<%-- Page Title--%> Slice of Life <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 138 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

January 16, 2004

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The Critic: A Conversational Exposition in Two Acts

Richa Jha

Act I
The previous week, I met a critic. He is a fireband journalist, a young gentleman, erudite and polished, in brief, everything which yours-truly is not. Like all conversations between adults, this one steered, willy-nilly, in the direction of that one big question, the occupation.
"I am a mother", I announced.
"That's alright. But there must be something you do, besides being a mother", he pressed on.
I had half a mind of ending the conversation right there, but I replied politely, "No, I am a full time mother, if that makes any sense to you".
"What a waste of good resources", he said.
"You may get the answer to this twenty years from now, but then too, as now, you'll miss the point", there's little patience I have with such people, so with brief perfunctory goodbyes, we parted ways.

Act II
As luck would have it, I bumped into him again last night at Grassroots Cafe.
"Hey, I've been thinking of getting in touch with you again. Didn't you say you don't do anything? You write now and then, you sure do, isn't that you?"
"Maybe. But why are we starting this all over again?"
"Because I want to know why you write such trash." Oops! Unkind words spoken even before I could savour the first sip of chilled tamarind juice this winter.
“Maybe because I am not capable of producing anything better”, I told him, keeping a straight face, which was anyway red hot and spinning now. "Does that suffice for an answer?".
"No, but why this fixation with inconsequential things. Especially when the world is simmering with such immediate issues like war, inequality, injustice, cruelty. There are crises all around us. The world is burning, don't you get it?". He sounded (and looked) agitated. Oh my God, I thought, he believes in what he is saying.
I figured I was no match for him, so I said, "But aren't there enough minds churning out enough theses to counter them? Or several more who dwell upon these issues in earnest?".
"No, there can never be enough written, said, or discussed on any of our blazing problems. Writers have a duty towards the public", his fiery eyes looked possessed.
"But then you're speaking with the wrong person, haven't you figured that yet?" I wanted this talk to end right away.
But he had come prepared with more pointed questions. "Who do you think you're reaching with your pieces? Who reads it anyway?" Ouch, that hurt bad. Not since Samuel Beckett elevated critics to a haloed position, as the ultimate form of abuse (remember Gogo's CRRITIC, one of the best known check-mates in recent literature?), has the world seen such a passionate critic!
"I know of five people who do. I do, The Hubby does-if only to keep me in good humour, the editor of SWM (I hope she does), a friend of mine in the US, and now you. That's not a bad audience for trash, given that the written word is no longer this generation's best friend".
"Hey, keep me out of your ego-trips. I skip such write-ups, especially yours, even before I reach the page."
"Uh-oh, that's makes it only four of us. I earnestly hope the editor didn't hear that."
"You find it amusing? Well lady, let me do some plain talking with you. I am certain no man, as in the male man, appreciates such stuff. It is so girlie, so naïve and trivial, so…ordinary", he paused before uttering that last word. Perhaps the ordinariness of the term had made him hesitate. "Who wants to know what happened to your child or your home, or even to your partner?"
Point taken, I thought, and added, "Fine, so this week I'll write about you? Does that help you ease up a bit?"
"Huh, I be damned before I feature in such inconsequential places", he said with an arrogant puff on his cigarette.
"But then, you'll never know you got mentioned since you don't read it ever, you won't read it this week, will you?"
After a brief pregnant pause, he muttered, "People like you call yourselves writers…". He sounded disappointed. It was as if this world had suddenly become an even more hopeless place after our brief chat. By now I could see my son start fidgeting under the coffee table.
"But that's the point, you see? I don't call myself one. If I did, this explosive parley would have happened last week when we met for the first time. I told you I am a mother, didn't I?" I said getting up. "And now if you'll excuse me, there's a little crisis I have to attend to. This little one wants to visit the toilet. I'll make a move now". I smiled, and just before turning around, I added, "A full-time mother has to think about such trivial things on a minute-by-minute basis".
I think I saw him smile back! For the first time that evening, with a nod, which hinted he understood. Or did he?




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