The conversation took place two years ago after I got a call from a publishing house.
“Can you tell me what is trans-generational trauma?” The editor asked me.
As I explained he listened with attention and then said, “The theme is quite new and the characters of the book are well developed. The language is also quite evocative. But the protagonist of your book is a Hindu priest whose family is a survivor of religious violence after their temple was destroyed. The book reads as if the Kashmiri society faced traumas over it that is still unresolved. Make it balanced. Also the book describes the psychological trauma caused by Aurangzeb on Hindu psyche. It will be disturbing for present generation to read if you bring that out.”
“But they are key chapters in the book and it will change the whole plot.”
As he explained there are several marketing perspectives read ideological in the publishing industry. “Certain chapters in your novel don’t fall in any of them and will be rejected outright by everyone,” he told me. “It is not balanced,” he said. “It is one sided. You talk of the trauma of Hindu’s in Kashmir but what about the trauma of Muslims, haven’t they suffered?”
“It is not an academic book.”
“Have you also thought it may make some people upset to read about their past. The book can produce strong emotions in readers. What if it creates a riot?”
“Isn’t a work of fiction designed to affect us? How can we then call ourselves a mature society if we have to protect people from reading about their past?”
“We are not a western society,” he said. “What if it raises a furor? For example the chapter on Battmazar or on temples being destroyed.”
“The book is on healing and forgiveness between people.”
“What if some groups don’t see it that way? Look, no publisher wants to take any risks with writing on anything sensitive these days.”
I asked, “What do you suggest we do?”
“Indian audiences read college romances, relationships, not this type of book but we can give it a try to make it marketable if you remove certain chapters, the ahistorical inaccuracies and change the protagonist’s profile.”
“I am afraid I can’t do that.”
“But you will not find any publishers without these changes.” He advised me. “Publishers are a small community,” he said.