Thursday, April 24, 2014


A rare smile on my 87 years old, ailing father, who has been missing my mother for more than three decades.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

From: The New York Reviews of Books

India: Censorship by the Batra Brigade

Kuni Takahashi/The New York Times/Redux Dina Nath Batra, the retired headmaster whose lawsuit against Penguin India led the company to agree to destroy copies of Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History, in his office beneath portraits of right-wing Hindu nationalists K.B. Hedgewar and M.S. Golwakar, Delhi, February 2014

The Event

In February of this year, after a long career of relative obscurity in the ivory tower, I suddenly became notorious.1 In 2010, Penguin India had published a book of mine, The Hindus: An Alternative History, which won two awards in India: in 2012, the Ramnath Goenka Award,2 and in 2013, the Colonel James Tod Award.3 But within months of its publication in India, a then-eighty-one-year-old retired headmaster named Dina Nath Batra, a proud member of the far-right organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), had brought the first of a series of civil and criminal actions against the book, arguing that it violated Article 295a of the Indian Penal Code, which forbids “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class” of citizens.
After fighting the case for four years, Penguin India, which had recently merged with Bertelsmann, abandoned the lawsuit, agreeing to cease publishing the book. (It also agreed to pulp all remaining copies, but—as it turned out—not a single book was destroyed; all extant copies were quickly bought up from the bookstores.) When Penguin told me it was all over, I thought it was all over, and was grateful for the long run we’d had.
There wasn’t anything special about my book; Batra had been attacking other books for some time. But what was special, and unexpected, was the volume and intensity and duration of the outcry in reaction to Penguin’s action: other authors withdrew their books from Penguin, defying it to pulp them, too; people accused the publishers of cowardice for giving up without even taking the case to court, in contrast with their former courage in successfully (and at very great expense) defending Lady Chatterley’s Lover in 1960. One Bangalore law firm issued a legal notice suggesting that the Penguin logo be changed from a penguin to a chicken.

The Law

Some writers argued that Penguin could have won the case had it seen it through to the end. After all, these accusers said, how can you prove malicious intent in a book? Alas, in some courts it could be very easy. To satisfy the terms of Indian law, statements in the book in question need merely be expected “to outrage religious feelings.” If you got the wrong judge—and India is a place where the Supreme Court has recently reinstated a law criminalizing homosexuality—you’d be convicted just for publishing a statement that you had good reason to believe might well offend someone. It’s hard to imagine how you could write about any subject as sensitive as religion or history without outraging someone; such a rule would mean the end of creative and original scholarly thought. Any new idea offends people who are committed to the old idea, which is to say, most people. Even in the hands of someone as intellectually challenged as Batra, Article 295a is a weapon of mass cultural destruction.

The Lawsuit

I still believe that the Indian law is the main villain in this case, but of course there is also another, secondary villain: Batra. A closer look at some of his arguments in the original Penguin lawsuit reveals aspects of his mentality that obviate any possible hope that one might escape his denunciations by pulling one’s punches and avoiding “sensitive” aspects of Hinduism—for instance, to take a case at random, sex, which Batra has objected to in my book (perhaps confusing it with Lady Chatterley’s Lover).
Obscenity is not the issue here. Nor is it a matter of truth or falsehood. For instance, the lawsuit insists: “The book also defames youth icon Swami Vivekananda when it states that on being asked what he will eat, Swami Vivekananda replied ‘give me beef.’” The objection is not that this quotation is false, or insufficiently documented; it is true, and well documented. The objection is simply that repeating that statement in the book defamed Vivekananda.
Batra has other objections to the book’s citation of certain Hindu texts. He complains:
That in this book all books written in Sanskrit by all and sundry are treated as sacred scriptures at par with the Vedas. That the book does not inform the readers that Vedas are the supreme scriptures which supersede anything and everything which is in conflict with the Vedas.
And then, at greater length:
That in this at Page No. 106 the author has correctly stated that text of Vedas did not undergo any change of correction during thousands of years. When the text remains the same, it is oblivious [sic] that its meaning and message have remained the same. Therefore the core principle of Hinduism has remained the same as enunciated in Vedas. In other words, the core principles of Hinduism are eternal (Sanatan). Distortions and deviations do not constitute the core of any religion. That in the aforesaid book, the author has made basic blunder of equating and mixing core principles of Hinduism with the stray distortions.
This pious view simplistically declares most of Hinduism heretical and therefore irrelevant. The “stray distortions” may very well be irrelevant to some forms of Hindu worship, but they are highly relevant to any serious understanding of Hindu history.
Much of my work, including the book under attack, has been devoted to the representation of aspects of Hinduism that the Victorian Protestant British, when they ruled India, scorned as filthy paganism: polytheism, erotic sculptures, spirited mockery of the gods, and rich, earthy mythology. In the wake of the British, in their shadow, many Hindus who worked with the British—I am tempted to call them sepoys—came to share these sentiments. They also took on the British preference for the Sanskrit texts created and perpetuated by a small, upper-caste male elite, regarding as beneath contempt the vast oral and vernacular literatures enriched and animated by the voices of women and lower castes.
It is this “alternative” Hinduism that is denied by Batra and by many Hindus in the fundamentalist movement known as “Hindutva.” Pankaj Mishra, in his review in The New York Times Book Review, expressed the hope that my book would “serve as a salutary antidote to the fanatics who perceive—correctly—the fluid existential identities and commodious metaphysic of practiced Indian religions as a threat to their project of a culturally homogenous and militant nation-state.”4
In 1999, the Bharatiya Janata Party–Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (BJP-RSS) government put Batra in charge of a project to “Saffronize” all the history textbooks in Indian schools (i.e., to make them confirm with Hindutva ideology). They deleted passages dealing with the caste system and beef-eating in India, and added arguments that ancient India had both airplanes and the nuclear bomb.5 Now Batra is trying to do it again.
Another passage in my book “outraged” Batra’s “religious feelings” for a different reason. I wrote, “Placing the Ramayana in its historical contexts demonstrates that it is a work of fiction, created by human authors, who lived at various times….” And this was his complaint:
That in this book at Page No. 662 the author has hurt the religious feelings of millions of Hindus by declaring that Ramayan is a fiction. This act of the author breaches various sections of IPC [Indian Penal Code].
To eliminate all the books that share this understanding of the text as fiction, we would have to ban just about all of the extant scholarship on the Ramayana. And indeed, it is no accident that Batra was among those who attacked A.K. Ramanujan’s famous essay “Three Hundred Ramayanas” in 2009. Nothing could bring into clearer focus the threat to freedom of speech in contemporary India than the fact that a serious political attempt was made to remove this classic essay from the BA syllabus of the History Department at the University of Delhi and from the in-print list of Oxford University Press India; and, until now, nothing gave more hope for the survival of democracy in India than the qualified success of the protest against that attempt.6

