Success in art will always be one of the most complex topics in pop culture. A near endless stream of discussion and criticism surrounds the availability of platforms for artists, how artists should be monetarily compensated, and of course, how one decides if artists deserve more or less success than what they have achieved. The latter has been a real contentious area for us in recent years, with social media going ablaze every other year after certain individuals bring out their work, usually to significant financial success.
While the debate over books written by the likes of Raba Khan and Salman Muqtadir somehow rocketed to the upper tier of national attention, recently this whole thing has transcended into international arenas with Raba’s, let’s be honest, pretty monumental inclusion in the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia list.
Inevitably, this drew massive backlash (if that is even the right term to use here) on social media, followed almost immediately by those on the opposing side, launching a fierce counter-campaign to reiterate her credentials, and attack her, with the exchange of vitriol being as ferocious as ever.
However, as the dust of the comment wars settles, the real question here isn’t who is right in this debate, but rather, why we have this debate. Now this isn’t a sitting on the fence approach asking people to simply not care if they disagree with Forbes’ decision; by all means, you are entitled to have an opinion on something like this. But rather, my question is, is this really what’s happening here? Are we really deconstructing a listing by one of the most prestigious media entities in the world, and picking out how it’s wrong? Or, are we propagating yet another hate trend simply because it has become our easiest response to something we disagree with?
To answer the question, let’s start at the beginning. Or, at least, the point which I can trace as the beginning. In 2019, Raba Khan published her book Bandhobi. First off, I would like to state that I have neither bought nor read the book. The only part of it that came to my attention was a small excerpt that I came across on my Facebook feed — as part of a post designed to mock it, of course. What followed is something very well documented. The book was almost universally hated, with many questioning Raba’s right and credentials to even publish a book.
It’s the latter where the problem starts. For you see, while you certainly have every right to criticise and degrade any kind of art that is made publicly available, and I know a lot of people won’t like the fact that I have even called it art but hey, for terminology’s sake, it is what it is. Anyway, so, yes, while you certainly are well within your rights to bash the living daylights out of the book, you can’t let hatred pour over to the person behind the book. You can’t let your opinion of the book become a basis for personal attacks on Raba, or question her authority to write one. Because really, anyone can write a book if they have the means to do so. Subjectivity is the core aspect of any creative field. And even if an author herself is the sole person in the world who thinks she should write a book, then she has every right to do so.
As far as her book selling well is concerned, well, that has more to do with the people than her. And it also tells us exactly why publishers would line up for her book. Are there far more talented writers in the country who don’t get the opportunities they deserve? Well, I am not fit to pass judgment on anyone’s work but yes, that is probably true. But you see the reason why publishers would look at someone like Raba, and not them, is because they know that owing to her name and brand image, the book will sell. People may buy it for nothing other than curiosity, but still, it will sell — which might not be the case for those other talented but unknown writers.
Raba not publishing her book would not somehow have transferred her opportunity to those other people. To do that, we need to bring systemic changes to the industry and increase its finances so it can support a larger community of artists. Bashing Raba achieves none of that. As a final piece of comparison, it is safe to say that everyone despised the Game of Thrones final season, and both showrunners, David Beinoff and Dan Weiss, caught a fair amount of flak for it. However, despite how much the show was attacked, there wasn’t anyone saying D&D don’t deserve to be making TV shows, was there?
Fast forward to now and really, the same logic holds. Disagree with Forbes’ decision all you want, hate them for it even. But constantly launching personal attacks against a young woman for an achievement that she neither stole nor did anything immoral to win is pointless and unfair, to put it mildly.
Whether it’s pop culture, fiction or politics, writing is Saam’s ultimate passion and reprieve.