Ayyo Rama ! Chori pakdi gayi

Last week, I came face to face with the unsavoury and ugly side of blogging. I became the target of an orchestrated effort at harassment or cyber bullying because I dared to post an unflattering review of I, Rama: The Age of Seers by Ravi Venu. Among other things, I got accused of:

  • not having read the book at all,
  • author bashing,
  • Kutram kandu pidithe peyar vangum pulavar or seeking fame by means of pointing out or capitalising on other people’s mistakes,
  • writing a bad review with a catchy title for getting more traffic on my site,
  • being cynical and nit-picky to the point of exaggeration,
  • forcing my views on others.

And oh ! I also got called a hot-shot blogger/writer/reviewer. But since the tone was sarcastic, I can safely assume that the commenter did not mean what she said. :-) But I am getting ahead of myself, and as with all narrations please allow me to begin at the beginning.

Last Tuesday, I woke up feeling a little sleep deprived and, therefore, grumpy. The reason? I had stayed up past midnight to to finish writing and posting my review of I, Rama. The book, in very polite terms, was not up to the mark and I had struggled to finish reading it, and then write its review. Of course, it would have been perfect if I did not have to write a review at all, but since I had received the book as part of the Blog Adda Book Review programme, I had to write one.

A shower, a mug of coffee and a hearty breakfast took care of the grumpiness, and soon I was on my way to work. My 30-minute commute had me mentally reviewing my workload for the day and think about the review that I had posted. But, once I reached office, it was only thoughts of work and with my usual cheerful frame of mind I settled down for a regular day at my workplace.

Come evening, I wasn’t feeling cheerful or even excited as I usually do on the day I publish a blog post. Instead, I was feeling bewildered and a more than a little upset. The “Charge of the Harassment Brigade” had struck.

The well choreographed “Charge of the Harassment Brigade” fired its first salvo through a  comment by one Nanjil Ramachandran. To which I replied. To which he responded. To which I replied. And so on. In the middle of all this, someone called Vasugi left a sarcastic comment. Later investigations revealed that she may not have been part of the Brigade at all and just happened to wander into my blog or was alerted to the review.

On Day 2, that is, Wednesday there was a change of tactics and a different commenter — the soft-spoken Shakti Sundaram entered the scene. She said the same things as Nanjil,  but in a gentler, kinder way guaranteed to engage me in a conversation. And it was a tactic that worked. That day, I went to bed happy thinking I had communicated my point well.

On Day 3, that is Thursday, the Brigade changed tactics again and came out with blazing comments via one B Vijay, who was convinced that everything about my review was a marketing ploy and that I was being really nasty by writing about a book that I did not like. Right.

I must admit that by now, the relentless nastiness was getting to me so much that the positive comments and feedback that I received from other readers for the review were not registering. In the past, I have had readers and commenters expressing dissent over what I had written, but it had never turned personal the way this one had. :-( At this point, I request the reader to take some time off and go and read the review and the comments in question, if you haven’t already.

On Day 4, that is Friday, as I was brooding over the comments, I stumbled upon something that I had not noticed before. I had received a comment from Vijay, which I had chosen not to publish as he was not saying anything different from what he had already said before. (You can click on the screenshot below to see a larger image and read the comment.)

What I noticed was something strange. The IP address that Vijay had posted his comment from seemed familiar. That led me to check the IP addresses of all those who had left a negative comment on the post. Guess what I found? Nanjil, Shakti and Vijay had all commented from the same IP address at one point or the other. Both Shakti and Nanjil had used two different IP addresses, while Vijay had used 4 IP addresses—a different one for each of his 4 comments. See for yourself.

As I prepared the chart below and the highlighted results revealed itself, my anger mounted as realisation that I had been taken for a ride set in.

And then certain things started falling into place. The same writing style, the excessive use of smileys, and the same mistake of using “critic” for “critique” even after it was pointed out. And at that instant I could think of only one thing to say:

Ayyo, Rama! Chori pakdi gayi :-) I immediately put this comment on the post:

@Nanjil, @Shakti and @Vijay May I know what are all you doing commenting from the same IP address? Are you one person or two persons or three persons? Please let me know. And please also let Ravi Venu know about this comment/query of mine, will you? Thank you so much.

