India Italian essays in bookstore

India: Italian essays in bookstores

India, at present, has more than 1.3 billion inhabitants, almost double the population of Europe (725 million). This number helps us understand, first and foremost, the importance of India in the global economy. But what we want to address here is a different issue related to the cultural richness of this country.

Its deep Hindu heritage, that manifests itself in India’s profound cultural pluralism, finds in the editorial production a visible expression, a unique sign of its will to preserve its own identity, regardless of the influences and the changes introduced -or forced upon- by invaders and colonial powers in the past.

Battle of aṣṭamātṛkā against Raktabija demon.
Battle of aṣṭamātṛkā against Raktabija demon.

A cultural experience that any bookstore in India generously offers to the external observer is that national authors outnumber the foreign ones. Moreover, unlike in the European publishing industry, in India publications on doctrinal themes, for example on subjects like Yoga and Vedanta just to mention a few, represent a distinguishing trait of the country’s publishing production.

There are many Indian publishing houses that print and enrich bookstores’ shelves with studies on unusual subjects for the average European reader: comments to the Sanskrit old texts, monographs on Hindu gods, as well as in-depth studies on classical Indian art, both in English and in local languages.

Shri Phanendri yogini, Caunsathyogini tample, Bheraghat, India (Cover, Yogini Il lato in ombra della Dea).
Shri Phanendri yogini, Caunsathyogini tample, Bheraghat, India (Cover, Yogini Il lato in ombra della Dea).

This is the reason why it can be considered a big success when an Indian publisher decides to publish something on the subject by a foreign author. That’s because it is not easy to write about Hindu tradition from a Hindu point of view: there is a risk that western methods and schemes are favored over the philological rigor of the oriental interpretation, thereby jeopardizing the result with risky and far-fetched speculations.

This, obviously, concerns non-fiction publications, as contemporary literature, a different sector altogether, follows different publishing rules. Modern fiction literature, published in the 13 official languages of India, is vibrant and of high quality: yet, unfortunately, it remains almost unknown to the foreign public, that is exposed to only a few Indian writers, usually living in western countries, who had some success in English speaking markets.

Bhairavi with a yogin in a smashana (cremation ground).
Bhairavi with a yogin in a smashana (cremation ground).

When we try to understand the culture of a country as vast as India, it is essential to take into account how much the well renowned Indian religiosity marks the rhythm of daily life. Hence the deep interest of Indian readers for essays and studies that investigate and try to approach the Intangible, the divine and the sacred.

This is also the reason why Susheel Mittal, publisher and owner of D.K. Printworld (P) Ltd. of New Delhi, introduced to the public a book on the feminine divine: Yogini The shady side of Devi. The extraordinary fact is that the essay has been written by an Italian author, Guido Zanderigo, who had already published his work in Italy titled Yogini. Il lato in ombra della Dea (Il Cerchio Iniziative Editoriali, 2012).

Guido Zanderigo in a bookstore in Varanasi (India).
Guido Zanderigo in a bookstore in Varanasi (India).

Mr. Susheel Mittal is not new to this type of initiatives. He has always acknowledged to the Venetian Academy of Indian Studies (V.A.I.S.), an Italian cultural association, the ability to describe Indian culture without psychological interpretations and westernized influences such as the so-called new age.

Hence his choice to go on publishing, in the V.A.I.S. Series, other studies form this group of Italian researchers such as Shamanic Cosmos – from India to the North Pole Star, edited by Romano Mastromattei and Antonio Rigopoulos, a collection of lectures and talks from an international convention hosted in Venice in 1999, and Kampilyamahatmaya of Durgadatta Sharma, edited by Corrado Pucchetti, 2003.

Thanks to his publishing activity, Mr. Mittal put in print, in 1996, the essay of Gian Giuseppe Filippi Mrtyu: Concept of Death in Indian Traditions, long before it was published in Italy (Il mistero della morte nell’India tradizionale, Itinera Progetti, 2010). Mr. Mittal, in fact, recognized the deep knowledge, respect and the years of work in the field of the author, who truly and thoroughly connected with the Hindu tradition.

Pisacha, lost souls, in the vain waiting for a funeral service which allows them to reach the world of the ancestors. (Cover, Mrtyu: Concept of Death in Indian Traditions).
Pisacha, lost souls, in the vain waiting for a funeral service which allows them to reach the world of the ancestors. (Cover, Mrtyu: Concept of Death in Indian Traditions).

The fact that the Indian publication took place 14 years before the Italian one raises questions on the reasons behind the delay. Cultural reasons? Ideological censorship on a religiously controversial subject? What would have been the outcome if the title had read “India and the art of dying” instead? Would the book have had a better and warmer welcome? Difficult to say.

What remains culturally relevant is the fact that publications by the V.A.I.S. are perceived as authoritative studies and research on millenary Hindu traditions that still live on in the soul of modern and industrialized India. It is an example of Italian best practice that the Indian publishing industry endorses and renews through new collaborations.