Salman Rushdie Not Competent to Judge Hinduism
19/03/2010 20:48:09 Dr Vijaya Rajiva
Salman Rushdie, the novelist, is now Distinguished Writer in Residence at an American university, Emory University.
After a long stint at writing and the publicity that went with the fatwa on his head after writing Satanic Verses, Rushdie has shown both that he is a skilful writer and a determined outlaster
of fatwas. One should admire him for both and wish him all success in his present avatar .
But is he competent to be an authoritative judge on Hinduism?
Clearly not. He knows next to nothing on the subject, not only because he is not well informed, but also as a Muslim growing up in India, he did not absorb anything of the religion, even by osmosis, as even a non practicing Hindu would. He simply does not know the tradition or its scripture and philosophy or its practice. Yes, he learnt a lot from Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History.
What other source did he have ?
Therefore, his pronouncement on Doniger’s book is embarassing to say the least. His further admission that he found her writing an invaluable resource, is a naïve expression of his own ignorance of Hinduism. This is what he had to say in India Today (March 14, 2010):
“ She is the most eminent scholar in the field. She is not a fly-by-night operator. I have read her and found her writing an invaluable resource,” said Rushdie, adding , “Ninety- nine point nine per cent of those who call themselves Hindus would learn and value her colossal work.”
He, Salman Rushdie, is overawed by the quantitative length of the book (as Ms. Doniger merrily and scurrilously goes along!) and is truly overwhelmed by his own ignorance of the subject . Is it any surprise that he has been taken for a ride ?
Doniger’s translations from Sanskrit have been critiqued by many scholars (both Hindu and non Hindu, Indian and Western). There are gross factual errors in the book. Does
Rushdie think he can identify them or that he is a Sankritist who can testify to the authenticity of her translations from the Sanskrit ? Does he know the Hindu tradition at all ?And although he grew up in India does he have any knowledge of Hinduism’s daily practices ?
Rushdie, buoyed by his new found successes has rushed in (no pun intended!) to evaluate an ancient civilisational religion of which he knows next to nothing. In Satanic verses, he can claim
some knowledge and understanding since it is his own faith. He is writing as an insider, so to speak. But with Hinduism, his endorsement of a fraudulent (in many people’s opinion) author’s views leaves one wondering what his motives are.
More importantly, the ninety nine point nine per cent of Hindus that Rushdie is referring to are the majority of practicing everyday Hindus who do not need his misplaced advice on what Hinduism is, thank you.
This pronouncement of Rushdie’s is an indication of the arrogance/stupidity of literary
artists who assume that success in their chosen field, automatically guarantees that they are experts and gurus in other fields.
Having read the book and reviewed the comments and criticism of Doniger’s scholarship by qualified experts, the present writer is of the opinion that Doniger’s claim to fame and name as an expert on Hinduism, is fraudulent. The NBCC (National Book Critics Circle) in
the U.S., it is believed , withdrew her name from a potential book award, after receiving criticisms and complaints about the poor quality of her scholarship.
She claims to “love Hindus” but contradicts this by writing a lengthy book that trashes everything the everyday Hindu believes in and holds sacred. This may appeal to Mr.Rushdie since he is not a Hindu. The millions of every day Hindus have not heard of this woman, but surely would be shocked and scandalized by her outpourings on a tradition that she is not familiar with and at best, has only a distorted knowledge of.
Rushdie, in supporting her alleged scholarship and touting her book as an invaluable source, is not only revealing his own ignorance of Hinduism, but is also spitting on the everyday Hindu.
(Dr.Rajiva taught Political Philosophy at a Canadian university).