To which I got this response from Vijay (Nanjil and Shakti remained silent).

Sure, if I get to know him I will. I know ram, but no idea about shakti. Ram n I work in same office.

The anger and indignation subsided after a while, but some questions lingered. I don’t have any satisfactory answers to these questions, and can only guess at the answers.

Are Nanjil, Shakti and Vijay one and same or different people? Going by the writing style, then I would presume that they are the same. But I have no proof. And anyway, whether they are one person or different persons, it is clear that this was a carefully thought out plan, where other people were also used to post comments on their behalf.

Are they known to the author? Well, again I don’t have the proof but I think they are either his friends or family or Facebook fans who have taken their role a little too seriously.

Was the author, Ravi Venu, aware of this plan? I don’t know. But my instincts tell me that he had to know about what was happening, and that it had his tacit approval. But then again, I do not have any proof.

Why did the “Charge of the Harassment Brigade” happen? Maybe because mine was the only negative one to come up initially (2-3 others came up a couple of days after I posted my review). And that must have come as a rude shock after all the pleasant, nice, encouraging reviews that had been posted till then on the book. So I guess, that explains the “special treatment” meted out to me.

At this point, I have something to say to the author and Nanjil and/or Shakti and/or Vijay, and all fans of this book. Marcus Aurelius has said that “Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.” I’d just like to extrapolate it a little further and say that my review was just that—an opinion based on my perspective. Nothing more. Nothing less. And it would have remained so, along with the many other reviews/perspectives/opinions posted, to be read by my regular readers and maybe a couple of new ones. But thanks to your reaction, the post and therefore my blog has gained some unprecedented popularity or notoriety depending on a particular point of view. By reacting the way you did, your immaturity and insecurity got exposed.

Here I would like to ask all of you something. I would like to know why you ignored the fact that I also mentioned the book’s positive points. Or the fact I also held the publishing house equally responsible for the quality of the book. Your knee-jerk reaction to my critique was downright cowardly and silly. More than anybody else, the author should have known that we all look at the same thing in so many different ways. Why else would he have used Rama as his voice for writing this Ramayana? If the author is free enough to present his perspective, why can’t a reviewer do the same?

I learnt an important lesson last week, and like most lessons it came without any warning. Actually, it was more of a reaffirmation of what I stand for than a lesson. This incident has taught me that I always want to write reviews like this —honest, clear and bold and without mincing words, and if possible a more in-depth one. Thank you, Nanjil, Shakti and Vijay for pointing the way and shining a torch on that path. I will forever be grateful to you for this. :-D

Update

I sent a link of this to the author, Ravi Venu

@itsravi Hi Ravi ! You might want to read this http://thatandthisinmumbai.wordpress.com/2012/07/16/ayy … Ayyo, Rama ! Chori Pakdi Gayi

And got the following response from him:

@sudhagee Hi Sudhagee, Thanks for bringing to my notice. Read it in detail. Regret this happened. I will check from my side. Sorry again.

P.S.: Have you ever been subject to a sustained attack like this, dear reader? If yes, please do share it with me as I would like to learn from your experiences.

P.P.S.: I request all fellow bloggers to share this post through various social media platforms as this form of bullying has to be recognised and condoned and tackled head on. Thank you.

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61 thoughts on “Ayyo Rama ! Chori pakdi gayi

  1. Thanks for sharing. Thankfully so far I’ve never been subjected to such a thing. I have had heated discussions about views but in the end in what you mentioned about my views being views and not facts.

    I can although see how this is done. I have a social media company that guides people in improving their social media face. A number of times I get requests where companies only wants someone to search the blog and post “fake” positive reviews and tackle negative ones. I don’t do that, but I’m sure others do.

    • Raghav, thanks so much for your comment and also tweeting about this. I had suspected that this is how it may have been done, but your comment kind of proved it. I guess ethics has no place where business and sales figures matter, right?

      • True, but sometimes it’s also the publishers rather than the author who might be behind it. Also I think in this case and others it can be family members acting on their own accord. Nevertheless, it’s a sad state when people can’t express their views on anything.

