing novel set in Kashmir; and Bollywood insider Mushtaq Sheikh’s sizzling Bollywood Biwis. Some of the others to watch out for are Rucha Chitrodia It’s also about Mynah, Zakiya Dalila Harris’s The Other Black Girl, Rijula Das’s A Death in Shonagachhi,journalists Anindita Ghose’s The Illuminated: A Novel and Tavleen Singh’s Everything Breaks.
Historical fiction is a well-defined niche with The Grand Anicut by Veena Muthuraman, set in Southern India, first century, with the Pandyas conquered, the Cheras all but vanquished, and the attention of the king of the north fixed on other lands, Tamilakam flourishes under Chola rule. The first book of Madhulika Liddle’s Delhi quartet — The Garden of Heaven is planned. It is a story playing out against a backdrop of Delhi, stretching from the end of the twelfth century (when Delhi first came under the rule of Sultans) till 1947. Shubendra’s Sultan: The Legend of Hyder Ali, set in the eighteenth century, is the astonishing tale of an ordinary boy from Mysore who became one of the greatest rulers of India. Tarana Khan’s The Begum and the Dastan although set in the late nineteenth century, in the fictional town of Sherpur, is a work based on real events. A despotic Nawab abducts a married woman, Feroza, and marries her against her wishes. Feroza must now negotiate her new life in the zenana with the other wives and concubines of the Nawab. Digonta Bordoloi’s Second World War Sandwich is a thrilling action-packed novel set in Nagaland during the Second World War, when the Nagas resisted the incursion of the Japanese troops into Northeast India. The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles is inspired by the true story of the librarians who risked their lives during the Nazis’ war on words. Melody Razak’s Moth is a heart-rending story of a Brahmin family living in 1940s Delhi during India’s Independence and subsequent Partition. A Net for Small Fishes by Lucy Jago, explores the twisting corridors of power and with the friendship of two women at its heart, it is an exhilarating dive into the pitch-dark waters of the Jacobean court.
Some of the noteworthy translations expected are Ambai’s short stories A Red-Necked Green Bird, translated from Tamil by GJV Prasad; the Bengali classic, Manada Devi’s An Educated Woman in Prostitution: A Memoir of Lust, Exploitation, Deceit (Calcutta,1929), translated by Arunava Sinha; Amrita Pritam’s Pinjar or The Cage, translated from Punjabi by Rita Banerji, was written in 1950, and was the very first to approach Partition and its aftermath through the eyes of a woman; Kaajal Oza Vaidya’s Krishnayan, gives glimpses into Krishna’s last moments on earth, translated from Gujarati by Subha Pande and The Last Gathering: A vivid portrait of life in the Red Fort by Munshi Faizuddin, translated by Ather Farooqui. It was first published in 1885, Bazm-i Aakhir, or The Last Assembly and is a rich and lively account of life in the royal court of the last Mughal emperor in Red Fort, Bahadur Shah Zafar.
So many frills, thrills and spills! Reading good literature will help survive this pandemic.
One of the world’s most acclaimed and engaging scholars of Hinduism Wendy Doniger’s presents in her new book Beyond Dharmaa 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
Emma House, Deputy-CEO, Publishers Association UK, gave the following speech on 13 February 2018 at the 32 International Publishers Association Congress held at Hotel Taj, New Delhi. The congress was held in collaboration with the Federation of Indian publishers. Emma House’s speech has been published with her permission. The quotes are from the book — Publishers on Publishing — and statistics from Nielsen
WELCOME TO INDIA
For many of you this is your first time to India and although we are on Day 3 of the Congress I hope you will have got a good feel for what India has to offer beyond the world of Bollywood, Cricket and Curry.
I’m going to give you a quick run through of some of the publishing insight I feel visitors to India should know about.
Over the past few days you will have heard some impressive statistics about India which I can add to with further impressive figures about the publishing sector here.
India is the sixth largest economy in the world with a nominal GDP of $2.45 trillion.
India recently overtook China as the fastest growing large economy and is expected to jump up to rank fourth on the list by 2022.
