The surprising turn of events, few bizarre accusations and a fictional character came together in a strange way and transformed my short and otherwise uneventful month of February in to a month that’s practically sizzling with undercurrents. Stories have unraveled and how! And before long, Wendy, Wendi and plain Jane got linked in ways that I didn’t think possible.
First things first, Wendy who?
Wendy Doniger is an American researcher and author. Her interests revolve around Hinduism and mythology and the courses that she teaches at University of Chicago, address themes such as mythology, law, gender, and zoology. Wendy’s book, The Hindus: An Alternative History incorporates these perspectives and was published in 2009. In spite of reaching a best-selling status in India, it got involved in a legal battle. The reason was a Hindu campaign group called, Shiksha Bachao Andolan, which brought a civil case against its publisher, Penguin India, claiming that the book is insulting to Hindus. When asked, Ms. Doniger said of her source material, “I didn’t make this stuff up.”
Now, it is not uncommon for a group of people to voice their concerns in a free democracy such as India, but in a bizarre twist to the story, parent-publisher, Penguin India agreed to recall and destroy all the remaining copies of the book, prompting a widespread criticism on social media. And now the latest ingredient to this story is that a legal notice has been served to Penguin Books India by Advocate Lawrence Liang on behalf of Shuddhabrata Sengupta and Aarti Sethi. Penguin India is being accused of ‘violation of rights of readers.’ Time only will tell what the fate of the book will be but, there’s one line in the notice served to Penguin India that caught my interest. It states,
“While they may both be birds, there is a world of difference between a Penguin and a chicken and the last time my clients checked, the penguin had not changed his feathers in the natural world.”
Now, I may cluck at this statement or I may chuckle, but since I am reading this book, I should give you my honest opinion. Is it blasphemous? Scandalising? Demeaning? The answer depends on how you view information. If you have already decided that you are Mr. or Ms. ‘Know it all,’ then nothing can be said to you, but like me, if you also like a variety of information sources to make an informed choice, then you may find this book interesting. It is, after all, ‘an alternative history’ and in India where one form of truth has prevailed for thousands of years, an alternative take might be long overdue.
So, if Wendy is the beleaguered author that I am talking about, who in the world is Wendi?
Wendi Deng Murdoch of course! Apparently, Wendi is separated from her famous, rich and much older husband, Rupert Murdoch. There are many speculations on the reasons for their divorce and one of them is being cozy with the former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair. Blair, Murdoch and Wendi, that’s a triangle and with protagonists such as these, Wendi’s story is bound to be interesting. There’s sleaze, suspense and scandal in that tale and pandering makes me queasy, so we won’t go in to the details. Let it suffice to say that the tabloids are turning this in to a racy report on saucy Ms Wendy and Ms Wendi has been attributed to some very famous lines about Mr. Blair. The reason I have added her to my post is simply because she is omnipresent in the media reports and she seems like one feisty woman, who is not scared to stir things up.
Wendy and Wendi, the names are obviously similar and they both seem to get in to trouble, but do they elicit the same response in me? The answer is ‘No.’ Where Wendy Doniger’s work intrigues me, Wendi’s tales exhausts and then there is Jane who gets in to trouble, but finds a way out. Jane’s thoughts inspire me. Errrr…but Jane who?
It’s Jane Eyre!
Now that we are on a fictional terrain, let me introduce you to my favourite fictional character of all. The small, petite and plain Ms. Jane Eyre, who is the spunkiest woman I know in the world of books. Created by author Charlotte Brontë and published in 1847, Jane famously said,
“Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! — I have as much soul as you — and full as much heart!”
Bravo Jane! Who says Jane is plain? It’s the kindred spirit that amazes me, the conviction that matters the most.
It has never been the physical form, but the fire in the soul. It has never been the cover, but the content that stirs me. Stirred, I am. So, this post and my month is dedicated to the three diverse women‒ Wendy, Wendi and Jane (who I read and re-read). These three have kept me busy, filling my print media and my screen with their presence. None of these women can be called demure, none repeat what has been said before and none of them are sedate. I am impressed by one, exhausted by the other and informed by the third. I believe that they share similarities. Some of you will see the similarities and agree with me while, some of you won’t and that’s perfectly fine. Opinion is a personal matter, after all.
That brings me to my favourite quote from Jane Eyre
“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being, with an independent will; which I now exert to leave you.”
Till we meet again….