  2. phew…
    I witnessed the attack while it was still in force, and even commented about it…But now that you have done this digging up… I find myself speechless…

    I hope that it is a matter of fans taking their roles more than a little seriously…an immature fan at that. And the author has no idea about the whole deal. (coz, if he does, it would simply lower him as a person in my eyes, and that would be heart-breaking)

    I am sharing your post… And I hope that trouble makers realised how silly this whole thing makes them sound. You keep up your reviewing..coz I really like reading them. :)

    • Shrads, thank you so much for your support during the “attack” and now. I really appreciate it. I have a feeling that this is a social media group or maybe family and friends that posted different comments from the same IP, thinking that they would not be caught. And they almost weren’t. I hope that they don’t do this again. I would like to think too that the author did not know anything about it, but… I’m sceptical about that.

  3. but who is that person? let me know if you need the help of a detective like me :D. these days i am searching for copycats on indiblogger. already got two profiles deleted :D

    • Well Debjyoti, any help is welcome. And I do not have any other clues apart from what I have shared on the blog. For all that you know the names may be fake. I certainly could not find ant Twitter handle with Nanjil Ramachandran, though he claimed that he saw my tweet on the book review on his timeline ! If you can play detective with this information, please go ahead :-)

  4. Too much! I wonder why the author asked for feedback if he could accept no critique. Continue the good work. If the book is bad, someone has to speak out the truth. Just becoz Blogadda provides the book, doesn’t mean we have to write a good review if it is not a good book! Totally with you.

    • Richa, thank you so much for your support and for tweeting about this as well. The problem is asking for a review is like demanding for compliments. Nobody wants or expects a critique, least of all one that is so damning. I fully intend to continuing reviewing like this.

  5. Oh, what a nasty experience, Sudha! I agree that the author of the book must have known about this, and it must have had his tacit approval.

    I am glad that you are not going to be cowed down by this, and intend to continue to write ‘genuine’ reviews. The whole point of a review is to express what one really thinks of a book.!

    • Manju, thank you so much for your support and also for tweeting about this. With the support of people like you, there is no question of writing a review that is half-baked.

  6. It is sad that people want only compliments and not criticism. They don’t realize that criticism would make them grow. mmmmm……..

  7. Sudhagee, we are floating in a malicious sea of mediocrity. I guess it is becoming increasingly impossible to avoid the slime by each passing day. Allow me to quote Nietzsche:

    A truth which only glideth into fine ears, he calleth falsehood and trumpery. Verily, he believeth only in Gods that make a great noise in the world!

    Full of clattering buffoons is the market-place,–and the people glory in their great men! These are for them the masters of the hour.

    But the hour presseth them; so they press thee….

    Thy neighbours will always be poisonous flies; what is great in thee–that itself must make them more poisonous, and always more fly-like.

    Flee, my friend, into thy solitude–and thither, where a rough strong breeze bloweth. It is not thy lot to be a fly-flap.–

    Thus spake Zarathustra.

    • Umashankar, first of all thank you for all the support that you have given me in this sorry and totally avoidable fracas. Thank you also for tweeting about it. And for Nietzsche’s comment, what more can I add except that it says everything that I want to say about the state of our society. Only so much more clearly and succintly.

  8. Duly tweeted. A bunch of cowards, that’s all the entire bunch – Nanjil, shakti, Vijay etc are. Hiding behind made up names. That alone should tell you their stand’s wobbly. On the positive side, this has brought your blog into focus and will let an entirely new set of people (several thousand, I hope) discover a delightful writer. Keep on reviewing, Sudha

  9. Sudha, you had the guts to be honest. It is hard in this world where you are supposed to be flowery and sweet to all with no inputs to help the person improve. I loved your review–every bit. Yeah, if I had been the author it would have hurt like crazy and I would have been very depressed. But after sometime, that same hurt would have forced me to write better. We need to be able to deal with criticism! Just because someone can publish, does not mean if we offend the art form!
    Yes, I have been subject to sustained online harassment some 6 years back. I received 150 hate mails and several anonymous hateful comments on various listservs that I was part of. My attackers also went on to try and write about me in mainstream media. It was horrible. But I learnt several things and I also then went on to help the University develop an online internet policy for all communications and the two main student groups adopted my recommendations as a policy for their listservs. It exhausted me no end. It made me very lonely. Unlike you, I had very few supporters at that time. But it was the best lesson I could have learnt!
    Sudha, you are being called to become an honest reviewer–a reviewer who applause book writers will crave for. I myself am now going to look forward to the day when you comment something nice on my blog as a sign that I have written well. Hats off, my friend!!!

