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To kill a mocking tone

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“What is this obsession about trying to make Rom look ridiculous? This obsession is becoming ridiculous and it's not amusing.” It was the toughest criticism I had received. I rewrote the entire article and avoided mentioning Rom.

Rom protested, “This is nice but you’ve lost the humour.” But X was a good writer and I trusted his opinion more.

The criticism was made on the Internet Writing Workshop’s Nonfiction list, where members submit articles and others offer suggestions to improve the writing. We bartered skills to help each other become better writers.

After that brutal comment, I submitted another piece which had an innocuous paragraph about Rom.

X commented, “Here you go again – making Rom look bad. Why don't you reverse it? Is your goal to alienate and lose all your male readers?” Now I began to waver. X seemed to have no sense of humour. Rom urged, “Be yourself. Don’t lose your voice.” But no writer wants to lose readers. What if X had a point?

I asked my friends on Facebook. Sripad Sridhar said, “The whole charm of the column is in the fact that you take the liberty of doing so. It would kill the column if you removed that aspect of it. Every time I read your articles I only hope that you add some silly incident from Rom’s past. As you know, ‘To be old and wise, one has to be young and stupid.’ “

Zhayynn James said, “Everyone who knows Rom or has seen him on television would love to read anecdotes or see the less ‘expert’ side of him. Who better than you to enlighten us? It’s your column: Rom’s the protagonist, sometimes antagonist. If you were to sing his praises, you’d get panned for that as well.”

I grumbled, “They are all friends. Obviously they’re being loyal.”

Rom replied, “Those [criticisms] are the comments of one guy. I think you are doing great. Don’t make a big deal of it.”

I countered, “May be there are others who feel the same way.”

In the meantime, I wrote back to X, “As for this particular instance – we did argue about the toilet seat and it is a subject of man-woman arguments even in your country. I don’t know what about it is ‘unfair’.”

He went for the jugular, “The dogmatic attitude of you, the woman, being right. The bitching and hectoring by women over such minor things. There are lots of unfair, unattractive aspects to this.”

He went on to say it wasn’t just the tone. “It's the content that is most objectionable.”

Ouch! It would be easy to listen to Rom and ignore the “analysis,” as the critic insisted on calling his tirade.

But would I lose something important? Rom rolled his eyes and replied emphatically, “No.”

I forwarded the exchange of emails to another writer on the list and sought his objective advice. He replied, “I've read your pieces. If they poke fun at Rom, the writing tone isn't malicious or anti-male. I might even suggest that a bit of anti-male, or at least “anti-men-acting-like-boys,” humour is necessary, useful, and entertaining. Personally, I would ignore X’s objections. In fact, don't even let the idea subconsciously influence how you write.”

Mukund Padmanabhan, my editor at The Hindu , said, “You are doing just fine.”

He ought to know. After all, he wouldn’t want a column that drives readers away.

I evaluated my writing – sometimes Rom is the hero, often he’s my teacher, occasionally an illogical husband I love to tease. Besides, if I was unfair, it might just provide the incentive he needs to write his memoir.

Later that night, I told Rom, “I’m going to take your advice and ignore the criticism.”

Rom replied, “Next time, tell your friend [X], I’m a masochist who loves to be ridiculed in public.”

I giggled into Rom’s neck and drifted off to sleep.

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