Wendy Doniger’s rise after the ban

Wendy Doniger  

Wendy Doniger, the 74-year-old American author and research scholar in Sanskrit is moreover known for the high regard she has had for Indian tradition. Yet she hasn’t had it easy in India. Her book, The Hindus: An Alternative History that she wrote a few years ago, was banned for its controversial content, raising a debate over the country’s democratic structure.

In one of those rare occasions when she opens up to media, she talks of how her life underwent a major transition after the sudden fame she’d received and what plans she has in store for the future. Happy that her book hit the headlines, she says quite cheerfully, “The flak about that book made it much more popular; thousands of people who had never heard of the book got hold of a copy and read it. In that way, Batra (The petitioner who made Penguin India take the book off the shelves) did me a great favour. I was then invited to write about the crisis in Indian publishing in more popular public newspapers and journals that I had not written for earlier” . Enjoying the curiosity that it had evoked over her works, she claims, “The books I have been working on since then, are far more aware of the public ramifications of the subjects I write about; so I am writing them in a different way, reaching out to a much broader public.”

Observing the prevalent customs in the country as an outsider , was critical in ensuring her free minded appreciation of cultures. “Certainly as someone raised outside, I was struck by aspects of that tradition that an insider would not have noticed or, perhaps, appreciated in the way that I did. By not belonging to any particular Indian community, I was free to learn as much as I could,” she, also being a trained dancer mentions. And what was dance’s contribution to her life and writing especially? “I think being a trained dancer has made me more aware of audiences than most scholars are, more of a dramatic storyteller,” she throws in an interesting reply.

She’s many a time called herself a Sanskritist and reasons it for the exclusive range of stories, the language presents to a reader. “It’s a language amazingly rich and subtle and it has an enormous literature; no one could ever possibly read all that is written in Sanskrit. Much of it is indeed profound, but it is also thrilling and fascinating and, often, very funny,” the author, an avid follower of the works of Amit Chaudhuri, Amitav Ghosh, Salman Rushdie, Vikram Seth and Arundhati Roy, speaks it out.

In reply to how a writer would enjoy complete freedom while expressing, she goes a little poetic, but brings her point across. “An artist needs to work very hard to develop the tools — the language, for a writer, the technique, for a painter or sculptor—that makes it possible to translate an idea into an actual form, made of words or images,” she words it, adding that alike the Gupta era in India, there will be a time the rulers have supported and protected artists.

The author who’s currently in India for a conference in Tata Literature Live! (Mumbai LitFest) acknowledges it’s not of the rosiest times for the democracy here, with fanaticism surrounding religions, their acceptance.

“Narrow-minded people have been allowed, sometimes encouraged, to take violent measures against individuals whose actions or words do not agree with those of the self-appointed censors,” Wendy says. However, she’s hopeful of the situation to turn ripe sooner, confessing, “I am encouraged by the recent protests by writers, scholars, and journalists against these infringements of individual liberty.” On her stay in the country, not sounding boastful, she says, “I hope it will encourage people to support Indian writers in their fight for freedom from repression and censorship.”

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Printable version | Sep 19, 2021 5:30:19 AM |

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