The Argument: Religion and the Academy

This argument has nothing to do with religious civility; it is about the clash between pious and academic ways of talking about religion and about who gets to speak for or interpret religious traditions. The misunderstanding arises in part from the fact that there is, in India, no real equivalent of the academic discipline of religious studies. With only a few recent exceptions, students in India can study religion as a Hindu or Muslim or Catholic in private theological schools of one sort or another, but not as an academic subject in a university. And so the shared assumptions underlying this discipline are largely unknown in India.
Batra and I are talking past one another, playing two different games with the textual evidence. But he thinks there is only one game, and is determined to keep me off my own field. To debate a book you disagree with is what scholarship is about. To ban or burn a book you regard as blasphemous is what fascist bigotry is about.
The American Academy of Religion recently issued a statement of support for me, which said, in part:
But to pursue excellence scholars must be free to ask any question, to offer any interpretation, and to raise any issue. If governments block the free exchange of ideas or restrict what can be said about religion, all of us are impoverished. It is only free inquiry that allows a robust understanding of the critical role that religions play in our common life. For these reasons the AAR Board of Directors fully supports Professor Doniger’s right to pursue her scholarship freely and without political interference.
In response to this, a member of the Hindu American Foundation posted a comment on a blog in which he stated, in part:
Four words in the AAR statement—to offer any interpretation—leap out at me. To a lay person who deeply respects my religious tradition, it is this unconditional and self-proclaimed right “to offer any interpretation” which lies at the root of what is wrong with religious studies today.7
The notion that one might “ask any question” but not offer interpretations, that there are questions—and, indeed, facts—without interpretations, reveals a nineteenth-century concept of history that is no longer viable. It betrays a basic misunderstanding of the nature of academic inquiry, the same misunderstanding that is at the heart of Batra’s misreading of my books.

It Can Happen Here: The Textbook Controversy

The fight in India has emigrated to the United States, for the Hindutva movement now dominates the political discourse in the American diaspora as well as in India. Out of a mounting sense of political entitlement and a heightened consciousness of the American phenomenon of identity politics, a small but growing group of Hindus in the American diaspora is raising objections to the work of a number of American scholars writing and teaching about Hinduism.
The situation in the US is not the same as the situation in India, for many obvious reasons, nor are the American protesters simply responding directly to events in India. Still, there is a strong, if indirect, connection between the rise of the Hindutva movement in India and in America. When books published by American scholars—including Jeffrey Kripal, Paul Courtright, James Laine—were attacked in India, and the Indian editions were suppressed, the books remained in print in America, but the offending scholars received death threats here.
Shangri I Ramayana Series, Bahu, Jammu/Private Collection A late-seventeenth-century illustration from the Ramayana—which Doniger referred to as ‘a work of fiction’ in her book, to the objection of Batra—showing the sage Vasishtha (center) instructing Rama in the correct purification rituals to be performed before his investiture as king, such as preparing a fire offering (left) and taking nourishment before fasting (right)
America has also seen unsuccessful Hindu attempts to censor books in a manner alarmingly similar to the way that Batra has attacked books and censored textbooks in India. In 2000, two of the leading historians of ancient India, Romila Thapar and Michael Witzel, wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle about Hindu attempts to alter school textbooks in the US:
Initially, the goals of these pressure groups seem benign, and even righteous. They aim to rectify culturally biased and insensitive depictions of India and Hinduism, and they would like Hinduism to be treated with the same respect as Christianity, Judaism and Islam.8
These concerns are entirely justified. Time and again, when I give a public lecture in the United States, no matter what I talk about, the first question from the American audience is: “What about the caste system?” Most textbooks, too, dwell upon, and exaggerate, the human abuses in the caste system and pay insufficient attention to the rest of Hinduism. But some of the Hindu interest groups have demanded that textbooks not mention the caste system at all, which can be as bad a distortion as the overemphasis on it. And this is not all that is at stake, as Thapar and Witzel went on to point out:
If such reasonable changes comprised the full extent of the desired amendments, there would be no controversy. There are, however, other agendas being pushed that are oddly familiar: the first Indian civilization is 1,900 million years old, the Ramayana and Mahabharata are historical texts to be understood literally, and ancient Hindu scriptures contain precise calculations of the speed of light and exact distances between planets in the solar system.
In 2005, the Vedic Foundation and the Hindu Education Foundation met with an ad hoc committee that included a consortium of California Department of Education staff and persuaded them to approve a number of changes in the way that school textbooks presented Hinduism. The changes involved such matters as pushing back the dates of major milestones in Indian history and erasing or minimizing features of Hinduism that could be perceived as negative, such as the caste system, the social category of untouchables (dalits), and the status of women. A great many prominent historians and scholars of South Asia protested against this, urging the board not to allow the religious chauvinism of some Hindus to become the policy of the state of California.9
Eventually, the scholars won; most of the proposed changes were not made. In February 2009, the Federal District Court of California ruled resoundingly against the Hindu interest groups that had brought a subsequent suit. Here I should also note that many Hindu Americans testified against the proposed changes, siding with the scholars10; the range of opinions among Hindus in the American diaspora is as diverse as it is among Hindus in India.
But serious damage had been done. Charles Burress, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, commented:
Even though the board resisted many of the changes sought by activist groups this time, the conflict could still impact future textbooks with publishers being tempted to soften the content on their own initiative, said Stanford University professor of education Sam Wineburg.
“Publishers will tread on this territory ever more lightly,” Wineburg said…. “The result,” said Gilbert Sewall, director of the American Textbook Council, “is textbook editors censor themselves. They fall all over themselves to try to cater to one pressure group.”
This sort of bullying and the resultant self-censorship have indeed caused many scholars, especially young scholars still without the armor of tenure, not only to bite their tongues and hold back their true judgments on many sensitive issues, but even to refrain from tackling such topics at all—until, they tell themselves, they get tenure. But the sad truth is that generally by the time they do get tenure they have forgotten what it was that they wanted to say.
And the brush fire is spreading. Hindu parents of children in American schools, supported by messages from India, have brought concerted action against several school districts, objecting to the treatment of Hinduism in textbooks and insisting that they be altered to include such patently incorrect statements as that Sati (suttee)—the burning of women on their husbands’ funeral pyres—is a Muslim practice imported into India, or that the caste system is just a suggestion without any real effect.11 As one case is settled, another crops up somewhere else.

