Thursday, February 13, 2014

Penguin, The Book Pulper

If you set up a marketplace of outrage you have to expect everyone to enter it. Everyone now wants to say, ‘My feelings are more hurt than yours’.
-- Monica Ali, quoted in Kenan Malik's op-ed in The Hindu.

* * *

In an utterly abject move, Penguin India has reached an out-of-court agreement with a fringe outfit to "withdraw and pulp all copies" of Wendy Doniger's book The Hindus: An Alternative History. There have been many expressions of dismay and outrage at the way the publisher pulper caved in, and quite a few point to the irony in the fact that the same pulper stood solidly behind one of its celebrated novelist who faced a fatwa not too long ago:

Kenan Malik in The Hindu:

Twenty five years ago on February 14, the Ayotollah Khomeini issued his fatwa on Salman Rushdie, for the “blasphemies” of his fourth novel, The Satanic Verses. It is perhaps disturbingly apposite that this should also be the week in which Penguin, the publishers of The Satanic Verses, should so abjectly surrender to hardline Hindu groups over Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History, agreeing to withdraw it from publication in India. The contrast between the attitude of the old Penguin and that of the new Penguin tells us much about how much the Rushdie affair itself has transformed the landscape of free speech.

Arundhati Roy's open letter to Penguin:

Tell us, please, what is it that scared you so? Have you forgotten who you are? You are part of one of the oldest, grandest publishing houses in the world. You existed long before publishing became just another business, and long before books became products like any other perishable product in the market—mosquito repellent or scented soap. You have published some of the greatest writers in history. You have stood by them as publishers should, you have fought for free speech against the most violent and terrifying odds. And now, even though there was no fatwa, no ban, not even a court order, you have not only caved in, you have humiliated yourself abjectly before a fly-by-night outfit by signing settlement. Why? You have all the resources anybody could possibly need to fight a legal battle. Had you stood your ground, you would have had the weight of enlightened public opinion behind you, and the support of most—if not all—of your writers. You must tell us what happened. What was it that terrified you? You owe us, your writers an explanation at the very least. [Bold emphasis added]

See also: Wendy Doniger's statment in which she promises a longer article on this issue soon.

Then there's also this telling 'reveal' in this interview of a leader of the fringe outfit; it's an apt illustration of the novelist Monica Ali's quote at the beginning of the post.

Why does it matter so much to you about what someone writes about Hinduism?

If someone makes a cartoon of the prophet Mohammad, Muslims are outraged around the world. So why should anyone write anything against Hinduism and get away with it? [...]


  1. Desi Babu said...

    I will not go into the pros and cons of banning someone's right to express themselves. One could have debated the contents of the book, and "derogatory" remarks against Hinduism could have been examined more closely. Hinduism has always been more tolerant of debates and public discourse.

    But now that the book is being pulped, may this Sadhu make a humble request? It is very cold in the Himalayan cave that I am currently lodged in. Will someone turn the pulp into logs and send those to me by the next mule train?



  2. madrasi said...

    Totally with Ms. Roy on this one.