Wendy’s "unhistory" making history
Dr. Pramod V. Pathak
Making fast buck
No sooner the news of the out of court settlement for withdrawing copies of Wendy Doniger’s controversial book, “The Hindus: An Alternative History” was out, there was scramble for the copies of the book. As reported by S. R. Praveen in “The Hindu” Dt 16th Feb 2014, the local dealers and in turn M/s Penguin made fast buck by selling the copies without issuing bills or receipts. Praveen called it "Streisand effect" after the pop singer Barbara Streisand’s effort to sue the photographer for her offending picture; they were circulated like wild fire on the internet. By the time the court matter was settled, almost all the copies of Wendy’s "unhistory" were sold out. That made a history. Demand for the book as such had slumped over the last two years due to gross inaccuracies, leave apart the distorted views. The book suddenly got a boost. It served the purpose for Penguins who were experiencing the Damocles’ sword hanging on their head due to infringement of copyrights, textual inaccuracies and misrepresentation in the map of mediaeval India 600 CE to 1600 CE wherein Kashmir was not shown as part of India. Out of court settlement gamble proved the best business bait and the publishers recovered all the money they had put in publishing this trash. As expected, some authors, especially like Arundhati Roy, this time was not fierce but lamented (Times of India 12th Feb 2014) as to why at all Penguins have succumbed to the Hindu rightist pressure. Shobha De felt that Penguins have buckled under the external pressure form the right wing Hindu zealots (Times of India Dt 16th Feb 2014). They did not buckle in actuality, on the contrary they made a smart business deal. She did not feel like paying attention to the reality that editorial board of Penguins must have felt really ashamed that they did not apply their usual editorial scrutiny and accepted the text as submitted by the author. They must have felt confident about the contents of the text by Wendy who had earlier submitted very authentic sort of translations of Rig Veda and Manusmriti. These were praised by many scholars. In fact the present author was very much impressed by Wendy’s translation of hundred hymns from the Rig Veda (1981). This time, however, she has made a mess of it all and Penguins must have felt let down by the gross inaccuracies in the text. Petition by Dina Nath Batra came as god sent opportunity. Penguins agreed to withdraw the book and the gamble has paid well. It also generated unaccounted cash transactions as reported in The Hindu, if indeed the copies were sold without issuing receipts.
As was expected, the secular, the freedom of speech loving community from the select group came out with offended feelings and along with Wendy. Martyrdom of the likes of James Laine, M. F. Hussain, Siddharth Deb, Bhargava and Badopadhyay was evoked. Book withdrawal by Penguins was declared a great victory of the rightist Hindu forces with prediction that demands like these are likely to grow in future. While Arundhati Roy lamented, Ratna Kapoor, Ananya Vajpeyi, Sheldon Pollock, Romila Thapar and others signed an open letter condemning the decision and proposed for repealing of the section of the 153A and 259 A of the Indian penal code (The Hinud 15th Feb). Ramchandra Guha was forthright in condemning the Hindu as well as Muslim bigots (The Times of India Dt 13th Feb). The co-author of Wendy, Sudhir Kakar meekly submitted, “So what we are talking here is Islam. So yes, there is certain caution exercised by scholars here. But then if a certain section of Muslims is intolerant and violently so, does this mean all Hindus should follow the same example?” (Times of India 16th Feb). In effect Kakar conceded that all these scholars are cowards and dare not tell the truth in the face of adversaries. It must be noted here that the Hindus were not violent at all. They only protested and took recourse to civil action and agreed for out of the court settlement. It is quite surprising that a psychoanalyst like Kakar, expected to have better reality testing, should make such hyperbolic statements when there was no trace of violence in seeking legal recourse.
The signs of perversion
All the so called freedom loving scholars and artists have taken the liberty only with Hindu scriptures and Hindu psyche. Kakar praises Wendy for having treated the Hindu scriptures from the psychoanalytical point of view. It has invariably been sexual distortions that she has engaged in rather than grasping the philosophical meanings of the symbolism. In case of the Shiva Lingam, she never felt it necessary to refer the origin of the Shiva Lingam to the mystic hymns of Skambha Sukta in the Atharva Veda (X.7 and 8) where the infinite expanse of the divine column as perceived by the seer expands on either side, upward and downward to infinity. It dates back by centuries to the Purana literature. The similar story repeats in Upanishadic lore where the Supreme Gods, Brahma and Vishnu find it impossible to reach either of the ends of the column form in which Lord Shiva had appeared. Wendy forgets the idea of infinite existence and expanse of Shiva Lingam that was espoused in these hymns. She takes recourse to the Puranic story of lovelorn Shiva appearing naked before the spouses of the seers who curse him to get his penis detached. This is no sign of being the best friend of Hinduism as Kakar describes her to be. It really hurts one to see the scholar of her stature committing blunder of the highest order when she states, “Ravana stole Sita and kept her captive on the island of Lanka for many years.” Then she states that Rama brought Sita back home with him. He made her perform an ordeal by fire (P221). Any lay person with little acquaintance with the Ramayana text would assert that Sita was in captivity only for a few months and the fire ordeal was performed right after killing of Ravana and not in Ayodhya. Such glaring mistakes are to be found in many narrations. Vishal Agrawal has compiled chapter by chapter the mistakes in Wendy’s book. It does not behoove a scholar of her standing to make such gross factual misrepresentations. Of late, Wendy appears to have succumbed to senility in her sixties. She sounds irrelevant, loose and disorganized in her thinking, when she narrates about the cow exhibition in Chicago held in 1999, relating it to the World Parliament of Religions (Page 640). As narrated by her, Chicago city officials exhibited 340 life size cows in their city, “which had nothing to do with Hinduism”. These were later sold and brought $200 million in additional tourist revenue for the city. All this information is absolutely irrelevant but for the last sum up, “But during that summer, Chicago was like Calcutta, in this regards at least; everywhere you turned, you met a cow”. This is the sample of her "scholarship and love for Hinduism" that Wendy exhibits. Or is this the "alternative history" of the Hindus Wendy has to offer to the world?