Who Speaks for Hinduism?

Members of the Hindu community in America have also made a concerted effort to limit the academic study and teaching of Hinduism to people who are themselves Hindus. This stems in part from their resentment of non-Hindu scholars who are seen as dominating the field inappropriately, shutting out Hindus. That claim is not true. Hindus are on the faculty of many religion departments all over the country; Hindus as well as non-Hindus teach Hinduism in American schools.
But the claim that only Hindus should teach about Hinduism betrays the same misunderstanding of the nature of secular education, of the academic discipline of religious studies, that colors Batra’s contentions. Growing up in a tradition does not necessarily produce the knowledge and understanding required of a scholar of religion. There is an essential difference between preaching and teaching, between teaching religion (which the parents or, more often nowadays, grandparents of many American Hindus may do) and teaching about religion (which Hindu or non-Hindu instructors in school may do).
Comparative religion—such as the study of Hinduism by someone who may not be Hindu, always an implicitly comparative enterprise—is not the same thing as interreligious dialogue, in which only Hindus can publicly speak for Hinduism. Both approaches—comparative religion and interreligious dialogue—are valuable, but they have very different goals and limitations. Of course there is always bias, from inside or outside the religion. But writing and teaching in the academic study of religion should never depend upon the faith of the writer or teacher. Otherwise it’s interreligious dialogue all the way down, and the equally valuable work of comparative religion is lost.

The Threat in India

Scholars in America must therefore deal with problems quite different from those that threaten scholars in India, but for that very reason they have a vital role to play in combating the threat to intellectual freedom posed by people like Batra. His lawsuit against my book also asks the court to
pass a decree of mandatory injunction directing the defendant no. 2 and 3 [the publishers] to issue appropriate instructions and guidelines ensuring that such objectionable books containing defamatory and derogatory passages should not be published in future.
Furthermore, he said, the court should act so that “she [me] may also be restrained from dissemanting [sic] misleading and fictitious facts.” Presumably he wants me to show future drafts of my books to him to be vetted; the schoolmaster would have me hold out my hand to receive the blows of his ruler. Dream on.
But Batra has also stated, in The New York Times, his intention in future to vet all of the books written for India’s children:
He dreams of creating a panel to review textbooks for the first 12 grades of India’s government schools. Asked how many he would like to replace, he waved a hand: All of them.
“Alternate books will come out,” he said. “We shall give them guidelines.”12
He has done it before and would do it again. Wherever he finds literature that he perceives to be not in line with the “cultural and spiritual heritage” of India, literature that “is found to disrespect the sentiments or distort facts, we will agitate at the State level and pursue legal action.”13
Indeed, he has already gone after another book of mine, On Hinduism, originally published by the Aleph Book Company in Delhi and available worldwide (except in India) from Oxford University Press. Even if, as I hope, Batra’s attacks on books are ultimately stopped, and the books are restored to bookstores, the trouble that he has made may well discourage courageous publishing in India, for the very same reasons that, as the San Francisco Chronicle reporter feared, the thwarted Hindu attacks on American textbooks might discourage American publishers: to avoid a potentially depressing and expensive fuss.