India’s GDP is still highly dependent on agriculture (17%), compared to western countries. However, the services sector has picked up in recent years and now accounts for 57% of the GDP, while industry contributes 26%. India is very much moving towards a knowledge economy.
India has 22 official languages – English is one of them but Hindi is the most common. Marathi, Malyalam, Bengali, Telugu and Tamil languages also have a strong culture of reading.
PUBLISHERS on PUBLISHING: Inside India’s Book Business Edited by Nitasha Devasar is a new publication specially developed for this congress and on sale here at the back of the room, and will provide everyone with valuable insights. Some of the information in my presentation comes from this book.
The publishing industry in India has a long history which has really boomed in the last few decades. It is now behind only the US and UK, ranking 3rd in the world in English language publishing. Many successful Indian publishing companies are family run businesses passing through the generations. In the last 20 – 30 years however we have seen many multi-national publishers set up their Indian offices, firstly as joint ventures but over time becoming wholly owned subsidiaries.
For many years Foreign Direct Investment into India was limited, however this began to change with economic reform in the 1990s leading to real movement in journal publishing from around 2003. The market has opened up since then. We now see over 9000 publishers, in at least 16 languages other than English forming a colourful publishing industry which accommodates the multinationals, independent and family run enterprises publishing in the English and Indian languages. English language publishing in India stands at around 55 per cent of total publishing, 35 per cent is constituted by Hindi, and other Indian languages make up the remaining 15 per cent. The Book Market is estimated to be around 7 billion dollars dominated by academic and K-12 publishing, and important to note – consumer publishing forming only a small percentage of sales.
To give you a flavour of the types of consumer books which are popular in India.
By genre – Children’s Books, Romance and sagas, Crime Thrillers and literary fiction, Popular Psychology Mind, body and spirit as well as economic and management
BEST SELLING BOOKS 2017: From both imported titles with world famous names like Harry Potter, Dan Brown, John Green but also home grown Indian voices, many of whom have great standing on the international stage
Diary of a Wimpy Kid – Book 12
Dan Brown – Origin
Turtles all the way down – John Green
This is not your story – Savi Sharma
I do what I do – Raghuram G Rajan
The boy who loved turtles – Durjoy Datta
These impressive statistics about the population, the economic growth, the size of the publishing industry would all encourage those who look at India for the first time as a market destination for either publishing, selling rights or exporting books as a market of GREAT POTENTIAL.
Population – 324 billion and growing
Increased literacy rates
Increased investment in education
Fast growing middle class
Much greater promotion of books and reading
However the industry faces many challenges, some common to us all, some unique to India:
The size of the market is under-estimated with many book sales unrecorded due to sales through pavement news stands and smaller outlets
A large number of publishers, especially in Indian languages do not use ISBNs
The pricing model is squeezed in every direction from big increases in property prices and rentals as well as staff salaries, but importantly a challenging supply chain and distribution system which often sees high discounts and extended credit coupled with low levels of pricing and minimal increase in book prices. As a result it’s easier to make sales than make profitable sales, and to be paid promptly
Piracy and photocopying is common place
Moving on to what I feel is an incredibly exciting feature about India which needs to be showcased – and that is Online retail. India is in a rare situation of having what The Hindu Business Line called in a recent headline “A two Horse Race In India – Flipkart Vs Amazon”.
First to the ecommerce market was Flipkart which began its life in 2007, founded by 2 ex-employees of Amazon with venture capital funding. Starting out with books, and addressing the nascent ecommerce market by introducing a cash on delivery model that is still used today, it’s been a turbulent journey for Flipkart, including a phase of when they faded out of the bookselling picture especially with Amazon entering the market. It has however managed to attract investment from Microsoft, Tencent and Ebay. Ten years on from it’s launch, in August 2017, Japanese internet giant SoftBank invested over $2.5 billion in Flipkart to become one of its largest shareholders, with rumours that Walmart could be its next significant investor.
