I was looking for some other document when I happened upon a rant I had written 4 years ago, when a promising musician had committed suicide. I was fresh off publishing my first novel, and was feeling the stings of rejection and criticism.
Funny thing is, apart from those friends and family who feel invested in your journey, there are others who enjoy playing the objective critic, holding your work to standards that I doubt they do for more well-established authors. They do not want to be mistaken for someone who is "less than honest", or someone who would gush simply because you are their friend. So, they will play it cool, and pick your hard work to shreds, and in the process sometimes even revealing that they have not noticed a plot point or a whole line of red herrings carefully inserted.
Stranger still, is the kindness of strangers or people who do not feel obliged to like your book. Because it is they, often, who show enthusiasm and genuine love for your work and will make efforts to let you know. I think what works adversely for the people I mentioned earlier is that they feel obliged to like it, and this makes them feel cantankerous and put-upon.
So anyway, going back to my word document from 4 years ago, I rant about how everyone indulges in paroxysms of grief for an artist who dies, lamenting the extinguishing of a rising star, etc. This is truer now, after Sushant Singh Rajput’s death. My question to people who did so, did you take care to praise his worth when he was alive and struggling? Now that you feel the waste of a talented person who tried to do something different, and put his work out there and exposed himself to your praise and criticism, do you have a healthier attitude to the artists who are breathing around you?
No one is asking for dishonest praise. All we ask for is that you give the artist a chance, and not dismiss him before you’ve even started consuming his work. Because, as I said before, I see a certain careless approach from some people. In my case, they seem to speed read through places, entirely missing certain points, (especially in my second book) followed by a contemptuous announcement at the end, that ‘so and so was not required’, or ‘I expected more from this or that’. When questioned closely, it turns out they hadn’t noticed certain aspects which, are quite evident to anyone reading with even one eye open.
Anyhow, I felt that my earlier writing well illustrates how I feel now, after the publishing of my second book. Everything changes, but everything stays the same, eh?
It’s been a bit of a strange couple of days. I will put in a disclaimer immediately and say I did not know any of these people personally, but the news got under my skin none the less, because of the place I am at in life personally.
In quick succession, there have been a flurry of deaths in the news. I will very carefully steer clear of the politics of this, as I value my skin, in such troubled times. Apart from the obvious, what struck me was how everyone was singing paeans in the brave lady’s name on FB and otherwise. But as some astute observers who had been close to her pointed out, surprising for one with such a multitude of admirers, her paper was in dire straits, fast running out of funds to operate on.
Then came the shocking death in a completely different milieu -- the Western Music scene. I had met him a few times when he was much younger and I had heard that he was a prodigy. There was an outpouring of heartfelt FB posts about how talented he was and what a waste his demise was. What hurt me was the thought that if the young man only knew how highly everyone regarded him, while he was struggling to make it as an independent musician in the big bad music scene in India, perhaps he wouldn’t have despaired and perhaps he wouldn’t have taken the fatal step.
As someone who is an artist (or a wannabe one), let me tell you that it is a big step to turn your back on the ‘respectability’ of a steady income and a designation in the unimaginative but safe corporate world, to try your hand at something you know you love and would be good at.
You think you have established a certain reputation and have acquired the support of enough people to take the step. How do you know? In your naivete you look to FB for this reassurance. You step off the cliff thinking there is a cushion of such people, to make rock bottom (a distant possibility considering the sea of likes and loves on your fb page) a comfortable enough landing. But guess what, folks? When it comes to these people actually doing anything to support your art, they have better things to do. Like transfer their attention to someone else’s FB page. You are left to crash land and shatter on the rocks of the abyss.
When I first announced on Facebook that my book would come out in a month's time, it got 1000s of likes and quite a few shares. There was a delay in the books being printed and made available on Amazon by a month; and during that time there were several people who said "When will it come out? Can't wait. Want to buy a copy", and so on.
When the books eventually came out many of these so-called book lovers and well-wishers disappeared, or sat around waiting for a free signed copy from the author. Those who do read my book, really love the story (I know all authors say that, but it has been a pleasant surprise for me, and I say it in all honesty.) Yet, when I ask them to spread the word or buy a few copies for friends, they demur; even neglecting to write a simple review on Amazon; though they had privately told me how wonderful they thought it. Because they have "done their bit" by putting a wow emoticon on my FB post.