What We Can Do

Batra uses martial language: “We have won the battle, we will win the war.”14 And indeed, scholars of Hinduism must now fight a war on two fronts. In India, journalists, activists, novelists, historians, lawyers, writers, and scholars of all shapes and sizes are fighting against RSS leaders and the Hindutva rank and file; in America, it’s primarily scholars versus Hindu lobbyists. In India, astonishingly, the media are staying on the story, in part to keep alive the issue of free speech. Literally thousands of people have written articles and signed petitions and blogged and tweeted and posted on Facebook about the broader problems exposed by the alleged banning of my books. Several lawyers have volunteered to carry on the fight pro bono, and several publishers have offered to publish my books in India; one brave soul among them even wants to translate The Hindus, all 779 pages of it, into Tamil.
Moreover, e-books and PDFs of “banned” books circulate widely in India. There’s irony in the fact that the same Internet that exacerbated the original problem, by broadcasting the words of people like Batra who would never have met the standards of academia or responsible journalism, now—like the brown paper wrappers that modestly veiled Lady Chatterley’s Lover before 1960—allows academic books to slip past the self-appointed moral police. But what if India follows China into that dark place where the Internet, too, is blocked? As the editor Sandip Roy has remarked, you can’t download freedom of speech.15
Well, we still have those low-tech brown paper wrappers. On March 24, I received this delightful message from a colleague in a major city in India:
You’ll be happy to hear about an interesting transaction I witnessed today: my friend walked into one of the larger bookstores and asked for a copy of your book. Within a minute the paperback edition of The Hindus: An Alternative History, discreetly packed away in a paper bag, was produced from some back area of the store and handed over to her. So the book is still being sold right here. This is India.16
Readers, God bless them. You can’t stop them.
Still, there is much work to be done. Last week, Vishakha Desai posted this thoughtful paragraph on the Asia Society website:
It’s heartening to see that all major newspapers, especially those in English, are full of major stories and editorials by well-known writers and thinkers, all condemning the decision by Penguin. Initially, I felt a sense of relief reading these articles. Aha, the debate is alive, I thought. But that sense of mild satisfaction quickly turned into a greater concern. Clearly, the intellectual urban elite was ready to criticize such acts. But where was the organized effort to ensure that the climate of fear and intimidation would not continue to allow the destruction of more books deemed to have a view of Indian culture different from the right-wing Hindu zealots?17
There are, however, a number of initiatives gathering force in India right now to combat the laws that enable the Batra Brigade to bully Indian publishers.18 Batra may have held up Penguin with a toy gun. It seems that Article 295a may not actually be applicable to this case at all, and that Article 153a of the code is more relevant; or, indeed, that the book might not have been liable under any extant Indian law.19 Penguin was badly advised by its lawyers. But it has now joined forces with both the Indian chapter of PEN and PEN International to form a network to help authors and publishers in dealing with legal problems in India.
After the elections coming in May, there will be a high-profile conference to discuss the limits of free expression in India, and the PEN network will undertake to be in contact with whatever government has come to power.20 The Supreme Court of India has asked the Law Commission to look into the issue of hate speeches made by leaders of political, social, and religious organizations.21 It’s not enough, but it is, at least, a start in the move to end the tyranny of the blasphemy laws.
Meanwhile, we must do our part in the US, where, despite the alarming rise of American reactionary and repressive tendencies (for India has no monopoly on the incursions of religious conservatives into public life), blasphemy is not—yet—a criminal offense. While continuing to support those who are fighting the good fight in India, we must speak out here. It is the particular responsibility of scholars with tenure—an increasingly rare luxury, nowadays—to write about topics that might “outrage religious feelings” in India. We can’t expect our students to take such chances, to risk their own possible tenure, probably to jeopardize their chances of getting Indian visas, or simply to be prevented from carrying out their research in India.
For my part, even before The Hindus was published, I had begun selecting and annotating Hindu texts for a large anthology that will be published in the US this coming autumn. As I became more and more aware of the need to make widely available substantial textual evidence for the alternative Hinduism that I continue to document, I realized that an anthology—a collection of texts, not a grandstand from which I might express my idiosyncratic opinions—would provide the ideal ammunition for the Hindu voices of reason that continue to speak out against the Hindutva shrinkage of their religion.
And so, after rounding up the usual suspects, the texts usually presented as representative of Hinduism—passages from the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the works of Tulsidas and Gandhi—I balanced that literature with lesser-known texts from Hindu writers, including many from Dalits and tribals, from ancient women poets and modern women novelists, the sorts of texts that Batra would call “distortions and deviations.” It is another big book—over six hundred pages—and I do not expect it to be published in India at this time. Still, you never know; life is short, but the fight for freedom of speech is long.
  1. When I gave the keynote speech at the 2014 Annual Meeting of the Association of Asian Studies on March 27, 2014, the AAS issued this statement: the AAS, “a scholarly non-political and non-profit organization with around 8,000 members, is dismayed by Penguin Books India’s out-of-court settlement in which it has agreed to withdraw and destroy all copies of Wendy Doniger’s book, The Hindus: An Alternative History. This decision undermines freedom of expression and academic freedom, both of which are the foundations of serious scholarship. That Penguin India has made this decision absent a court decision and under pressure from an advocacy group is deeply troubling. We believe that scholarly publishers in all countries should defend the principles of freedom of speech and academic freedom by all legal means. Penguin Books India’s capitulation to those who objected to Doniger’s book is not only a blow to these principles in India, but will also encourage censorship and attacks on scholarship in other parts of the globe…. We ask you to reconsider your decision.” 
  2. The Ramnath Goenka Award, from the Express Group, “will go to a writer/writers whose published work, through in-depth research and investigation, covers an issue/idea on a scale which newspapers or television channels with their limited space and time cannot aspire to tackle. This award will be for books published in English language. The prize money is R 100,000.” 
  3. The Colonel James Tod Award, from the Maharana Mewar Charitable Foundation, Udaipur, Rajasthan, was instituted in 1996 “to honour a foreign national who, like Tod, has contributed through his works of permanent value an understanding of the spirit and values of Mewar.” Previous recipients of the award include Dominique Lapierre, V.S. Naipaul, Richard Attenborough, Lloyd and Susanne Rudolph, and William Dalrymple. 
  4. Pankaj Mishra, “Another Incarnation,” The New York Times Book Review, April 24, 2009. 
  5. For more on Batra’s campaign, see Delhi Historians’ Group, Communalization of Education: The History Textbooks Controversy, December 2001; and Mishuril Hasan, “The BJP ’s Intellectual Agenda: Textbooks and Imagined History,” Journal of South Asian Studies, Vol. 25, No. 3 (2002). See also William Dalrymple, “ India: The War Over History,” The New York Review, April 7, 2005. 
  6. See, among many articles, Soutik Biswas, “Ramayana: An ‘Epic’ Controversy,” BBC News, October 19, 2011; Scott Jaschik, “Scholarly ‘Self-Abasement,’” Inside Higher Ed, November 29, 2011; and Ramachandra Guha, “Read the Fine Print,” Hindustan Times, December 5, 2011.
  7. Suhag A. Shukla, “Academic Integrity: It’s What’s Missing at the AAR,” The Huffington Post, March 14, 2014. 
  8. “A Different Agenda,” San Francisco Chronicle, March 6, 2000. 
  9. They included Michael Witzel, Homi Bhabha, Madhav Deshpande, Steve Farmer, Robert Goldman, Sally Goldman, Richard Meadow, Patrick Olivelle, Sheldon Pollock, Romila Thapar, and Stanley Wolpert.
  10. I am indebted to Robert Goldman for telling me about this. 
  11. March 15, 2005, e-mail from Ariel Glucklich, who was an expert witness in the Fairfield County trial: “The school board approved the textbooks despite the testimony that evening of several parents. These took the microphone to say things such as, Sati is a Muslim practice imported to India, the caste system is just a suggestion without any real effect, etc.” 
  12. Ellen Barry, “Indian Publisher Withdraws Book, Stoking Fears of Nationalist Pressure,” The New York Times, February 13, 2014. 
  13. A.G. Noorani, “Penguin and the Parivar,” Frontline, April 4, 2014. 
  14. Noorani, “Penguin and the Parivar.” 
  15. “Beyond Hindutva and free speech: Invisible Indians in the Doniger debate.” Sandip Roy, First Post, February 24, 2014 
  16. Email from Ulrike Stark, March 24, 2014.
  17. Vishakha N. Desai, “India’s Move on ‘Hindus’ Shows Disturbing Fear of Free Expression.” February 18, 2014, Asia Society website. 
  18. A.G. Noorani, “Indian Law and Wendy’s Books,” Frontline, March 20; print edition April 4, 2014.
  19. Noorani, “Indian Law and Wendy’s Books.” 
  20. Email from John Makinson, chair, Penguin Books, March 22, 2014. 
  21. Business Standard, March 28, 2014.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

