Sandeep: Your book names a lot of famous and influential names, many of whom aren’t portrayed in a flattering light. Was the intent to merely provoke or was it an inevitable part of your narrative context?
Rajiv Malhotra: We want neither to provoke nor malign any individual. We have put out the hard facts including those facts that hurt. For too long, Indians have self-congratulated themselves about the breadth and depth of their knowledge by quoting William Jones or Max Muller. Many Tamil Saivaites feel as if they are indebted to G.U. Pope who translated Thiruvachagam to English. But they seldom know that the same G.U. Pope had denounced the principal saints of Tamil Saivism and had stated that Saivism harbors ‘the most deplorable superstitions anywhere to be found’. Many may feel uncomfortable that we have criticized Leela Samson, but we did not criticize her as an individual. We criticized her for twisting the spirit of the institution’s founder Rukmini Devi (Arundale). Rukmini Devi considers the Indian epics and classical dramas as having ‘very beautiful symbology.’ She wants the artist to ‘burn to ashes all thought which is dross and bring out the gold which is within’ just as ‘Siva burnt to ashes all that is physical’. But see how Leela Samson interprets the same Indian symbols. To her they are to be compared with Walt Disney’s characters, Batman and ‘the strange characters in Star Wars’. When we bring out these hard facts, it hurts those who do not want to see the truth. But it has to be told. As you have rightly said they are an inevitable part of our narrative context. We have also brought out many individuals in a positive light as well. For example, we have brought out the daring act of self-respect displayed by veteran singer Yesudas, walking out of a function when the minister refused to light the ceremonial lamp.