Siddharth Varadarajan

Journalist | Writer | Analyst

The Penguin effect

The ‘alternative’ publishing house, Navayana, is wrong to cancel Joe D’Cruz’s contract for the English translation of his Tamil classic, Aazhi Soozh Ulagu (Ocean Ringed World), just because the author has emerged as a Modi supporter.

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Joe D’Cruz (Photo by S.S. Kumar, The Hindu)

The literary value of D’Cruz’s Tamil novel has to be judged in and of itself, just as we judge and admire Wagner’s Tannhauser or Lohengrin or Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs (especially as sung by Elisabeth Schwazkopf) or Ein Heldenleben for their beauty and not the anti-semitic views of the composers (not to speak of the compromises Strauss made with the Nazis).

Writers undergo changes and I am sure D’Cruz’s blind embrace of the Modi cult will tell on his future writing. But to pulp, in a manner of speaking, ‘Ocean Ringed World’ before it has even gone to press is rank intolerance. Has anyone stopped appreciating Sholay because Hema Malini is on Modi’s side today? Have we stopped playing Bhupen Hazarika’s ‘Ganga tumi’ because he made the mistake of joining the BJP towards the end of his life?

Ironically, Navayana itself published Namdeo Dhasal’s A Current of Blood in 2011, long after the late Marathi poet had become an admirer of Bal Thackeray and the Shiv Sena.

So what’s bitten the publishing house now? As a friend of mine puts it, ‘Navayana has been Penguined’.

Postscript: The senior journalist B. Kolappan reports in The Hindu that Navayana is ready to reconsider its decision not to publish Joe D’Cruz’s book:

S. Anand, publisher, said, “In retrospect, I believe, as a publisher I responded more in anger than in sound judgement.”

His statement posted in the Navayana website titled ‘The Storm in the D’ Cruz Ocean’, however, clarified that at this juncture the publication of the book would be kept in abeyance till the translator of the book, V. Geetha, consented to let him use the text.

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2 comments on “The Penguin effect

  1. Shubashree Desikan
    April 15, 2014

    It is not right to compare the two (Doniger’s and D’Cruz’s work) for several reasons- will try to outline what I feel strongest about. The book ASU is a fictional work and the views of the author are all the more important here. The story deals with conflict between muslims and fishermen and the conversion of the latter to Christianity – plenty of scope there for communal representations. Before the author revealed his admiration for Modi perhaps the text appeared innocuous to the translator and publisher and perhaps it takes on a different colour, a whole new interpretation now. Maybe it was a slip of judgement (earlier) on the part of the publisher.
    I can guess that the richness of the text – language etc – may have blinded both the publisher and the translator to the colour of the story being told. Even the word Aazhi, which has been loosely translated as Ocean, only stands for the border of the sea where the waves are present and not the entire ocean body. There are many such terms which make it exciting as a literary text in Tamil. Guess this carried them away?

    As for the Namdeo Dhasal argument -I don’t know this but I am guessing- perhaps. poetry had no overtly communal tones, despite his admiration of the Shiv Sena? As far as I know, he was a Dalit activist and his poetry was more about their liberation… Perhaps the very fact that they kept his books and withdrew this one is a testimony to the fact that Navayana can decide on publishing based on the quality/standpoint of the text alone.

  2. Ajit
    April 14, 2014

    Nothing wrong with not associating with someone who has endorsed a fascist like Modi. It is not comparable to Penguin pulping doniger’s book. They are not pulping the book. So it is wrong to use the word ‘pulp’ in case of NAVAYANA.

    And why use the scare quotes ‘alternative’ in the first sentence ? Are they not alternative now because they refused to publish a fool who endorsed fascist ?

    As any self respecting, non corporate publishing house or a person would have done, they have refused to associate themselves with the Fascist mob.

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This entry was posted on April 14, 2014 by in Bad Ideas.

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