Somerset Maugham narrates an anecdote in the Foreword to his majestic novel, Of Human Bondage. Celebrated French novelist, Marcel Proust, wanted a periodical to publish an article on one of his great novels. The novelist wrote the article himself thinking that none would be a better critic of his than himself. Then he asked a young friend of his, a man of letters, to put his name to it and take it to the editor. The editor called the young writer after a few days. “I must refuse your article,” said the editor. “Marcel Proust would never forgive me if I printed a criticism of his work that was so perfunctory and so unsympathetic.”
Authors are touchy about their productions, says Maugham, and inclined to resent unfavourable criticism. But they are seldom self-satisfied. “Their aim is perfection and they are wretchedly aware that they have not attained it.”
Not only authors, but any person or institution should be ready to accept criticism from others as well as be a good self-critic. I once had a Principal who used to proclaim from the stage (which he loved more than was good for him or the institution) that those who criticised were “people without character.” Needless to say, he could never take the institution to any remarkable height. Rather the opposite happened.
Self-righteousness is the biggest stumbling block on the path of progress, whether it be of an individual or an institution. I have noticed that religion often makes people highly self-righteous. Try criticising a religion and see if you don’t believe me. Religion is quite akin to an anthill inside which the ants live in secure comfort. Criticism is like a prod which drives holes into that security and comfort. But what kind of an existence is it inside the anthill?
These are some of the reflections that struck me as I walked along this morning through certain untrodden paths in my rain-drenched village. The thoughts became heavier as I recollected with mixed feelings that my holiday in Kerala was going to end in a couple of days.
And below is another picture I clicked a few metres away from the anthills. Reality has a bright side too :)
These fruits are still to mature. They belong to the citrus family: sweet as well as acidic.