Looking at the ebook market – this remains a small percentage of sales, hovering at around the 5% mark. Flipkart launched its ebook store in November 2012, however the ebooks catalogue was bought by Rakuten (Kobo) in 2015 and customers were transferred to the Kobo platform in recognition of the overwhelmingly dominant nature of the physical book market and Flipkart’s decision to focus on this strategic direction.
Amazon took its first step in the Indian market 5 years after Flipkart in 2012 when it launched Junglee.com, a site which allowed customers to compare prices online but not purchase items directly. At that time, Amazon was not allowed to stock and sell its own products due to Indian regulations preventing multi-brand retailers from selling directly to consumers online.
In June 2013 Amazon launched its marketplace selling books and video content – the model which is still in operation today. And in 2016 it made its move into publishing and purchased Westland (which was a major distributor but started publishing in 2007 and fast became one of the top five English language trade publishers in the country.
The two ecommerce giants now compete fiercely, not only in books, but notably in the mobile phone market. With a fast-growing market of smart phone users, the online market place in India is one which is amongst the fastest growing in the world – so we watch this race with keen interest.
The Book Culture in India
I take a quote from the publication I mentioned at the beginning from -Thomas Abraham, MD, Hachette India who says “There is a need to develop a book culture first and then the retail culture”.
Certainly here in India, the book culture is changing and growing. Firstly with a boom in bookstores across the country including major chains Crossword and Oxford Bookstores as well as fantastic independent bookstores. More recently however is the rise in popularity of literary festivals and book fairs. Anyone who has visited the Delhi World Book Fair or the Jaipur Literature Festival will have seen the hunger for and love of books that is being fostered here in India.
The National Book Trust of India also plays a major role in encouraging reading and literacy, and especially in the more remote places in the country and can be commended for their campaign “Har haath, ek kitab” (one book in every hand), which is a nationwide online books donation drive especially targeting underprivileged children, and aims to build a reading habit among them.
General view all these things really have helped foster the reading culture and there is always more to do.
Self-publishing is increasing in popularity in India – Kindle Direct Publishing is now possible in a range of Indian languages as well as the emergence of a range of other self-publishing platforms.
Another issue which has been featured over the past few days is the matter of “Freedom to Publish”, a topic which is being hotly debated here in India. India which whilst being a fiercely democratic country has defamation laws, which make publishers, not just authors, subject to criminal prosecution. A section of India’s penal code criminalizes “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.” Such acts, which the law says can be spoken or written, are punishable with up to three years imprisonment and fines.
This played out in a very public case in 2014 with a book by author Wendy Donniger The Hindus: An Alternative History, which was banned for its controversial content, following an extensive legal battle. This case and other similar cases have prompted huge concerns for Free Speech in India
Despite the challenges that the Indian publishing industry faces, there is much to be optimistic about. It’s certainly never a dull moment in this land of opportunity and I for one look forward to seeing how the market develops, how is continues to address the challenges and seize the vast opportunities to continue to build a book loving country that produces world leading content.
Last night I attended a public lecture at the India International Centre, New Delhi. It was delivered by Siddharth Mukherjee entitled “First they came for Rushdie: Scientific Ambitions in an Age of Censorship”. It was organised by Penguin Books India to celebrate the occasion of Siddharth Mukherjee having received the Padma Shri. He is a physician, scientist and writer. His book, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize. He is currently an assistant professor medicine at Columbia University in New York. Chiki Sarkar, Publisher, Penguin Random House India, announced that her firm would be publishing his forthcoming book–on genes.
The lecture consisted of three distinct sections. He read out two papers. An essay, “The Perfect Last Days of Mr Sengupta”, published in Granta 124: Travel (http://www.granta.com/Archive/124/The-Perfect-Last-Days-of-Mr-Sengupta). It is about his visit to the Cancer centre of All India Institute of Medical Sciences ( AIIMS) based in New Delhi, where he meets a terminally ill patient Mr Sengupta. A precisely written, sensitive and thought-provoking essay about mortality, disease, care giving, and death.
