Freedom of expression

Why has a book featuring a mall been withdrawn by the publisher?

The author of a what could have been a controversial book suggests reasons why it did not make it to bookshelves.

Ghostwriting has taken on new meaning in the strangest controversy to break out in India’s publishing world. A shopping mall in Kolkata is believed to have prevailed upon a publisher to delete references to itself in a book just two days before the launch. Not just that, claims the angry author, the publisher has withdrawn the book altogether and returned her manuscript.

The storm is over Deepta Roy Chakraverti’s book, Bhangarh to Bedlam: Haunted Encounters, which claims to investigate unexplained occurrences, mysterious sightings and apparently unrelated chains of events in different parts of the country and in the UK – not through the tools of rationality, but in terms of the possibility that there are paranormal forces at work behind these events.

The book covers, among others, Lodhi Garden in Delhi, Marine Drive in Mumbai, some popular destinations in Kolkata – sites with allegedly paranormal activity, accidents and suicides. It also includes a chapter on a popular shopping mall in Kolkata, where a number of accidents and suicides have taken place in recent times.

And this is where a controversy has erupted, with the mall in question demanding that all references to it be eliminated from the book. According to Roy Chakraverti, a corporate lawyer by profession and a psychic investigator by calling, who is the daughter of the self-styled Wiccan priestess Ipsita Roy Chakraverti, the publishers obliged by calling off the publication of the book.

Neither the management of the mall nor the publishers responded to our questions. We spoke to Roy Chakraverti on the subject:

What was your publishers’ initial response to the subject of your book? Did they find anything controversial or anticipate trouble?
Initially the publishers were extremely keen, and accepted my manuscript within a day or so. They were very eager to go into this genre. They did not seem to mind anything controversial as long as I signed with them. Even during the making of the book, sometimes when I would ask them whether they were sure about some potentially controversial point, they would insist I go ahead.

In fact, regarding the mall story, they had said they would go to the bookstore in the mall there and ask for a reading of the book!

You are a legal professional. What precautions did you take while writing the book?
I drew all facts from newspaper reports or published material – that is why the book has a very large bibliography. There is also a disclaimer where I have made it clear that the psychic perceptions were my own observations and did not prove or disprove anything supernatural. In addition, I had talked to actual people who had witnessed certain incidents and been there. There were first-hand reports. Moreover, the publishers themselves put the manuscript through two different edits, and three rounds of readings. Their internal team was well versed with it. The manuscript was with them since last August or September. In March, at the time of final printing, I asked whether they would like to change anything, they insisted everything was perfect.

How and when did the publishers tell you about the threat?
They forwarded the email from the mall to me.

What does the mail say?
The email from the real-estate company to the publishers says that they have heard that the mall is mentioned in the book, and they want the name blacked out. They talk a lot about how it is such a big and popular mall, and including the name in the book may scare people and hurt their business.

 

Is there more to it than business interests?
Perhaps. I have often wondered if they are biased against me being a Wiccan. Or is it because I've spoken well of the ancient mystical tradition of the Sufis and a famed shrine nearby. Also, would it have made a difference if a man had written the book?

The story is about the poor workers who had died during construction or even in later years. The management had been criticised for allegedly trying to hush up the most recent and ghastly tragedy of January 2014, where workers hanging up bunting had crashed to their deaths from a height of 60 feet. Eyewitnesses had said that all traces were being removed as soon as the accident happened.


Did you consider deleting the chapter or dropping the name of the mall?
Not at all. There is a disclaimer and I have quoted reports that have already been published in mainstream media. Besides, I would expect the publisher to show some spine. Especially when the author is a debutante and the subject is as sensational.

What is your view on the incident?
The dark energy has its own power. I feel that this fiasco happened because there were one or two political entities in the background, which were afraid of a Wiccan woman gaining popularity. The old witch-hunt continues.

Would this deter you from taking up similar subjects in the future?
I’m writing my next!

Your mother, Ipsita had started her own imprint with the same publishers. What happens to the imprint now?
Ipsita has told the publishers that she is made of sterner stuff than them and has withdrawn from the Dark Rose imprint she had created with them.

 

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