India’s publishing world is in a tizzy. The withdrawal of scholar Wendy Doniger’s title, The Hindus, An Alternative History, polarised opinions ever since the news broke out. While the debate has given the book more business than it might have expected to, prior to this development, a worrisome fallout might actually be its impact on upcoming writers, researchers and scholars.
Wendy Doniger’s book
Sure, India churns out authors by the minute going by the assembly-line-like titles that arrive, daily at the desk of any book editor. Expensive printing, eye-popping jackets, out-of-the-box promotions — you name it, and the new-age, packaged author has all the nuts and bolts in place to pull off a swashbuckling entry on the bookshelf; not forgetting the glitzy book release at the hands of a celebrity.
But what such practices have done is take away the spotlight from many hard-hitting non-fiction works, several of which have been amazing documentations and studies related to India. These go unnoticed and few dare to put their money of these. Now, this withdrawal could have possibly dissuaded similar such writers — especially the younger lot — who might have spent years into investigative, research-driven manuscripts, to reconsider even wanting to publish their findings. The fear and anxiety whether their works will actually see the light of day, especially when publishers’ hands are tied, and where the might of such zealots reign supreme, might take precedence. India stands to losing immensely when such attacks on a vibrant sub-genre take place and carry on unchecked. Which brings us to another concern — such acts will embolden more to stake claim and dictate terms on what we read.
How this incident settles (or unsettles) the psyche of the Indian writer, with time, remains to be seen and will make for an interesting lesson even for coming generations of writers. Still, one is hopeful that it doesn’t deter the bold and the brave to keep on expressing their views, and documenting real stories of India, its diaspora and its people. Doniger’s statement made after the withdrawal, “Finally, I am glad that, in the age of the Internet, it is no longer possible to suppress a book” was reassuring, and one hopes it gives such writers enough steam to carry on.
It will be a sorry state of affairs if a day arrives where all that India can offer to the world bookshelf are rehashed vampire romances, pop fiction and chick-lit avatars.
Let them not take this away from us.
— The writer is Features Editor, MiD DAY
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