Beyond all the controversies that have erupted recently, which by the way, is also the reason I started reading it. The Hindus- An alternative history is to be read in a certain way to understand that it is a sheer work of brilliance. I personally feel that (and no guarantees when I say ‘I feel’:P) the best way to read a non-fiction-history-heavy book is to check the Table of Contents first and start reading the topic that interests you the most. I started with chapter 23: The Hindu Americans and eventually kept reading until I was hungry and started feeling dizzy. After dinner, I continued again!
Wendy Doniger, this brilliant woman, has made a smart compilation of her research and opinions on India with some really sharp observations on India and Indians. It’s just sad that we can’t accept that the fact that a foreignor understands us, our culture and it’s contradictions probably better than us. Some brilliant moments I had were when:
- She talks about how Hindus call the cow as their ‘mother’ and are against eating it. Wendy correctly points out that the utmost level of respect doesn’t lie in not just eating the cow! It’s sad when you see the cows in even the big cities, been left on the roads eating all sorts of crap!
She talks about how Hindus feel bathing in a holy river, washes away all our sins and will get us ‘moksha’, while the river itself must’ve wanted moksha after being continued to be grossly polluter over years. That some of the women in the country won’t want moksha. They are just worried about what they are currently living into!
She has commented on Ramayana and Mahabharata and called them a work of fiction. Any text when published is open to scrutiny and opinions, be it religious or non-religious. She condemns how we have been fighting within ourselves for years for some pieces of land that don’t have any real historical evidence.
She talks about the American Hindus, and how a lot of them go to websites, register and pay for doing a virtual pooja. So there is a cartoon puja with an incense stick and all. At the same time, someone who is actually there at the Ganges, dips your actual photo in the actual river and makes the ritual work. Woah! (No comments!)
She has applauded how a lot of Hindus have brought brilliant things such as yoga and a typical culture in the khichdi that is America.
She talks about Kama-Sutra, yes she does. She clears the misconceptions that most people have about the text, that it is just a book about sex positions. And the kinds of businesses that have flourished because of this perceived notion, is hilarious! For example: Kama-Sutra is name of a wrist-watch that displays different positions every hour. Would you laugh that heard if you didn’t read the book?:P
She opposes the biased view that Americans don’t get it right. She says the same words seem appropriate coming from a Hindu but would not be acceptable coming from an American, just as African Americans can use the ‘n’ word in ways that no white person would use.
I understand these are highly controversial views in a context such as India but you can’t avoid that they are interesting. There are too many things to note. An entire book can be written as an analysis to this one. But just overall, we need to live the name that we carry along on our shoulders. We need to be more tolerant towards a lot of things but starting with literature because any literature is open to interpretations and that’s what Wendy has done too. And she is also fine with people interpreting her text. But banning it or destroying it, maligning a writer’s identity and a woman’s character only because we don’t like what she has written, clearly means that we are insecure and I am sure our culture, whatever it is, agrees to this! Our law, sure doesn’t.
I absolutely loved it, whatever I have read. Of course there were some very unbearably boring parts but that was because I don’t have interest in those things. But whatever I read, I loved.
Disclaimer: I don’t ‘recommend’ it to anyone. Read it only if YOU want to. Tum fir mera gala pakdoge! Na bhai na. If you don’t want to read it, please don’t. Be happy reading this review.