'The Storm In The D’Cruz Ocean'
Navayana has been thinking and reflecting on its recent decision to not publish Joe D’ Cruz’s novel (Aazhi Soozh Ulagu, “Ocean Wringed World”). Well-wishers, friends and critics have asked us to review our decision to make sure that this is what we want to do. Meanwhile, the translator of Aazhi Soozh Ulagu, V. Geetha, has been in touch with us, and this is what she has to say.
“As the translator of Joe D’ Cruz’s novel, I am in the unenviable position of feeling both bereft and bewildered. While some think that I have taken a principled stand, others wonder if I should have separated the work from the man. I can only say that I find it difficult, personally, to think beyond what Modi stands for, and for me and many others, he remains the principal architect of the Gujarat pogrom of 2002. This is why I have withdrawn the translation. I would like to reiterate that I stand by the novel, and am glad to have translated it. However, given D’ Cruz’s insistent and clear-cut support for Narendra Modi, I cannot bring myself to allow my translation to be published. I would therefore like to wait on that decision, until Joe D’ Cruz and I can have a conversation on how we see and understand what has happened.”
In publishing a work of translation, the publisher has to have an agreement with both the author of the original text and the translator. Given the translator Geetha’s position, it has become clear to us that even if we do want to publish this book, we simply have no book at present to publish at present.
The formal agreement with D’Cruz had been signed on 7 April, and he announced his support for Modi on 9 April. Our decision to halt the publication was taken on the evening of 13 April (Sunday), after speaking to both Geetha and D’Cruz, and may well have been a hasty error of judgment. But the sequence of events is important. When we came to know of D’Cruz’s position via a Facebook update on 9 April we did not jump to conclusions, and both Geetha and Navayana tried to get in touch with him. However, since he would not respond to phone calls, we both sent him separate emails expressing dismay and concern. As publisher, my email to him on 11 April merely said this:
I read with distress the news that you have endorsed Modi. Initially, I thought it was a lie; that someone posted this on your FB, and that these are not your views. I spoke to Geetha too. After some Tamil newspapers reported this, there has been no clarification from you. This is disturbing.
Do tell us it’s a lie. For me it’s not merely a question of whether Navayana will publish this book or Geetha will allow you to use her translation. Your endorsement of Modi, if it’s true, makes me lose faith in humanity.
There was no talk here of annulling the agreement. Geetha had sent a similar mail a day earlier. D’Cruz chose not to respond to both of us, but instead he was quoted by the Tamil and English media misrepresenting our views. For instance, on the morning of 13 April, the Chennai edition of New Indian Express, had this to say:
On the reaction in literary circles, he alleged “certain people blackmail. Others threaten that my literary work that are currently getting translated will be in trouble. For instance, a translation of ‘Aazhi Soozh Ulagu,’ which is under the process of publication in English will be halted, they say. Some have sent hate mails that shower abuses.”
Joe D’Cruz chose to directly speak to the media rather than communicate with his publisher, or the translator who had worked closely with him over several months. This, we think, was a breach of trust. When the media started calling Navayana and Geetha for responses, we had to respond. It was only after a desperate SMS on Sunday that D’Cruz returned our call and stoutly defended his decision to support Modi.
In retrospect, I believe, as a publisher I responded more in anger than using sound judgment.
All the same, it must be remembered that publishers every day take decisions on what to publish and what not. To publish is to decide to make something you believe in public. A decision not to publish does not prejudice or pre-empt the publication of a book by others. This, therefore, cannot be called censorship.
At this juncture, since Navayana cannot publish this work till the translator consents to let us use her text, the publication of the book will be kept in abeyance.
Navayana should trust its editorial instincts and publish Ocean Ringed World, argues Mukul Kesavan in the Telegraph: Ringed by Belief:
If, instead of a novel, this controversy had erupted about a political tract that Navayana was about to publish, the decision not to publish might have been justifiable. If Navayana had translated a pamphlet written by a radical proponent of affirmative action which demanded that jobs be reserved for Muslims as a religious community only to find that this hitherto committed Mandalist was now singing hymns to the RSS, you could argue that the polemicist’s political apostasy had rendered the polemic obsolete: you can’t have an author promoting an argument he doesn’t believe in anymore.
Not so with a novel; a good novel can be ‘political’ but its politics can’t be simply derived from its author’s stated political positions. If we were to begin to edit out of our lives all the novels and poems written by writers who have said and done things of which we strongly disapprove, we would be left with a pretty feeble reading list.
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