New bilingual Collection of poems

Monday, March 31, 2014

Some Poems from IPTRC Blog

Dr.R.K.Singh,from India(印度,英汉对照)

(2011-06-24 08:39:12)
Dr.R.K.Singh,from <wbr>India(印度,英汉对照)

[ India]R.K.Singh
Threat (and other two poems)

We chase myths in self-made Amazon
fish turtles that change color in new waters

we create landscape of nightmares and wade through
anacondas that threaten our confidence

lost in the jungles of our own making
we beat about thorny grasses now

look for the twin flames for convenience
cloud judgment  and reality for control

challenge the Republic and divide
the defense that could never be

  Fisherman’s Song

Walking along the beach
they collect empty shells
that fascinate senses
in the salty river

feel the life now no more
but argue about the sex
of a conch ignoring
the fisherman's song

 Golden Reward

With sudden twists and turns
popping up each new day
life still awaits intrigues
through meandering pathways
I search the golden light
the rising capricorn
held for a sunday child

the labyrinths are dark
and scary but I know
the way in is the way out
I can't trip along the way
like others in blind alleys
the guardian angel
leads me to golden reward












                                    (霍冬克  译) 

Sunday, March 30, 2014


My new collection of poems, I AM NO JESUS AND OTHER SELECTED POEMS,  TANKA AND HAIKU  is now available from

Monday, March 03, 2014


Haiku and R. K. Singh: A Critical Analysis of his Peddling Dream
                --K.V. DOMINIC

Haiku originally was a Japanese form of poetry consisting of seventeen moras or on, in three metrical phrases of five, seven and five moras respectively. Haiku contain a kigo, or seasonal reference, and a kireji or verbal caesura, i.e., pause or break after each metrical phrase. In Japanese, haiku are printed in a single vertical line, while in English usually they appear in three lines. The famous verses of Japanese masters like Matsuo Basho, Yosa Buson, and Kobayashi Issa in the Edo-period (1600-1868) are properly referred to as hokku. Hokku was given the name Haiku by the Japanese writer Masaoka Shiki at the end of the 19th century.

          There is no fixed format or subject matter for English haiku. The common features that are found in English haiku are the following:

Use of three (or fewer) lines of seventeen or fewer syllables

Use of lines as breath groups with number of syllables 5-7-5 or lesser in number

Use of a season word or kigo

Use of verbal caesura to bring out contrast or comparison

Use of caesura at the end of either the first or second line, but seldom at both

The three lines never make a complete or run-on sentence

Always written in the present tense of here and now

Limited use (or non-use) of personal pronouns

Use of common sentence syntax in both phrases

Use of sentence fragments

Writing about ordinary things in an ordinary way using ordinary language

Use of concrete images

Use no punctuation or normal sentence punctuation

While traditional Japanese haiku concentrate on Nature and humans in it, some modern haiku poets, in Japan, India and the West, take a broader range of subject matter suitable, including urban contexts. While traditional haiku avoided themes of sex and overt violence, contemporary haiku sometimes deal with them. In the words of Jane Reichhold:

The fact that the smallest literary form—haiku–has the most rules never ceases to amaze and astound. The only real comfort one can find in this situation is the concept that this affords a wider range of rules from which a writer can pick and choose. You cannot follow all of the rules and several of them are so contradictory that there is no way to honor them both at once. You must always choose. In order to make a choice, you have to understand the reasons and methods. (“Haiku: How to Haiku”)

Prof. R. K. Singh was born, brought up and educated in Varanasi, India.  He is a University Professor at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian School of Mines University, Dhanbad, India. He has authored more than 150 articles, 165 book reviews and 34 books, including twelve collections of poems.  Jointly with U S Bahri, Catherine Maire and Patricia Prime, Singh has published two more anthologies. He has been critically studied by several critics through articles and anthologies. His poems have been translated into French, Spanish, Romanian, Chinese, Serbian, Croatian, Slovene, Japanese, Bulgarian, German, Italian, Portuguese, Greek, Esperanto, Kannada, Tamil, and Bangla. Prof. R. K. Singh has received innumerable awards and honours, including honorary Litt. D. from the World Academy of Arts and Culture, Taiwan, in 1984, Michael Madhusudan Award, Calcutta, in 1994 and Peace Museum Award from Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto, in 1999.

