"Aldous Huxley once said that an intellectual was someone who had found something more interesting than sex; in Indology, an intellectual need not make that choice at all."
(Wendy Doniger in 'When the Lingam is Just a Cigar, Psychoanalysis and Hindu Sexual Fantasies').
Wendy Doniger's book "The Hindus, an Alternative History" (see the cover), published and distributed by Penguin has been a phenomenal sales success. Already (in June 2010), more than 600 libraries in North America have acquired a copy of the book, in one year since its publication. The Indian division of Penguin has brought out an Indian reprint as well. Doniger claims that her book is about Hindu women, low castes, dogs and horses. But these merely appear to be an excuse for her to indulge in bouts of lewd descriptions, imaginary rapes, violence, titillating sleaze, drugs, booze and the like – all of which is then superimposed on the Hindus and on their traditions. As usual, she kinks fairly straightforward narratives in Hindu scriptures to present her own pornographic versions.
The debate over publishing house Penguin's withdrawal of a controversial book on Hinduism has largely centred round the issues of politics and 'tolerance for secular values'. In the cacophony, the core matter has been shut out from the discussions.
The points which the petitioners, who went to the court against the book, and a bunch of online protestors who wrote to the Penguin offices in the US and India, raised, have been missing from the discourse. To contemptuously dismiss them is as wrong as the withdrawal of the book, and shows similar intolerance as in the latter case.
The sharp protests against Wendy Doniger's convoluted and confused reading of the history of Hindu religion are justified
Writing on October 12, 1836, Thomas Babington Macaulay gleefully informed his father that their schools were "flourishing wonderfully" and that the "effect of this education on Hindoos is prodigious" because "no Hindoo who has received an English education ever continues to be sincerely attached to his religion [though] some continue to profess it as a matter of policy."
Macaulay rejoiced to think of the effects that such an education would have on the mind of young India and predicted that in the eventuality of the physical empire perishing someday this education would ensure the perpetuation of the "imperishable empire of our arts and our morals, our literature..."
For Hinduism studies, the 21st century opens with an audacious tome by Wendy Doniger, "The Hindus An Alternative History", Penguin/Viking 2009. This act of 'courage' or saahasa (also done with plenty of saa-haasa or tongue in cheek humor), ends up being closer to the ancient meaning of the word saahasa as used in Indian law codes, that is, an offence.
After reading only a few pages of this book, I was reminded of something I did in my greener days. In late teens, when I had enough Sanskrit to read Valmiki, I went to my village educated mother, hoping to shock her, with my discovery that Valmiki's Rama when in exile used to hunt the deer, roast the meat and offer it to Sita. My mother, though not pleased at this great news, watched me intently to study my intentions and quickly took away my sadistic pleasure by quoting a line from Tulsidas, of whose Ramayana, she was a daily reader. "Naanaa bhaanti Raam avataaraa/ Raamayana shata koti apaaraa" (Rama has taken many kinds of avatars and Ramayanas are hundred crores in number).