He followed it up by reading an extract from an unpublished essay. ( I suspect it is from his forthcoming book.) It was about science, scientific thought and research, especially genetics, in Nazi Germany. In a measured manner, calmly Siddharth Mukherjee read out his paper. Not once did his voice waver while he patiently retold the well-known facts of medicine as practiced in Germany. He talked about Berlin in 1931 and the close link between science and literature. He spoke of the Nazi scientists such as eugenicist Alfred Ploetz who coined the term Rassenhygiene or racial hygiene, Josef Mengel or the Angel of Death who was responsible for the gas chambers in the Auschwitz concentration camps, physicist and Nobel Prize winner ( 1905) Philipp Eduard Anton von Lenard who advocated “Deutsche Physik” as opposed to the ideas of “Jewish physics”, by which he meant chiefly the theories of Albert Einstein, including “the Jewish fraud” of relativity. He spoke of the influence many of these scientists had upon Hitler, even when he was in prison and he wrote of his admiration of them in Mein Kampf. He commented upon the close relationship between the legal wheels that were constantly turning to justify and legitimize these absurdly illogical “scientific” theories, resulting in the enactment of the anti-Jewish statutes called the Nuremberg Race Laws ( 5 Sept 1935) institutionalizing many of the racial theories prevalent in Nazi ideaology. He mentioned the establishment of the Aktion T4 or the euthanasia programme that led to the establishment of extermination centres where inmates were gassed in carbon monoxide chambers. He cited examples and read out extracts of contemporary accounts by scientists and men of letters such as Christopher Isherwood, of how slowly German society was being slowly and steadily cleansed, sloughing of genetic detritus. He argued that there was sufficient evidence of how this young science propped up a totalitarian regime and the cycle was completed by producing junk science. He documented the muzzling of free expression, books, media, radio, cabaret were slowly brought under Nazi doctrine. Music such as jazz and swing or the “negro noise” were stopped. There was a slow and methodical decimation of intellectual and cultural freedom.
The concluding part of the lecture, Siddharth Mukherjee cited the example of Salman Rushdie not being permitted to attend or even speak via satellite link at the Jaipur Literature Festival 2012. He received death threats. At the time three writers — Hari Kunzro, Ruchir Joshi and Jeet Thayil — tried reading out extracts from the banned text The Satanic Verses but were not permitted to do so. Instead they were advised to leave Jaipur immediately. At the time this episode was met by a “galacial silence” by the powers that be. It was as “all realism without magic”. Since then this kind of literary censorship, a capitulation to bullying, according to Siddharth Mukherjee has become a predictable pattern in Indian society. Wendy Doniger is the latest victim of literary censorship. For Siddharth Mukherjee there is a symbiotic relationship between science and literature since they co-exist in the same ecosystem. “Science happens in the same fragile place where books happen and plays are enacted. You spoil the ecology of one, you tarnish the soil of the other.”
Meena Kandasamy is a poet with two collections to her discredit: Touch and Ms Militancy. Her first novel The Gypsy Goddess releases next month. Reproduced below with permission is a poem she published on Facebook on 17 February 2014, soon after the Wendy Doniger and Penguin India controversy broke on 11 February 2014. At the time of posting it on the blog, it had been shared 219 times, 452 ‘likes’ and 85 comments.
This poem is not a Hindu.
This poem is eager to offend.
This poem is shallow and distorted.
This poem is a non-serious representation of Hinduism.
This poem is a haphazard presentation.
This poem is riddled.
This poem is a heresy.
This poem is a factual inaccuracy.
This poem has missionary zeal.
This poem has a hidden agenda.
This poem denigrates Hindus.
This poem shows them in poor light.
This poem concentrates on the negative aspects of Hinduism.
This poem concentrates on the evil practices of Hinduism.
This poem asserts its moral right to use objectionable words for Gods.
This poem celebrates Krishna’s freedom to perch on a naked woman.
This poem flames with the fires of a woman hungry of sex.
This poem supplies sexual connotations.
This poem puts the phallus back into the picture.
This poem makes the shiva lingam the male sexual organ.
This poem does not make the above-mentioned organ erect.
This poem prides itself in its perverse mindset.
This poem shows malice to Hinduism for Untouchability and misogyny.
This poem declares the absence of a Hindu canon.