As a great poet, critic and editor, the immense contribution R. K. Singh has given to Indian English Literature and through it to World Literature is praiseworthy. Without any set norm or pattern, not concentrating particularly on any theme, without even naming the poems, but only numbering them, he goes on writing on all aspects of human life, on Nature and Universe, on abstract and concrete. As D. G. Rossetti and his Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood have written vividly on the beauty of human body, R. K. Singh also praises the Creator, extolling the beauty of human body in many of his poems. Prof. Singh writes about it thus: ““don’t   condemn  me  if  I  am  not  white” . . . “I love Him through the bodies He made” (qtd. in Sharma). I. K Sharma in his Foreword to R. K. Singh’s book Sexless Solitude and Other Poems compliments the poet aptly thus:

Well-read  in  the   important  literary  classics  of  India, well-trained  in  the  use  of  English  language,  well-versed  in  modern  western  thoughts,  Dr. Singh   articulates  his  perceptions, his  experiences,  in  a  very  unconventional  way.  Not  at  all  shy  of  using   words  associated  with  sex ,  he  puts  them   to  different   uses  in  his  poems.  It   makes   purists  of  literature  believe   that  the  poet  is  a  shameless  hawker  of  sex  in  the  street  of  literature. His  poems,   they   think,  have  soiled  the  white  house (not  the  White  House)  of  literature.  Such persons in fact suffer from agoraphobia. (i)

Some poetasters and orthodox critics attacked Rossetti and his group calling them Fleshly School of Poets. Similarly we find such wrong-headed critics even in this twenty-first century attacking R. K. Singh as a hawker of sex. In the ocean of the poems Prof. Singh has written, one can not accuse him of any obsession with sex, rather he touches that aspect also because sex is divine, sexual feelings are divine and sexual organs are divine.

I agree to the opinion of Dr Lyle Glazier of Bennington, Vermont, USA: “R. K. Singh writes with the directness of an overheard whisper, or a wind through trees, a ripple in a stream, or a cry in the street after dark” (qtd. in Krishna Srinivas). What Krishna Srinivas has written of genuine poets is cent percent true of R. K. Singh. In the words of Srinivas, “To the poet, the world is an extension of himself—his flesh, his blood, his bones. Poetical modernity is expressing its freedom of form, of structure, of imagery and idea” (“Foreword” i).

R. K. Singh is a poet specialised in economy of expression and brevity. Every Stone Drop Pebble (1999), Peddling Dreams (2003) and The River Returns (2006) are his collections of haiku. Every Stone Drop Pebble contains fifty seven haiku, Peddling Dreams has one hundred and ninety one haiku, and The River Returns bears two hundred and ninety five haiku. In addition to that there are one hundred and twenty nine haiku titled under Some More Haiku. There are also fifteen haiku sequences with the title Some Haiku Sequences. About R. K. Singh’s haiku, Abdul Rashid Bijapure writes:

Perhaps it is the single-minded journey of R. K. Singh to press for brevity in expression that leads him to devote his poetic energy to the three line Haiku poems. Even Singh says “a Haiku is terse, dynamic and complete poetry, rendering the vital energy, which animates not only an individual’s small world but also the entire cosmos.” For Singh it is rather a self-disciplining spiritual exercise marked by living momentness of a moment, imaging a moment. (qtd. in Rajni Singh 3)

As I have pointed out above, there is no set syllabic pattern in the contemporary English haiku. Instead of the traditional 5-7-5 pattern, contemporary poets do not follow any pattern at all. R. K. Singh speaks on his haiku pattern thus:

Now I do not adhere to the 5-7-5 syllables, nor do I make any difference between haiku and senryu. I just practise haiku in different beats (3-5-3; 4-6-4; 5-7-5) or free-form haiku, and when possible, expand its lyrical content to a tanka in five lines without restricting myself to 5-7-5-7-7 rhythm.

As readers will bear me out, it is possible to convey so much within the 3- or 5-line span of the short-long-short or short-long-short-long-long flow of the haiku or tanka rhythm. It is also possible to elevate the quotidian experiences to the level of poetry, using the medium of haiku and tanka, provided one seeks to be visual or sensuous, or expresses natural concrete action or object, or experiences from ones whole being, and does not ‘fake’ poetic feelings or render fictitious or imaginative experiences.  (Prefatory Note 1).

Peddling Dream was originally published in Pacem in Terris, a trilogy collection, in 2003. It was republished in Collected Poems 1974 – 2009, by Book Enclave, Jaipur. Of the one hundred and ninety one haiku in Peddling Dream, none could be written off as silly or ordinary. Majority of haiku are on Nature, the magic of different seasons, how man goes hand in hand with Nature and reflections and echoes of Nature on man. The opening word of each of his haiku starts with a capital letter and there is often a caesura after the second line. Let me analyse a few poems in the following pages:

A star shines bright
beside the crescent moon:
she fakes a smile

How suggestive are the lines! The very shape of the moon—crescent–reminds the reader of a smiling face. The moon is not happy at all at the presence of the bright star beside her because the star is more beautiful and brilliant than the moon. Hence the fake smile. No doubt the celestial moon is gentler than millions of moons on earth who turn their faces out of jealousy when such earthly stars appear before them. The punctuation mark of colon at the end of the second line is a connector of the first two lines to the third, with an additional function of explaining the third line. In the haiku

Shaking hands
couldn’t part with the henna
on her palms

the poet speaks about the eternal relationships that can not be parted with mere shake hands. Out of warmth of the shaking palms the henna got stained to the lover’s palm. Naturally, like the henna, their love also will stick onto their hearts forever. The abstract idea of love and friendship is concretized well in this haiku.