    • Oh Bhavana ! I can’t even imagine what a terrible experience that must have been. And here I am whining about 3 commenters and 12 nasty comments ! Sending some hugs your way :-)

      I don’t think it’s difficult to be honest, especially if you are passionate about something or believe in something. It’s difficult only when you are wishy-washy about something, and get away by saying nice, sweet things.

      Thanks Bhavana, for your support and encouragement and lovely words. And when we meet next, a discussion on communication is on the agenda, among other things.

  10. Wow, this is shocking! I have been subjected to some rude comments some even wishing death upon my near and dear ones. They used to affect me earlier. These days I just promptly delete them. I don’t know why people do this. Such people are sick. And, I think you must not mull too much over it. Those with inflated egos handle the criticism very negatively. I do admire you for the way you handled the perpetrator/s. Hats off!

    • Thanks, Rachna.

      I am not a brooder by nature. I would probably have mulled about the comments for a week or so and then gotten over it. I had even closed comments on the post as I did not want it to drag on. The IP address thing is what got me all bothered and triggered off this post. It was important that I share this experience with you all.

      • No, don’t get me wrong! You did a great job of writing this post. This was needed to bring out their farce out in the open. I’ve shared your post on my Facebook account as an eye opener for other bloggers!

        • Rachna, what you said is absolutely right—one should not mull over such negative things for long. :-) I’m sorry if I conveyed something else.

          Thank you so much for sharing on your FB wall.

  11. I, too, belong to the brigade that says, a la Asimov, “When I call for criticism, I mean only praise!”. But, then, if what I do get is negative criticism I do not find it acceptable to go around assassinating the character of the reviewer, not to mention orchestrating a conspiracy to do so. Btw, perhaps the author is not to blame given that the publisher also had a stake in the sales of the book.

    • To be honest, Suresh, I also like praise. All the time. But as far as my writing is concerned I know that I need honest critiques if I have to improve. I have people who always like what I write and I have people who give me such honest feedback that I have often been driven to tears. I would not be writing the way I am if not for that feedback from the latter set of people. And I know that I have a long long way to go.

      Criticism is what you make of it and what you take away from it. If you wish to look at it constructively, you’ll do that and if you think you are the best and beyond all criticism then even the mildest comment can seem destructive. It’s all in the mind.

      I did think of the publisher part, but where and who are the publishers. They seem to have no online presence at all. That is the reason why I feel that it is the family or friends or fans of the author and book. But I have no proof.

      • That was meant in the lighter vein, Sudha! I do get terribly worked up with people who come over and just give a negative comment like ‘Not good’ or things like that. Anyone who tells me exactly what is not good in her opinion does help me improve and I have respect for that person for having cared to take the time to share the opinion.
        Your critique of I, Rama falls in the category of pointing out exactly what you thought was wrong with the book and, thus, needed to be treated with respect. To differ with your review is one thing. To ascribe mean motives to you for the review is utterly shameful and I was really angry with the comments – particularly by Vijay! How he lives with a mind like a sewer only he can tell. I’d not want to live a micro-second in his shoes.
        If my comment gave you reason to think that I was against the tone of your review, my sincere apologies. Sometimes, humour can be ill-timed.

        • Not at all, Suresh. Your comment only gave me a chance to elaborate on what I wanted to say about criticism. :-) If I gave any impression of being a prickly pear, I apologise. :

  12. Dear Sudha…read your blog and was deeply disturbed…I think this kind of behavior is but an indication of the extremely intolerant times we live in…we seem to have become really short on tolerance regarding everything we perceive as a ‘threat’ to our very fragile sense of being…no matter how small or irrelevant it may be…I mean in our country today you can be arrested for cracking a joke about the dubious record of a chief minister…or publishing an ancient cartoon….people see this as a way to get cheap publicity or contrarily…to attack so spectacularly that a lesser mortal would turn tail and retreat rather than take on the hooligans…also commenting on a blog gives a person a great deal of anonymity…good thing you caught onto them!!!!
    I am so proud that you stood up to these critters…keep it up…am re-posting this…there really has to be a limit to this kind of ridiculous behaviour…

    • Thank you so much, Aru. One of the commenters actually accused me of writing the post for publicity and getting more traffic to my site :-)

      For me there are two things that have emerged from the whole sorry episode: (i) dissent is a big no-no and being contrary is wrong. (ii) we seem to revel in mediocricity.