This poem declares itself the Hindu canon.
This poem follows the monkey.
This poem worships the horse.
This poem supersedes the Vedas and the supreme scriptures.
This poem does not culture the jungle.
This poem jungles the culture.
This poem storms into temples with tanks.
This poem stands corrected: the RSS is BJP’s mother.
This poem is not vulnerable.
This poem is Section 153-A proof.
This poem is also idiot-proof.
This poem quotes Dr.Ambedkar.
This poem considers Ramayana a hetero-normative novel.
This poem breaches Section 295A of the Indian Penile Code.
This poem is pure and total blasphemy.
This poem is a voyeur.
This poem gossips about the sex between Sita and Laxman.
This poem is a witness to the rape of Shurpanaka.
This poem smears Rama for his suspicious mind.
This poem was once forced into suttee.
This poem is now taking her revenge.
This poem is addicted to eating beef.
This poem knows the castes of all the thirty-three million Hindu Gods.
This poem got court summons for switching the castes of Gods.
This poem once dated Karna who was sure he was no test-tube baby.
This poem is not curious about who-was-the-father.
This poem is horizontally flipped.
This poem is a plagiarised version.
This poem is selectively chosen.
This poem is running paternity tests on Hindutva.
This poem saw Godse (of the RSS) kill Gandhi.
This poem is not afraid of being imprisoned.
This poem does not comply to client demands.
This poem is pornographic.
This poem will not tender an unconditional apology.
This poem will not be Penguined.
This poem will not be pulped.
( 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 . )
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.”
Penguin 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.
( This is the press release issued by Penguin Books India on 14 Feb 2014. It is pertaining to their decision to pulp the remaining copies of Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus. )
Penguin Books India believes, and has always believed, in every individual’s right to freedom of thought and expression, a right explicitly codified in the Indian Constitution. This commitment informs Penguin’s approach to publishing in every territory of the world, and we have never been shy about testing that commitment in court when appropriate. At the same time, 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.
We stand by our original decision to publish The Hindus, just as we stand by the decision to publish other books that we know may cause offence to some segments of our readership. We believe, however, that the Indian Penal Code, and in particular section 295A of that code, will make it increasingly difficult for any Indian publisher to uphold international standards of free expression without deliberately placing itself outside the law.
This is, we believe, an issue of great significance not just for the protection of creative freedoms in India but also for the defence of fundamental human rights.
Penguin Books Ltd is registered in England and Wales with company number 861590. The registered office is 80 Strand, London. WC2R 0RL. A Penguin Random House company.
( Statement issued by Wendy Doniger, author of The Hindus, published by Penguin Books India. This press release was issued on 11 Feb 2014 by Wendy Doniger upon hearing that her publishers had struck an out-of-court-settlement with Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samitri, including pulping all remaining copies of the book that are in stock. The case had been in court for four years but no legal decision was taken. It has not been banned in India.)
“Dear friends, I have had literally hundreds of requests for interviews, in various media, and I can’t do them all. So here is a statement that you may use. I hope it’s enough; it’s the best I can do right now. I intend to write a longer article for
publication in a couple of weeks. Yours with gratitude for your courage and compassion, wendy.
I was thrilled and moved by the great number of messages of support that I received, not merely from friends and colleagues but from people in India that I have never met, who had read and loved The Hindus, and by news and media
people, all of whom expressed their outrage and sadness and their wish to help me in any way they could.
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
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 jeopardizes the physical safety of any publisher, no matter
how ludicrous the accusation brought against a book.
An example at random, from the lawsuit in question:
‘That YOU NOTICEE has hurt the religious feelings of millions of Hindus by declaring that Ramayana is a fiction. “Placing the Ramayan in its historical contexts demonstrates that it is a work of fiction, created by human authors, who
lived at various times……….” (P.662) This breaches section 295A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).’
Finally, I am glad that, in the age of the Internet, it is no longer possible to suppress a book. The Hindus is available on Kindle; and if legal means of publication fail, the Internet has other ways of keeping books in circulation.
People in India will always be able to read books of all sorts, including some that may offend some Hindus.”
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)