L'Affair Ramanujan: OUP & c;

Posted by sepoy on November 09, 2011 · 3 mins read

Some more important readings for you in terms of the DU/Ramanujan.

- Shahid Amin (Professor, History, Delhi University), When a Department Let a University Down, The Hindu, Nov. 3, 2011

At the first sign of trouble, in a letter written in September 2008, OUP decided to thank those who felt aggrieved by it, “for pointing … out … that the essay has the potential of hurting religious sentiments.” It went on to add “that neither are we selling the book nor there are any plans to reissue it.” This was a corporate's way of being economical with the truth, for the apology left unsaid that the offending article was also a part of another OUP-published volume, the Collected Essays of A.K. Ramanujan, and whether that academic bestseller was being trashed forever as well. That was not the end of the story. The Press also served a veritable notice on DU's History Department for infringing its copyright (and in effect profiting) by including the Ramanujan article in a book of readings! There was no such book, and no intent, only a bunch of photocopies including that essay in a campus photocopy shop, and stories planted in the press about it. The publishing house was being simultaneously both supine and assertive.

- Ananya Vajpeyi (Resident Intellectual, Delhi), Old tale, Modern Hate: The Ramayan returns to haunt Indian Polity, Nov. 3, 2011

Towards the end of the 20th century, India returned once more to the Ramayan. In the late 1980s the epic was serialized and broadcast, bringing the cable television revolution to India. A resurgent Hindu Right demolished the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992, claiming it stood on the hallowed ground where Ram himself had been born on earth. A constitutional crisis, widespread violence between Hindus and Muslims, legal battles in India's courts on the authenticity and historicity of competing religious beliefs and claims, and the attenuation of minority rights in secular India followed throughout the mid-1990s.

On the back of its virulent Ramjanmabhoomi movement (a campaign based on the idea of recapturing the so-called “birthplace” of Ram from Muslim control), the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power and led the national government until the general elections of 2004.

- Rukun Advani (Publisher, Permanent Black), Narrow View at the Top: Ramanujan, a publisher's perspective, The Telegraph, Nov. 7, 2011.

A history department prescribes it. A hurt Hindu, his sentiments backed up by the sort of antagonism to ideas in which only cretinous Indian vice-chancellors specialize, takes the publisher to court. And what does the publisher do? Instead of preparing for a siege and sticking his Oxford Blue banner into the battleground, the publisher grovels. He agrees that what he has published can cause religious offence, and that by publishing Ramanujan he has caused it. He promises in court that he will renounce Ramanujan and not reprint the offensive essay.

Do read!


gaddeswarup | November 10, 2011

There are also a couple of articles in EPW, for example, http://beta.epw.in/newsItem/comment/190597/ which seem interesting. These are usually available for three weeks free of charge.

Qalandar | November 11, 2011

I don't know why I expected better from OUP (gosh, such a large % of the bookshelf behind me has been publishd by it, it ain't funny), but....I guess I did.

L Srinivas | November 12, 2011

Although an admirer of Ramanujan's original poetry, work on folklore and elegant articulation, his Indological essays and translations, leave me with mixed feelings. In the ultimate analysis, he is just a native informant for the academic west. In that sense, he has to be viewed objectively as an intellectual panderer. An example: his most celebrated translation cum essay 'The Interior Landscape' ends with a characteristic line 'In all their 2,000 years of history, the Tamils have not written anything better'. This is classic Indological stuff meaning 'it exists because we study it' . But the unstated subtext is 'we only study stuff that is dead and in formaldehyde'. I'm sure, a Buddhist logician will make all sorts of heavy weather out of it :) Too many tears need not be shed over dropping of a book from the syllabus. I have read the essay - it is a compilation of data within a loose analytical framework. It's a good essay, not a great one. But then Ramanujan has rarely written anything that's not good reading. But the more relvant question is: is it the objective of Delhi University to turn out budding Indologists? Since when have the secularists and progressives in India or on this forum identified themselves so closely with the intellectual hegemonism of Indology?

Arjun | November 13, 2011

Advani writes: "...a campaign based on the idea of recapturing the so-called “birthplace” of Ram..." It is interesting to compare this with the possibility of a leftwing commmentator speaking about Pakistan's blasphemy law that seeks to criminalize offense to the "so-called "divinely inspired" koran". It is unlikely we will see such intellectual courage from the left establishment - whether in Pakistan, India or the US - any time in the near future.

gaddeswarup | November 13, 2011

"Too many tears need not be shed over dropping of a book from the syllabus. .....But the more relvant question is: is it the objective of Delhi University to turn out budding Indologists? " Syllabuses are not set in stone; they keep changing following somewhat vague outlines from universities in which teachers have some flexibility. The question seems to be whether these should be changed because of the agitations of some idealogues from outside.

L Srinivas | November 16, 2011

I have no quibble with 'syllabuses are not set in stone' etc. But for this book to have become a cause celebre, the progressives have got to be really jobless.

gaddeswarup | November 16, 2011

"progressives have got to be really jobless." True in my case; I retired 6 years ago but I am not sure about the 'progressive' bit. It seems to be one of the several things that one follows in the news. I do not understand the agitations to remove that item from the syllabus either.

L Srinivas | November 30, 2011

Here's good news for those who would like the essay to be reinstated in the curriculum. OUP has decided to run a reprint of the essay: http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/article2673004.ece