Reluctant to climb
the spiral staircase–
bathing in kitchen

Though seemingly funny, this haiku laughs at our lazy nature. Not willing to take pains, people are prone to lead low and average lives, just eating, sleeping and procreating. In the following haiku loneliness is measured to the sipping of coffee. The punctuation mark of dash at the end of the second line acts as a semantic marker of cause and effect: the third line is the effect of the first and second lines.

Measures loneliness
sip by sip
at dining table

Loneliness is something intolerable and hence the poet compares it to the sipping of a very hot coffee, eager to finish it soon and then leave the hall. The abstract idea of loneliness is visualized elegantly by the poet in this haiku.

Thick dust on leaves
unwashed by rains for days–
stagnant time

This haiku speak about the stark reality of drought which many parts of India face now. The drought, the poet believes, is man-made. Even though there has been continuous rain for several days, the dust on the leaves could not be washed out as the dust formation was very thick. The time is stagnant because there is no change in the nature. It is still hot summer, in spite of the rains. The rain can not make any impact on nature. ‘Thick dust on leaves’ is a kigo phrase connoting the concrete image of the summer season. The punctuation mark of dash at the end of the second line is a very powerful semantic marker as it indicates that the first and second lines are the explanation of the third line.

Chilly night
no soul on the road
guard at gate

R. K. Singh seems to be very considerate and humane as is expressed in the above haiku. It is winter season; and night also. No human being is found outside the buildings, except the guard at gate. If people can not go outside why should there be a guard at the gate? To guard against whom? Animals? The disregard and cruelty shown by the middle class and upper class to the working class is portrayed in this haiku. ‘Chilly night,’ ‘no soul on the road’ are kigo phrases standing for concrete images of winter season.

Welcoming the sun
dew drops on dry leaves–
an epitaph

In the above haiku, the dew drops are longing for the appearance of the sun. They have been remaining as epitaph of the dry leaves throughout night, as lonely as in a cemetery. Hence they welcome the sun. The punctuation mark of dash at the end of the second line reveals that the first two lines are explanatory of the third line.

A tiny spider
on the marigold sucking
its golden hue

Unlike the conventional beautiful creatures in nature, a spider is portrayed by the poet, extolling the beauty of sucking golden hue from a marigold. R. K. Singh, like all great poets, believes that there is nothing ugly in this universe because God has created them. ‘A tiny spider,’ ‘marigold’ and ‘golden hue’ are kigo phrases standing for concrete images of the spring season.

A load of wood
on her frail back
autumn evening

Here is a picture of a weak woman carrying a heavy load of wood on her frail back. This also is a regular sight in the villages of India. Winter is approaching and hence firewood has to be collected and stored for the season in autumn itself. The patriarchy has condemned women to do all the household works and even if they are sick and weak they are destined to do all such activities. It is their duty to look after the family. The poet seems to attack this evil trend. ‘A load of wood on her frail back’ is a concrete image of the autumn season, a usual sight at country sides.

On a cycle
he sells bouquets and roses
peddling dreams

In the above haiku a flower vendor is portrayed selling bouquets and roses on his cycle. The caesura after the second line brings out the contrast of ideas. Even though he is selling tokens of dreams and love, in his own life he has only unfulfilled dreams, and while he is selling such realities he is destined to have only fantasies, and that is what he does while peddling. The poet’s humaneness and commitment to the society is reflected in these lines. The plight and futile dreams of the poor people are visualized in this beautiful haiku.

The mirror is so small
I can’t see the ocean
beyond my own look

The above haiku proclaims that what we see, learn and understand is little. There is a vast ocean beyond, which is hidden to us. Our own ego hinders us from seeking the ocean of truth. We look at own reflection and feel content. A great abstract idea is concretized deftly in this haiku.

Silent Ram sheds
tears over the bodies burnt
in temple’s name

The statue of Ram, mute and helpless, sheds tears over the blood spilled and bodies burnt in His own name. As most of the terrorism is done in the name of God, and religious mafia dictates the world as such, this haiku is very relevant to the present century. An attack on the terrorists is found in the next haiku:

Violence breeders
climb power ladder–
peace stings

The terrorists, using power—military as well as religious and political—climb up the ladder to dictate the world and annihilate Peace; but Peace stings them like gnats. The caesura at the end of the second line followed by the dash brings out the antithesis of violence and peace. The terrorists are bound to climb down, and the poet believes that it is being happening in this world. The ultimate victory is that of Peace. Two abstract terms of “violence” and “peace” are beautifully concretized in this haiku.

Tears invisible
on his water face
Buddha meditates

Here the statue of the Buddha is crying invisible to men. The caesura at the end of the second line gives an explanation of the final line. Due to rain, the Buddha’s face is wet and hence none can identify the tears running through his cheeks. The Buddha can’t but shed tears when he meditates on what is happening in this bloody world. The prophet of Ahimsa sees only blood and dead bodies—both human and non-human—around him. He shuts his eyes and cries over it.

Through long shadows
in the morning remembering
gradual death

The poet appears to be highly philosophical in the above haiku. He has been watching his own shadow throughout the morning. As morning grows on to noon, his shadow wanes, and it reminds him of the gradual advent of Death. Through the concrete image of shadows the poet explains the abstract idea of the advent of death in this haiku.

She snuggles up
in my arms her dimples
joy of heaven

The above haiku portrays a love scene. The protagonist finds joy of heaven in the dimples of the lady love when she is cuddled up in his arms. As God is love, and sex is love, the sexual emotion and satisfaction bring heaven on earth.

A moving train–
confined in water bottle
rhythmic ripplets

Here is a characteristic image of train journey in India. In summer, when the non-AC bogies of trains are just like furnaces, passengers are destined to drink bottles after bottles of water. The poet synthesizes the rhythm of the train with the rhythm of ripplets while drinking from the bottle. The scorching heat of summer is concretized in this haiku.