It is typical of the western scholars, that they take sadistic pleasure in making remarks about sexuality rather than spirituality. Take the case of James Laine on Shivaji. Ramchandra Guha refers to his book on Shivaji as scholarly study (The Times of India 13th Feb). Has he himself even seen Laine’s book as a historian of modern period? There are so many inaccuracies. Right in the beginning, Laine refers to the tradition of mud fort making by the young kids in Maharashtra. He states that these are made during Dahashara festival. Even a toddler in Maharashtra will tell that these are made during long holidays of Diwali rather than Dashahara (Page 4). The present author had written a series of thirty articles pointing mistakes in the narration and details in Laine’s book. This historian Laine (?) of dubious repute makes the most unworthy statement in his book stating “the Maharashtrians tell jokes naughtily” which led to vandalism at the famous Bhandarkar Institute in Pune. In a history book, this analytical historian narrates naughty jokes and slander. He tries to touch upon five conjured up aspects of Shivaji’s life, Shivaji had an unhappy family life, Shivaji had harem, Shivaji was uninterested in the religion of Bhakti saints etc. This is an attitude of a perverted mind set. Laine does not go into analysis of the state apparatus Shivaji built; he does not appreciate the feeling of honour and dedication he evoked in his followers; he does not bother about Shivaji's compilation of Sanskrit word compendium for Persian administrative words which the Govt. of India emulated after independence, or Shivaji’s attempts at casting cannons in developing a technology for his military forces; he is more interested in his harem? Similar pervert attitude was prominent in so called great artist M.F. Husain who originally hailed from pilgrim centre of Pandharpur. Husain had no eye for the devotion of the Warkari pilgrims, their faces lit with the feeling of ecstasy that overflows on the streets of Pandharpur during the Ashadhi Ekadashi pilgrimage festival, but he drew the picture of a Hindu goddess in the nude. During Prophet Mohammad’s time, a neo-convert Muslim, Umayr ibn ‘Awf, stabbed mercilessly a lady Asma, daughter of Marwan in the night while she was suckling her infant child; he then proceeded to the Prophet and informed him of what he had done. Would Husain have ever dared to paint the agony written large on the face of dying Asma on stabbing? He dare not. He would have been ripped apart and lynched by the mob of Muslim fanatics, forgetting that the instance quoted above is a recorded history. He took for granted that like secular Hindus other Hindus too would accept his perversions meekly. Husain, an ordinary poster painter would have remained so till the end a poster painter and would be lost in oblivion with the advent of computerised poster printing. Just because he was a Muslim, walked bare foot and he dared to draw those pervert pictures, he was made into a "famous painter." In fact all these so called "scholars and artists" breed deep disdain for the Hindu values and culture. They become instantly famous by making such provocative sexual statements that are offensive to Hindus. And their ilk among the secular scholars here in India pounce on their books, essays, pictures etc. as if to see that they get publicity. No wonder this too is typical of a deep perversion that all them harbour.
No reference to the text
All the so called Indian and foreign thinkers and contributors to the English newspapers, listed above seem to have not even superficially browsed Wendy’s book. If they had, they would have noted umpteen mistakes and inaccuracies and would have certainly withheld their remarks about the decision to withdraw the book. However, they have manifested flock mentality as usual. On the contrary, scholarly reviews in prestigious journals, Social Scientist and American Journal of Oriental Society have criticized poor historiography and lack of focus. Vedic scholar from Harvard, Michael Witzel too was critical of Wendy’s book. But for the Indian secularists she is as if epitome of scholarship. The present author had published review of chapters in her book on the Vedic period in “Atharva” journal Vol 5, No 12 and sent her a personal copy. But there was no response. Courtesy at the intellectual level demands at least acknowledgment via e-mail. It did not come. Similarly James Laine too shied away from responding to criticism of his book.
Publish criticism volume
In this book of hers Wendy has lost her bearings. She appears to have done away with the precision in her scholarship. She had shown it in her earlier works. It is a pity that the western scholars have not yet come out of their colonial mind set and the Indian secularist have not come out of their slavish mentality. They write false histories of Asia and Indian subcontinent. The perceptions of the American policy makers are colored by these half-truth histories and they formulate their international strategies based on such distorted views about other cultures and people. That is why a strong nation like USA has not been able to win a single war in the post-World War II era. The penguins would have done well to publish volume of critical essays published mostly on the web. That could have been sold like a hot cake. Scholars and lay people as well would have known both the shades of opinion. It could have been a real intellectual exercise. By withdrawing the book, Penguins have lost that opportunity. It has as well upset many writers. Dina Nath Batra who has spearheaded the movement through Shiksha Sanskriti Utthan Nyas should come forward to publish a volume of critical reviews of the Wendy’s book and expose her for the deliberate rather than inadvertent distortions. It will be a great service in the cause of intellectual inquiry and the scholarship of Indian history and culture.
About the authorDr. Pramod Pathak is a Vedic scholar based in Goa. He has a Ph. D. in the Vedic literature, has authored books on the Vedas and is a freelance writer.