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.
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.