Thursday, December 01, 2011

Making friends. Or not.

Scum usually does rise to the top, often by sticking close to more solid stuff that floats.

I was in a little rowing boat, observing this phenomenon in a water body on the IIM Joka campus, when a half-brick splashed into the water a few feet away. A half-brick, not a pebble, not a stone. Two more followed. My friend and I were more concerned about getting brained than getting drenched, so we rapidly rowed to the other side of the pond. Got out, ran around to get the psychotic half-wit who was chucking the bricks. Of course, by the time our feet were on land again, the brick-chucker was a rapidly retreating blob in the middle distance.

That was in 1986. I still don’t know WHY he threw those bricks at us. It’s quite possible even HE didn’t know. (Incidentally, his hair was not so curly then. But the rest of him was about the same shape as it is now.)

Cut to 31st December 2002 (or was it 2003?). Calcutta had a new hotel and they’d thrown a party for the formal launch. I walked in late (as usual) and went to get a Coke for my wife. As I turned from the bar I saw … you know how some memories stay with you visually, like a freeze-frame? This was one of those moments, a mental photograph that has stayed with me. What I saw was this - about twenty feet away, the man-with-friends was keeling over to one side, one hand pressed to his jaw, obviously the effect of a close encounter with somebody’s fist. I confess I was actually happy that the guy had got his come-uppance (college hates tend to stay with you, don’t they?). I called to my wife – “***** **** just got punched in the face!”

Five COMPLETE strangers in the vicinity turned towards me and practically chorused – “WHO is the guy who punched him?! I want to get him a drink!”

Obviously the man-with-friends was as popular as he had been in our college days.


So Mihir Sharma has spent a lot of time going through this awesome self-help (?) book, then dissected it in some detail, and even published the resulting article in “Caravan”. The article has almost “gone viral” on the Interwebs - it’s trended on Twitter, been discussed on Facebook, inspired blog-posts, telephone conversations, reminiscences (yes, I KNOW this post is in the same category!). In the process, it has ensured wide publicity for a book written by a man who believes that there is no such thing as bad publicity. Sort of winning a battle and losing a war, surely?

Why bother spending so much time on a person whom you obviously dislike, Mr. Sharma? You’re just giving him the kind of importance HE thinks he deserves. A self-defeating exercise. You’re surprised that he’s made a lot of money by sucking up to the right people? You still wonder at the levels of hypocrisy that famous people are capable of? You find it worthy of comment that people put up with each other in hopes of making money? You secretly believe that our public figures are the spiritual descendants of MK Gandhi, Gautama Buddha and the Good Samaritan? You were on an extended holiday to Mars when the Radia tapes became news?

Lose your naivete, Mr. Sharma. Your diatribe is not going to make an iota of difference to this man everybody seems to hate (whether secretly or openly). People associate with him despite being told he is shallow, scheming, sociopathic, sycophantic (selectively?), grating and utterly obnoxious. Unless you can establish that associating with him will cause financial loss or imprisonment, a donkey’s amours will have more value to his associates than your article ever will.

Consider this. When, some years ago, IIPM was being generally loveable and altruistic to Rashmi Bansal and Gaurav Sabnis, I spoke to the head honchos of both the major English newspapers in Calcutta about the reality behind IIPM’s claims (e.g. Stiglitz as visiting faculty). They nodded gravely, looked uneasy, then wandered away. The mainstream media never published the data that emerged, they mentioned the issue only in passing. Very strange. Of course, the fact that IIPM were India’s biggest advertisers in print media during those months of July and August was completely irrelevant.

So wisen up, Mr. Sharma. You are an alumnus of a university that (creditably) states openly that one of the biggest gains from studying there is the social network. Yet you’re surprised that the object of your dislike has succeeded through networking? You will notice that I have not named the man here; I don’t want to face a civil suit filed in Dimapur or Jammu. I’m playing safe, while you have the guts to call a spade a bloody shovel several times over. All credit to Caravan and to you for your honesty in publishing an article that could invite retribution. But sadly, your article won’t make any difference to its subject. He will still be available as a motor-mouth to make up the numbers for TV “debates”. He will remain on contract for an incredibly insensitive and stupid weekly agony column. He will still be famous for being famous. And he will still make oodles of money as a front-man and lobbyist. So what’s the point?

Please get a life, Mr. Sharma. Don’t waste your intellect and talent on stupid trivialities. And oh - do try and write shorter sentences. It would make your point of view so much clearer to non-intellectuals like me.


Jitterplate said...

um, it was a book review. and review the book he did. He does not need to 'get a life' because, from what i've seen, he loves to write, and he does a great job of it. I don't think Mihir Sharma spends sleepless nights obsessing over the moral fabric of our society, and how public discourse in India is a farce. Sure, it's a matter of concern, but more in a professional sense. People like Suhel Seth need to be written about, and critically examined - it doesn't matter whether this is publicity for his book or not, god knows there's enough of it going around - just to show the rest of us that not everyone is buying his crap. and some of us see through it, and can comment eloquently upon it.

Your experience with the man with friends seems to be rather personal, and a sort of bitterness that makes you think its your place to advise Mihir Sharma to get a life but honestly, it's just a book review, and a bloody good one.

Unknown said...

Ermm. Get a life? TAd harsh dont you think.

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

I agree that "Get a life" was harsh and unwarranted.
If you go to the original article on the Caravan site, the first comment there sums up my views.


Anonymous said...