      There is another thing that has emerged: there are wonderful, genuine people out there also they are those who are willing to engage in a healthy discussion, are willing to listen to other points of view, and can choose quality over popularity.

  13. Reading this piece, reminds me of an old favourite song sung by Kenny Rogers – The Gambler. (Also sung by Johnny Cash). Actually, this was given to me as a piece of advice by one of my teachers, a priest, when I was in school.

    Nanjil, Shakti, Vijay and the author of course can benefit from the advice of the gambler (Should I say marketing advice?)

    You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em,
    Know when to walk away and know when to run.
    You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table.
    There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done.

    I am so proud of you Sudha for coming up aces! You got to keep your ace and broke even and stand vindicated.

  14. I am proud to be your friend Sudha. It takes more than simple courage to stand up to harassment and come out with the truth. And truth always triumphs, going by the overwhelming support you have got over this nasty incident. I really pity those who attack an honest and damn good reviewer, because by doing so, they are only ready to wallow in their mediocrity and enjoy the false sense of appreciation from fence-sitters and diplomatic reviewers. And more is the pity that they could not see the review as an unbiased one and were intent on looking for motives and rewards. The last unpublished comment of Vijay was in disgusting taste.

    I do hope that publishers make a beeline to you to review their books/manuscripts because it would give them a better chance of making good sales :D

    • Dear, dear Zephyr, what would I do without friends like you. Thank you for all the online and offline support you have given and I have come to expect, no demand, from you. :-D

      With this post, I feel lighter and better and want to put this entire episode behind me. And wait for the publishers to contact me too ;-)

  15. Aiyyo Rama!!!! People have so much time. I strongly feel that it is the author who did all this mumbo jumbo because only somebody who has written the book can defend it so strongly. Unfortunately the authors forget that once they have their works published they should be ready to recieve all the flak because it is in public domain and every individual thinks differently. One can not force his/ her thoughts on others. This is the very reason that I am a fan of Chetan Bhagat as an individual. So many people criticise him but you never see him stooping to this level, he takes it all in his stride and come up with the next book.

    Thankfully I am yet to face any such author, there have been cases where I have recieved review copies and not liked them. I usually mail the author to tell him that I actually disliked the book and would he still want me to publish the review. Everytime I have got a reply saying they are ok with it as they want correct feedback. Gues not everyone is as gracious.

    • Yes, Swati. Ayyo Rama indeed. :-)

      So far, I have accepted only book directly from the author, with the condition that I would post an honest review. Like your authors, she too had no problem with my posting an honest review. I wish authors and publishers and readers too realise that the review is just the reviewer’s opinion, and not something cast in stone. Of course, if you wish to treat it as one, there is nothing to stop them from doing so, right?

  16. To my dear friend Sudha….Kudos to your courage. I have been following up on this entire episode, and now I could not resist my temptation , where are these people now? Shakthi, Nanjil and Vijay who were writing volumes and volumes about your ‘critic’ have not come in at all here? This definitely is indicating something. Sad state of affairs….

    • I’m wondering too. Wondering and waiting if they will show up here. Silence really speaks volumes, doesn’t it? And Asha? Thanks a lot for your comments. :-)

  17. Sudha, the post reminded me of the reviews I have never written. I admire persons who write frank and honest reviews and I love reading them. However, there have been couple of books written by friends, that I never wrote the reviews because I didn’t want to hurt them. :)

    I have never been the target for a concerted online attack – a few times, comments did hurt me, but I think that now I am able to laugh them off more easily – however, I think that they must be very stressful.

    I like your final resolution, to go on with more of honest reviews! Best of luck :)

    • Thanks, Sunil. I understand fully your dilemma of reading your friends’ books and finding that you don’t like it. I know authors who have become friends, but not vice-versa. But the day is not too far when friends too will become authors. And to be honest, I dread that day as I will be then be asked to review the books.