Facebook for all its uses is a dangerous beast. It creates false expectations on both sides. Judging by the effusive 'likes' and 'loves' on my page I am forever expecting a turnaround in fortunes. And the 'likers' and 'lovers' think, just by pressing that button, or by saying “Congrats” or “Good luck!” they have done their bit; they have done enough.
FB has bred an army of armchair "supporters" who promise you the world but do nothing. The numbers never add up.
I know I’m talking like people OWE me. They really don’t. What I object to is how everyone’s waiting till I die to say a single good word about my book, about my writing in general. If you really had felt that strongly about the good work that lady did, or thought he was the best keyboardist in India, why hadn’t you written an FB post in their praise when they were alive? What use are your kind words now, except that it gives you those 2 seconds of reflected glory from a great artist/person gone too soon?
Don’t speak ill of the dead, people say. I completely agree. But I would also add, if you couldn’t bring yourself to do or say a single supportive thing while they were struggling to make a difference with their ideals or with their art; you should really look deep into your hearts to understand the motives behind your rushing to “#RIP” on their Facebook pages once they’re dead.
I am part of an Indian group of booklovers, 13000 readers strong. Every once in a while there will be a post about how badly Indian books suck, and will cite 3-4 books by Chetan Bhagat, Durjoy Dutt and their ilk. Basically, all the authors who have concentrated more on the art of aggressive marketing and selling than what a naïve person would think is the primary task of a novelist, viz. writing books. Comment will follow sneering comment pouring vitriol on these authors. Oh, how terrible Indians are at writing books! This is why we only read books written by Western people.
Finally a small-time author, goaded beyond sense by the unfairness of these comments will say, ‘but but…my book is better than theirs. Not only mine but this writer’s and that writer’s’, and she will post a whole list of lesser known but better written books for these “exacting” readers. But it will be met by resounding silence. Then finally a defiant commenter will fire back: ‘we only take a chance on a book by a well-known publisher.” Really? Like that has worked out so well for you? Were you not JUST saying that they publish the most unabashed crap? That you crave to read relatable books and are only stopped by the absence of good ones? Suddenly they all turn defensive and say, “We don’t owe struggling Indian writers anything. Chetan Bhagat worked hard to become a bestselling author and these people on your damn list will just have to do the same.” Oh? So I’m confused. So we must then turn ourselves into Chetan Bhagat to have you read our books? Does anyone see the irony here? And what of this desire to read relatable books? Why is there no culture of supporting the local scene like every other country has?
It’s all a pose like every other thing in the virtual world is. They will stick their knives in your back while you’re trying to crawl your way to the top, and when you finally fall off midway, they will rush to type out their #RIP messages to show how they understood your worth while the rest of the world were oblivious.
Speaking of supporting the local scene, I have one last observation here. Here we are jumping up and down about ‘Make in India” being patriotic, etc. But that seems to only apply to buying Patanjali products, and taking symbols literally. We have always been a very literal people, like children we take the symbols of higher things to be the things themselves and venerate them. So we will jump around in rage about a silly picture of a person from a different culture perhaps putting her foot on a book. Or books being used as stairs. “Oh, this is unbearable! I love books so much I cannot bear to see them disrespected!” The shrieking comments will start pouring in. “Oh, so madam you love books, do you, all books? You want more people to write them then? Make writing sustainable so there are more books in this world?” “What rubbish, of course not. Unless you have a 1 crore marketing budget I refuse to buy your books even though you’re cutting your own throat with the price you’ve set for it, in the hope of snaring such ‘booklovers’ as me.”
F**** off, f*** off the whole lot of you. You are killing artists and idealists with your own two hands, can’t you see? And then you have the audacity to take to social media to air your grief about the deaths, now that death has cast a glamorous glow on them, that a life chasing their dreams had unexpectedly never imparted them. Then they were only ‘wannabes’, rather embarrassingly trying to achieve something they didn’t deserve with their “no doubt” mediocre talents.
OK, I’m done. Have a fabulous day on Facebook.