JAP, you're mostly right. What you instinctively hate, you must choose to ignore. You legitimise the unspeakable by speaking about it. But then what does a reviewer do? S/he has the bloody book to engage with and analyse, publicly. Btw, Mr Sharma (a half-bong) and a bong colleague of his (they don't work for Caravan)apparently are taking a lot of interest in what you've to say. Asking around. And they want to know who you are.

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Update - the comment on the original article which I referred to is no longer top of the list.
Check out Pooja's comment at 12:53 p.m. on 1st December. She's expressed my opinion, only far more succinctly.


Anonymous said...

Surely the fact that Caravan pays for commissioned pieces and sets the word length is reason enough to write the review?
I thought he did a good job frankly.

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

DD, you cut to the essentials. As usual.
Good piece, yes, but prolix. There IS a middle ground between Hemingway and Henry James.

BTW, the previous "Anonymous" - was that your wife?


Anonymous said...

No clue! Doubt it actually. not her writing style. BTW if MS asks, should I tell him who you are?
About the prolix, partially style and partially the need to meet the word count, I'd guess.

bhalomanush said...

Wel written.

Everyone loves a David and Goliath fight, sir. Even Goliath. We know his name, don't we?

But allow me to play Devil's advocate. I knew who Suhel Seth is. Before yesterday, I did not know who Mihir Sharma was. Networking is a form of backscratchery usually with the purpose of moving on the world.

Can we also agree that muck-racking is likewise, an effective means of calling attention to oneself?

Whatever, Mr. Sharma's intentions, whatever his talents (or lack thereof) in English, whatever his tenuous point, the reason his vitriolic rant will read and hurrahed, is that he's thrown the brick in the pond quite well.

I am very impressed that monumental effort went into cataloging the live of one very ordinary man for the purpose of pointing out he is ordinary. This is theater, good sir. Bring your popcorn.

Dr Johnson had his Boswell. Suhel Seth has his Mihir Sharma.

bhalomanush said...

One day I will be wise enough to proofread my own comment (above), before pointing a finger at the poor English of another.

In my defense, I'll say that, at least, my comment was not scrutinized by a copyeditor.

Anonymous said...

Well written JAP-san.

The tone of his article conveyed the impression that he found this skewering rather delightful. (So did I.)

But I think Mr Sharma was just doing his job and he did it rather well (perhaps with a thousand words more than necessary)

Greatbong said...

Dear JAP,

What is the point of any review? What is the point of any critical commentary? Are we then supposed to not critique something because it won't affect the objects of criticism? Or are you saying all critics of anything (movies, politics, books) need to "get a life?"

The Caravan article's point was well made: this certain individual's way of doing things in real life is quite at variance with his commandments. For example, his intemperate reaction on Twitter to the criticism of the book would surely be at variance with one of his pearls of wisdom.

Could the point been made more briefly? Could the point have been made using shorter sentences? Yes. But that's just the syntax.

Vcat said...

You and MS are on the same side really, ja?

Anonymous said...

The point of the profile/review was not to bring down Suhel Seth. Reviewers don't write bad reviews to destroy authors.
I seriously doubt that Mihir, who apart from being a far better writer than you is probably a smarter person, thought that his piece would harm Suhel's career in any way.
But the piece was far from pointless. It was necessary. And it's because it was necessary that it has gone viral.
If there's anyone who needs to get a life here, JAP, it is you.

Unknown said...

You are a Bravebong , my friend .If Mihir Sharma talks the way he writes without the aid of any sort of punctuation, God help his audience .

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Oh dear.
Should I write an explanatory update? A gloss?

VCat has the essence - that I actually agree with Mihir S and quite admire the evisceration he carries out. But in the final analysis, the book, the author and the milieu are all beneath contempt.

Arnab, criticism is fine. But I wouldn't expect Roger Ebert to waste his time on "Jimmy". And yes, I AM anal about syntax, construction, style. Which explains my slightly mean closing line. I'm quite prepared to apologize for the "Get a life", though.

Bhalomanush, great point, nice reference.

Eve's Lungs, I have it on good authority that MS usually writes far better. Shall check with TGGG.

And Anonymous person, I agree with you. I do need to get a life. But this blog is still part of the one I have right now.


Anonymous said...

Dear JAP

the fact that you woke me up at 8.17 to discuss THIS means "The man with friends"is right up there in your list of 'Friends" jockeying with Pornob for the pole position.
The GET A LIFE is a wee bit harsh i muust say.
The IIM Joka thingie was a trailer of the days to come.

Anuj Rawla said...

My God. Nobody got the point. He actually is giving the reviewer a pat on the back. Anuj Rawla

Unknown said...

Agree Bravebong - he probably got carried away - do not consciously remember reading anything about him. Pornob - yes aha ! I'd forgotten him altogether .

Anonymous said...

Not bad old man. Stirring things up in the blog world again. And here, we had all declared it dead.

Kudos! (For what its worth ;) )


J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Anuj Rawla, you are very perceptive.


Anonymous said...

Look at the irony of it all! You say that Mr. Sharma gives undue attention to the man-with-curly-hair, and yet you waste half a post describing how batty man-with-curly-hair has always been? Aren't you guilty of the same crime?

I understand that this post is somewhat of a backhanded compliment to Mr. Sharma, but you really got carried away, non?

P.S : 'And Anonymous person, I agree with you. I do need to get a life. But this blog is still part of the one I have right now.'BTW, good comeback, this.

Anonymous said...

Your 1986 prologue makes him sound like Bunter, the Fat Owl of the Remove. I half expected him to retreat saying "YAH! Beasts!"

- Richie.