Wednesday, February 19, 2014

What's in a book????

That's our Guv on Republic Day 2014....
                                                                   *************
This appeared in Sunday Times....
                               What’s in a book? A lot!!
For starters : Am I offended by Wendy Doniger’s book? Hell, no! Am I surprised by what happened this week? Naaaah! Is it the end of the world? You must be joking. Do I think Hinduism is under threat…or that Wendy set out to insult a great religion? Frankly, the answer is ‘no’ to both. Wendy Doniger is a professional scholar.  This is her interpretation. She is entitled to it. Those who find the book objectionable , need not read it. There are many Wendys in the publishing space. They do what they have to – spend years decoding ,  dissecting, analyzing material. It is their chosen vocation. A lot of what is deconstructed is necessarily subjective. After all, it is the effort of one academic searching for explanations and answers. So be it. If you choose to read the material -  and react – do it. Go ahead and write your own book. Or,write to the scholar/author and refute the thesis. Hold a peaceful meeting and state your perspective. There are ways and ways to respond – passionately and spiritedly – without converting your views into an ugly, self-defeating pitched battle. Which is precisely what has happened with Doniger’s ‘The Hindus : An Alternative History’.
Now, let’s see it from the Publisher’s point of view ( I have to state here that I am a Penguin author). But this battle does not begin or end with Penguin Books and Wendy Doniger . Nor with those who asked for the book to be withdrawn and pulped – the Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti. The SBAS has been at it for years (remember how 75 paragraphs were removed from several NCERT textbooks?). They will be at it for several more. The thing is, this time their victory appeared easy. Was it really a ‘victory’? And how easy was it? What about the Publisher? The rather facile argument is that Penguin should not have buckled under pressure. That in ‘the old days’ Publishers were bold enough to stand by authors and books, regardless. Well, it’s time to state the bald truth and say it like it is (sorry, intellectuals!). Those old days are over. And the world of publishing has changed. Knock off all the romantic notions surrounding the book business and what do you get? A business under financial threat across the world. A business trying to stay afloat in the face of competition coming at it from unexpected directions and in entirely unknown forms (come on, who could have anticipated e-books and free downloads?). Survival itself is at stake given these daunting developments. Besides, let’s be candid, at the end of the day, publishing IS a business. And every publisher in the universe is a ‘baniya  publisher’ ( a term that has been thrown around a lot these days). And hello! which publisher would actively back a book that has a zero  sales’ potential? Which publisher is willing to lose money on a book? Which publisher wants a book/author to get into trouble? Not one. Every book is a gamble. It is published in good faith. Publishers don’t consciously court controversy. They don’t enjoy facing criminal charges (as in this case). And they certainly don’t like losing money! A great deal of it. If that makes them ‘baniya publishers’, that’s okay. And yes, in today’s aggressive environment in which everything is potentially a ‘product’ that has to be flogged in the marketplace, there really isn’t that much of a difference left between selling a book and selling a bar of soap. If that sounds awful, it is a reality one has to accept. Authors and public intellectuals taking a lofty view of the publishing industry, should climb down a few notches and smell the coffee. It is likely to get still worse by the ‘old’ standards, as decisions whether or not to publish a book are taken by marketing mavens crunching numbers and not visionary publishers willing to back a tome they believe in. Yes, it’s that grim. Publishers with a book like Wendy’s on their list, are particularly vulnerable. It is not about having financial resources to fight it out in court. It is about asking basic , practical questions : is it worth it?

Wendy’s controversial book will do just fine . More people will read it now that it has become a hot potato. The SBAS will no doubt, look for other soft targets and gloat over this particular win. The ‘scholar dollars’ won’t dry up. So, relax. Hinduism has survived worse . And will continue to thrive  -  book or no book. Our various freedoms are definitely under threat. Make no mistake about that. It’s just a question of figuring out whose freedom scores in such wars. And whether there is something called absolute freedom in the first place .A difficult decision needed to be taken .And it was taken. It was not ‘fear’ alone ( despite the rumoured death threats ) that dictated Penguin’s decision, I imagine. It was a question of  not hurting public sentiment. There really are no winners here. Least of all the much loathed SBAS.

15 comments:

i NumeroUnity said...

I really liked your take on the subject. Having said that I would not have known about this book or cared two hoots about it if it was not publicized as much.

Now since the book got so much publicity,. I am very sure I am more likely to find a cheaper copy in daryaganj market of their own duck publishers!

Hinduism as a religion is one of the highly tolerating religion which is quite humble and mature and take all such criticism with pinch of saffron. I guess little bit of sensibility about a religion in the way we approach it towards public dissection should be exercised however. Freedom of speech is fine but guess there are more burning issues than who did Mahatama gandhi slept with or how many Gopikas did Lord Krishna did Raas with.

Seems bashing Gods and beliefs is new fashion these days. If it is so, why not bash fanatics who issues fatwa for an actor cause he attended ganpati aarti. Come on world, lets be open minded and above all less biased.
www.numerounity.com

i NumeroUnity said...

Also, forgot to add that- while nudity might be a pristine art for someone, it may be highly offensive for someone else. Portraying someone' God nude to sale copies is not a very fair thing to do. God ka bhi copyright/IPR hai jo sirf God ke paas hai and doesn't matter jiska bhi God ho :)

We must be careful with such sensitive aspects. No?

Priti said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pooja Rathore said...

Post was very practical and of acceptance that's how things work,whether we like it or not,I loved your practical question-'is it worth it?,liked your perspective soundscandid and practical.

Latha said...

Now I want to read the book.

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