Critiquing criticism

Critiquing criticism


Critiquing criticism

It is difficult to track down killer critics. To begin with, though there are more reviewers of Indian writing in English (IWE) than writers, no one admits to knowing them. And if you want to trace their history, there is no educational institution that will own up to teaching them a thing, including literary criticism.

Though some publishers do vaguely remember them from having sent them rejection slips.

Lily handed me a magnifying lens. “They don’t exist,” she giggled, “You know, like the Bharatiya naari.”

A bestselling writer who was almost bumped off once said: “I was at my PC typing away when a voice said, Yeh haath mujhe de-de, Thakur.” He shuddered. “Obviously someone without hands.” His name not being Thakur was what kept him going.

More broken writers crossed my path with bloodcurdling tales.

When one critic most mathematically said, “The author uses three words where one is needed”, the concerned author addressed his reply to ‘Dumbo’, using just one word where her three-piece name was to be put, but the newspaper did not run his letter despite his keeping to the word limit.

We tracked a critic down to a free-booze bar — a book launch. “We go easy on first books,” he said. “We feel kind. Aw, so cute, some kid playing writer-writer. So debuts get a patronising pat. But if they dare another book, we go for the kill.”  He chuckled, “Once my review went to a lab and my stool sample to a newspaper. Neither noticed.” Then he banged his head against the wall. “I will write the book. I will win the Booker. Me, me, me. Waaaah…”

A petite woman who stuffed an ‘o’ in most of her syllables arched her eyebrows. “I don’t come down on all novels. I get mad only when they write about Kolkata, my Kolkata.” Ms PMS paused. “Even if it’s about Kolkata, I’d still leave it alone if it is a West-endorsed Indian novel.”

Ah, the sound of applause when white hands clap.

One critic said, “Some people may be able to read XYZ, I can’t.”

“Some people may be able to get that, I can’t,” Lily told me.

An author lurking at the venue came to us and hissed from under his turned up collars, “It means we have arrived, you know, to be lambasted in print. Praise dooms and to be ignored is hell. But to be detested is print-run paradise.”

I turned in my report: Only authors whose books are not reviewed may henceforth complain of homicide.

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