  18. I am speechless. However, when I reflect on this issue I realise that we are now celebrating mediocrity. People don’t have the ability to handle critiques. They think they have to be good at everything. If so, then we would had only one God.

    I have faced many a violent attacks. Mediocre guys attack like a pack of wild dogs. It is disturbing. I have stumbled upon this blog, so I am not sure who you are. I feel, you should keep on doing whatever you are doing.
    Cheers,
    Sabyasachi

    • I am just another blogger who writes on travel, books, photography, music, and my city, Mumbai. You could read about them at your leisure. :-) Thank you for your comments, Sabyasachi. It is always wonderful to meet and hear from like-minded people.

  19. Agree with Zephyr that taking a stand needs a lot of courage ! Best of luck and keep on ripping apart what you feel deserves to:)

  20. well done, Sudha!!! hats off, esp for noticing the similar ip addresses and tackling the subject in a separate post! i just went over to the original blog to see what i missed, and god! i couldnt have chosen a worse time to fall sick! i seem to have seen just the tip of the iceberg and missed the rest :( i wonder more and more about the author for keeping quiet amidst all this… am sure he would certainly know about the review and the ensuing ‘discussions’. he has shared some reviews on fb, but all of them have been highly appreciative ones, none of the less appreciative ones have featured anywhere…and i guess this speaks volumes about him and his supporters……

    • Thanks, Anu. That IP address thing was pure chance !

      Your comment came in as I was posting an update on this post. I sent Ravi Venu the link to this post to which he replied. I have put his response in the blog post now. Now regarding sharing only good reviews and not the negative ones, did you really expect it to be other wise, Anu? ;-)

  21. Hey Sudha
    Commenting on your blog after long time. This was horrifying yaar. Thanks for sharing. I don’t think I need to pour more words. All has been said.

  22. Hi Sudha

    Thanks for taking your time to read and review the book, I appreciate the constructive remarks.

    Being a first time writer, I am aware and more than willing to take / read and hear all the feedback and I am sure there will be bouquets and brickbats in the process.

    I regret that some unforeseen instances have happened, however, I am not involved with it.  

    I look forward for more feedback like yours and others, and I hope to keep in mind these for the rest of series.
     
    Thanks and Regards
    Ravi Venu

    • Welcome here, Ravi. And thank you for stopping by and commenting. Thank you also for taking the review positively.

      While I am willing to accept that you personally had nothing to do with what happened, I hope that you realise that it has been done by someone known to you or close to you–either your publisher or publicist or friends or family or FB page fans. While they may have done it with the intention of defending your book and defaming me, that is not how it really works. It has actually affected you. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be writing this comment and Nanjil and/or/Shakti and/or Vijay would have been commenting.

      I too regret what has happened and wish you and your books all the success that you have wished for.

  23. This is totally unacceptable behavior. A review is a review. The brigade could go and post their own saccharine dripping reviews if they wanted to! How dare they harass you.

    • Well, Shail, maybe they have done it for all that we know. If you read Raghav’s comment, you would have known that this is apparently a well-known social media tactic, Never thought I would become the target, though. Maybe my reviews carry more weight than I think they do. :-)

  24. Hello :)
    I landed here through Shail Aunty’s tweet. I have seen such an attack on Sadiya’s blog http://sadiyamerchant.blogspot.in/2011/10/ineligible-bachelors-book-review.html

    While I do agree that criticism should be taken in its stride, the fact remains that sometimes negative reviews do get such trolls, because they think that this is a personal remark on the author.

    I did go though your review (haven’t read the book)….as for me, I do find it a bit harsh. I also agree that a negative review has to be that honest. Nevertheless, trolling has no justification.

    • Welcome here, Kamikaze and thank you for stopping by and commenting. My review is my opinion based on my perspective. Since you have not read the book, I can tell you that I could not have written it any other way.

      Thanks for the link to Sadiya’s blog and I am heading that way now to read about her experience.

  25. I thank ever single person who read this blog, commented, tweeted, reposted or reblogged this. I wrote this post to share my experience of what happened. I have also received a response from the author and now feel that it is time to end the discussion. So, comments for this post are now closed. Thank you for dropping by and reading. :-)

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