Controversy breeds interest and fuels demand. Penguin India’s decision to pulp one book by Wendy Doniger has led to a surge of interest in another she has written. Leading bookstores in Mumbai have witnessed a markedly increased interest in On Hinduism following the withdrawal of The Hindus: An Alternative History. “We had very few sales for On Hinduism earlier — only one or two customers who were really keen on history would buy it every month. But after the decision to recall all copies of The Hindus , we have been receiving 10 new requests on an average per day,” said the owner of a prominent bookstore in the city.
Zishan Sheikh, a bookstall owner in Fort, said the publisher has asked all sellers to stop retailing the recalled book and return unsold copies. Even pavement booksellers narrate a similar experience, with most now trying to stock Doniger’s other book, On Hinduism . This book is out of stock across most bookstores and websites except Amazon’s Indian option. The Flipkart website says On Hinduism will be back in stock by early March.
Book lovers are hoping Penguin revokes its decision after the controversy abates. Interestingly, The Hindus has climbed to number 12 in Amazon’s list of bestsellers, fuelled perhaps by the storm created in India. Doniger is an American Sanskrit scholar and a well known Indologist. A lot of her work is focused on translating, interpreting and comparing elements of Hindu theories. In 2011, a civil lawsuit was filed against the publisher of the book by Shiksha Bachao Andolan. The book also has two other criminal complaints against it. The petitioners alleged that the book, which focuses on different aspects of Hinduism, has lot of “inaccuracies and biases”. The agreement reached by Penguin said all copies of the book would be withdrawn immediately from India.
While this decision has resulted in tremendous flak from the literary community, Penguin has defended its stance reiterating that “a publishing company has to respect the laws of the land in which it operates, however intolerant and restrictive those laws may be. We also have a moral responsibility to protect our employees against threats and harassment where we can.”