Reviews are part of a writer’s life. The good ones provide a momentary blip on the joy scale, the bad ones - if they don’t kill you - help thicken the hide. Then there are those that don’t address the work but are more personal in nature, questioning the writer’s morals, political loyalties, at times, even mental state. I have been accused variously of writing to earn a Congress party ticket - yup!, of eulogizing Sikh militants, of being anti-Hindu (by those who regard NaMo as the standard-bearer of Hinduism)... So be it.
If you are a writer, what is your revenge? More writing, better writing. The only tools you have as a writer are words and passion - so deploy them, daily, in an unwavering resolve to write better than you did yesterday, every single day. And returning the day after to test the work by fire. As a verse from my childhood taught me: “Ahead then keep pushing and elbow your way, unheeding the envious and the asses that bray.”
They don’t tell you when you embark on a career as a writer that the only attribute you’ll need - words and passion are prerequisites - is doggedness, the sheer stick-to-it-iveness. The ability to sit your bum down and write, each day hewing a path to a yet invisible horizon.
To borrow from Mirza Ghalib, the task is one of ‘Subha karna shaam ka lana hai juu-e-sheer ka’, of turning night into day, the effort no less than what Farhad expended for his beloved Shirin in drawing a channel of milk out of a mountain on the orders of King Khusrau.
Every writer uses metaphors that draw from from their life and inspiration. Just as I reference shayr-o-shayari Norman Mailer, a boxing enthusiast, often used a pugilist’s terminology in his writing. Here he is reflecting on a bad review of his book ‘Deaths for the Ladies’ in Time magazine: The review put iron into my heart again, and rage, and the feeling that the enemy was more alive than ever, and dirtier in the alley, and so one had to mend, and put on the armor, and go to war, go out to war again, and try to hew huge strokes with the only broadsword God ever gave you, a glimpse of something like almighty prose.
When you have a book or two published, the horizon can get fogged up with reviews, pressure from publisher, tendency of the market to slot you into a genre, bizarre requests from readers, and always, always, the pressure to tap into your creativity and deliver to deadlines.
Scared? Don’t be. It’s that simple and that tough.
If it helps, get yourself a pen like the kind my daughter has: it lights up when you write! Joy! Who says you can't indulge the child in you?