Two toads croaking
in the drain celebrate
sudden shower

How Nature celebrates the seasons is portrayed in the above haiku. The Creator’s bounties are welcomed and greeted more merrily by non-human beings. The materialistic man fails to notice such beauties around him. ‘Toads,’ ‘croaking,’ ‘shower’ are kigos of rainy season.

Basking in the past
they grow backward and yet talk
about the future

The poet reminds us about the futility of basking in the past. We will only grow backward if we are obsessed with the past achievements and glories. We have to look forward and plan our future. Mere talking about the future plans is not sufficient.

Lingering in bed:
to go to church or pub–
Sunday morning

It is Sunday morning. The poet is still lingering in bed with the dilemma: go to church for Sunday Mass or celebrate in a pub. He doesn’t find much difference between the options. Rather he may choose the latter as it gives him much enjoyment. The poet seems to criticize the religious rituals and ceremonies devoid of real faith. It is useless to spend time in a church if one has no faith in such practices. The dash at the end of the second line is a semantic symbol, acting as an explanation of the third line.

Moving shadows
in the silence of the room–
windows rattle

An abstract thing is concretized in the above haiku. The huge shadows which got into the silent room through the narrow bars of the window rattle the bars. R. K. Singh’s high imagination is visible here. The beauty it imparts is superb. The caesura and the dash at the end of the second line act as cause and effect of the lines before and after them.

Facing the sun
the lone flower
dying to bloom

Here is the pathetic sight of a lone flower longing to bloom, but destined to die. All the other flowers have died and fallen. The intolerable heat of the sun and the absence of water cause the flower to wither and die. ‘Sun,’ ‘flower,’ ‘bloom’ are kigos of spring and summer.

They take off again
their unthrown nets frighten fish–
water turns whiter

Fishing is satisfying and pleasurable to the fishermen. But how it is frightening and shocking to fish and sea is portrayed in the above haiku. It is very mysterious why man is so cruel and unsympathetic to one of the meekest and most beautiful creatures—fish. He is sometimes sympathetic to his domestic animals but never to fish. Even the nature lovers have no love left to fish. The sea turns whiter and pale when the nets touch the surface. The sea is shocked at the atrocity of the fishermen. The dash at the end of the second line acts as a semantic marker of cause and effect.

Only two of us–
and a big house with roaming
rats and cockroaches

The poet here attacks the wealthy peoples’ craze of building mansions where only an old man and his wife live. Their children are employed abroad or in any remote cites. The house has become a status symbol to the Indians where they spend millions to compete with their neighbours. The palatial rooms where humans seldom tread have become haunting places for rats, cockroaches and spiders. The dash at the end of the first line expresses the effect of the idea of first line on the following lines. The concrete image in the haiku portrays the tragic fate of today’s nuclear family.

Chess of love:
checkmate before
playing the game

In this excellent haiku, the poet compares love to a game of chess. Since the path of love is crooked and full of obstacles and hindrances, every step or movement meets with a checkmate. He who conquers checkmate comes out victorious in love. The colon at the end of the first line acts as definition or explanation of the first line as expressed in the following lines. Through the concrete image of the game of chess the poet has explained an abstract idea.

The holy Ganges
tolerates the city’s garbage
even rape and death

The pathetic situation of our rivers, especially holy rivers is portrayed in this haiku. It seems that the majority of the Indians believe that God has created rivers to dispose their garbage. Fully aware that it is the same water that they have to drink, they throw away their waste to the rivers. The holy river Ganges is destined to carry hundreds of dead bodies every day. The poor river has also to bear the screams of several rapes done on her lap. Even in the twenty first century, Indians are not a bit saved from the superstitions. Taking the Ganges as holy, they dispose the dead bodies in it so that the souls of the bodies will get Moksha. Religious leaders or religious mafia are to be blamed for cultivating such superstitions in the minds of the illiterate laymen and thus exploiting them through unnecessary rituals and ceremonies.

Cloud over cloud
darken earth and hide stars:
dawn and dusk one

Here is another tragic and appalling sight caused by indiscriminate industrialization. The cities are always overcast by the poisonous fumes of factories and vehicles. The sun, the moon and the stars are seldom visible. There is no difference between dawn and dusk. Rather it is always monotonous dusk. The poet, a social critic, invites our attention to this dangerous situation. The colon at the end of the second line is a semantic marker expressing cause and effect. Through concrete images the poet has pictured the horrible face of modern cities.

Like a magician with a magical wand, Prof. R. K. Singh has wielded these short lines of triplets with an enchanting effect. The readers are tempted to run their eyes over them again and again. It is the grand images which make his haiku splendid rather than the rhythm and music of words. Though alliteration and assonance are rare, the readers are bewitched by the grandeur of high imagination. Beyond any doubt, R. K. Singh has an immortal place of his own among the haiku masters of the world.

Works Cited

Reichhold, Jane.  “Haiku: How to Haiku.” Web. 10 Feb. 2010.
Sharma, I. K. Foreword. Sexless Solitude and Other Poems. By R. K. Singh. Bareilly: Prakash Book Depot, 2009. Print.
Singh, Rajni. “Haiku of R. K. Singh.” Muse India Issue 17, Jan-Feb 2008. Web. 10 Feb. 2010.
Singh, R. K. Collected Poems 1974 – 2009. Jaipur: Book Enclave, 2009. Print. (haiku quoted in this paper are from this anthology)
—. Prefatory Note. The River Returns: A Collection of Tanka and Haiku. By R. K. Singh.  Bareilly: Prakash Book Depot, 2006. Print.
Srinivas, Krishna. Foreword. My Silence. By R. K. Singh. Madras: Poets Press India, 1985. Print.
First Published by K.V. Dominic on his blog