Listen to this article:
The American academic Wendy Doniger has been a regular visitor to India since the early 1960s when she came as a young research student to spend a year.
Her letters written to her parents at the time have just been published as An American Girl in India, a charming account of her stay in a new country. She describes many of her impressions at the time as ‘vapid’ but they given a good idea of what India was at the time.
But Doniger, whose books on Indian traditions are highly regarded, became a popular name when her book The Hindus: An Alternative History was attacked by many who claimed that she had vilified the religion. The book was eventually withdrawn by Penguin India in 2014. Since then she has not been able to visit India.
“I am old, but also I am not sure of whether a contempt of court charge against me still holds,” she says to Sidharth Bhatia in a podcast.
“A lot of angry people in India don’t like me,” she adds.
She keeps two files – of “hate mail and mail from those who liked the book.”
She says she misses India, her friends and also the “smells of India”. In the podcast she also talks about how India has changed, how there is “less friendliness towards strangers than earlier.”