20 May 2014

Healer: the biography of Dr Prathap Chandra Reddy by Pranay Gupte

The foolish reviewer

A friend sent me this message a short while ago, something she saw on facebook:
Does anyone know who Saaz Aggarwal is? Well, let me tell you: She's a Pune-based writer who "reviewed" my biography, Healer: Dr Prathap Chandra Reddy and the Transformation of India (Penguin) for Hindustan Times. In my opinion, I wonder if she actually read the 600-page book. For example, she says I did not deal with health insurance! Whaaa? There's an entire chapter on health insurance. And so on. Ordinarily, I ignore foolish reviewers on the grounds that they are, well, foolish, and that they have some sort of agenda. But this so-called review is egregiously misinformed. It misrepresents my book. The next time that Manjula Narayan, books editor of Hindustan Times, makes assignments, she should at least insist that reviewers read a book before "reviewing" it.
My ‘review’ of this book actually appeared in Hindustan Times on 5 April 2014, and if you like you can read it here: http://www.hindustantimes.com/books/booksreviews/book-review-healer-a-biography-of-dr-prathap-c-reddy/article1-1204417.aspx
I logged on to facebook and was bemused to find that the author of Healer, Pranay Gupte, had posted this comment along with a photograph of me.
It’s not nice to spit and scratch in public, no? So I did ‘like’ on the comment. Then I noticed that this was a 'sponsored' link. This meant that Pranay Gupte had paid money to facebook so that my photo and the defamatory comment would be seen by more people!
Here is a transcript of my response, and the next two comments:
Saaz: Uh oh Pranay Gupte ... this SPONSORED link misses a few other things I said in my review:
Presented as the author’s year-long journey in writing it, Healer includes irrelevant description of each interview: the interiors of Sheila Dikshit’s ‘lovely bungalow in the Lutyens Zone in New Delhi’; the CV of the architect of Apollo and information about his leisure pursuits; lyrics of a song New York financier Richard Cashin sang at a Chennai cocktail party; and more. The interviews are weighted with banal hallelujahs: “Dr Reddy possesses great strength of character”; “it is rare to find a leader with such infectious enthusiasm and high principles as Dr Reddy”; “a handsome man with exquisitely polite manners”; “the so-called learning curve happens faster at Apollo than anywhere else I have seen”; and dozens more. Pruning these and the rather excessive repetition (that Dr Reddy’s granddaughter married ‘superstar’ Chiranjeevi’s son appears four times) would have made Healer easier on the wrist.And a whole lot of other stuff I LIKED about your book too :-)
Pranay Gupte: Well, I appreciate your response, Saaz. Cheers from Delhi, and I hope we meet in more pleasant circumstances.
Saaz: What I wrote was a measured, balanced review AFTER reading, making notes and mulling on every page in your book. What you've done here is post a slanderous comment along with my photograph. Nice, eh! (Incidentally, I never said that you "did not deal with health insurance". What I said was, "Controversial topics such as vaccinations, the impact of health insurance and tort, and the basic concerns of access and affordability to best-quality medical care for the majority of Indians are not delved.")
I've been away from this blog for far too long. Thank you, Pranay Gupte, for getting me back to it.

Postscript: The morning after I wrote this post and shared it on my facebook wall, tagging Pranay Gupte, I find that he seems to have 'unfriended' or perhaps 'blocked' me. I wonder why!

Pranay Gupte is a high-profile journalist, sufficiently well-connected to get the President of India to launch his book for him. He responds to a genuine critique by making malicious and ill-founded comments about the reviewer.
Does this mean that book reviewers must always praise books by well-known people, even when they are full of holes, for fear of vindictive reprisal?
Perhaps this is the reason that responsible books editors like Manjula Narayan of Hindustan Times (also maligned in Pranay Gupte's sponsored facebook post) try, whenever possible, to give books for review to writers with a track record of understanding and analyzing books, in addition to having a respected body of their own work.