How I prioritize my work, battles, feedback, critics

By Rajiv Malhotra

Here are my thoughts, and the ways I solicit and deal with critical feedback in order to strengthen my work.


  1. Being from software R&D background, I understand the value of debugging a system in order to strengthen it. We used to hire outsiders to try and defeat the system, in order to learn its vulnerabilities. Even when considered ready, it was first released to a few beta sites for further debugging. Once out with customers, the maintenance team must be good at receiving feedback, and dealing with it in a new release. So I am not one to run away from problems with my work. But there is a system to this.
  2. Errors are not all of the same type. Some are serious errors in the deep architecture and these can require major redesign. Some have isolated impact that is contained within one module/feature only. Some can be bypassed such that the system works despite the error. Some are merely inconvenient or even cosmetic. There are certain "error reports" that are not errors at all, but the complainant wants a different functionality or a different approach than intended by the system design; the issue raised is not a bug but a matter of preference; maybe we don’t want to offer that feature for whatever reason – that’s our call.
  3. Errors must be graded, stratified and not all treated equally. Some are urgent, others can and must wait, some will be addressed in the next system (or book in this case) to be developed, and many are to be entirely ignored.
  4. Ultimately, the system developer decides what matters most to his client base. He must figure out the priorities for his success. An outsider might not know all the factors that go into his decision and his priorities. There are many considerations and levels of tradeoffs. In other words, someone unfamiliar with all the facts can be a nuisance if his opinions are based on what he sees from within his mental burqa.
  5. In writing my books, I go out of my way to face critics. Everyone knows this about me. Some of these encounters get captured on videos you can watch, but most are in private settings. I go deep into “enemy”/opponent territory to understand their reactions, and this is for my own good. For the first 10-15 years I spent much time going to every Hinduism related academic conference/meeting and engaged the top tier scholars of every stripe. For my books, I send every draft to at least 10 critics for detailed peer review – in some instances I pay the critic to allow him to spend quality time and give me a critical analysis. In this feedback I am not looking for accolades, but quite the opposite. I am hardly sitting in my comfort zone the way most of our folks are. My works are the product of multiple encounters over many years with all sorts of people across the ideological spectrum. I can do this only because this has been my full-time work for nearly 25 years. Also, I thrive in debates and discussions to honestly introspect on serious issues, and I do not approach a topic with a closed mind. This is why I am able to innovate.
  6. The major impact I seek from a book is where I focus on getting feedback, not on side issues. I want to write a book only when there is some big paradigm change I want, and one that is badly needed. I am not interested in quibbling about whether someone translated a particular verse correctly, unless that has impact on the overall paradigm. Remember that I was a chief design architect of large, complex systems, and now I seek intellectual situations with equivalent significance. I am not concerned with every small module of code being correct – many others are able to do that and they are probably better at it than me.
  7. For example, in Pollock’s case, my major contribution is to have (a) decoded some of his most important theories/frameworks, (b) articulated these in ways that more people can understand, and (c) offered some preliminary responses or red flags from the dharma standpoint. I am not interested in minute errors here and there that would not help to demolish some major thesis of his. I will let others do that. Unfortunately, almost nobody on our side has even as of now properly understood his theories/lens; most of our folks still focus on relatively trivial issues in his work.
  8. Pollock does not consider himself a Sanskrit language expert, and nor do I consider TBFS an analysis of his Sanskrit skills. Pollock is a major philologist today; philology = “making sense of texts” using some theory of interpretation. I critique him in his approach to philology. This is his deep work. It’s his work’s architecture. As a systems architect, this is how I analyze it. Finding a mistake here and there in his Sanskrit makes little impact on his philology – that would be pedantic for my purpose. For one thing, such errors are easily corrected without altering his philology. It is his philology that I am after. The famous Sanskrit expert in Bangalore who wrote a review of my book did not understand the difference between philology and use of Sanskrit as a language; hence much of what he said is of little significance.
  9. Those few individuals who then took his review and turned it into a sort of public fiasco were even further removed from what would matter to my work, or to Pollock’s. These noisemakers are twice removed from where my priorities lie. This is why I call them pests because in my priority scheme, they are best ignored. Their issues do not belong do not impact whether or not I am able to pierce holes through Pollock’s political philology and liberation philology. Pollock’s impact in Indology is for having introduced the most widely accepted philology system and trained an army in its propagation. The impact I desire is to put enough reasonable doubt in his system that it does not become a de facto standard in Indology. Unfortunately, prior to my intervention, he was being very successful in making deep inroads into our Sanskrit studies establishment. The same Sanskrit folks who are embarrassed because they were sitting around staring at their navels, are now jealous and upset that I am doing what they were being expected to do all their careers.

Algorithm: With this background, below is my algorithm on how I choose to ignore/filter those I consider pests, hecklers, attention seekers, shallow noisemakers, opportunists, etc.

1. Does a given feedback relate to Pollock’s thesis and my counter-thesis? If so, it is priority 1 and gets my attention. If not, it is below priority level 1.

2. If below top priority 1, what is the effort required to rework it compared to the benefit to my target readers? In other words, will fixing this error help in a big way to educate my readers for their own analyses/critiques of Pollock’s philology? If of marginal/pedantic value, then it gets demoted below priority level 2, to level 3 or lower.

3. Is the critic genuine or someone seeking publicity, opportunistic, bringing down someone else just to hoist himself up? If so, I don’t want to encourage such behavior, and hence I would further lower the priority to level 4 or less.

The pests don’t like being ignored. They angrily demand as their birthright that I must deal with every single issue they raise as if they control my priorities. But are they my boss? Do I work for them? Do they have enough experience in this field to decide my priorities? Do they know enough about my workload and what is on my plate to be able to optimize how I should best allocate my time and resources? I have my own algorithms and keep updating them heuristically based on what makes me better at my game. I learn from the best khiladis in the world, not failures, would-be players, junior players, and especially not from persons lacking strategic minds.

Yesterday I did two important interviews with Vijaya who visited me for the day. These will get edited and put on Youtube. I told her that I spend as much as 50% of my prana dealing with type 4 persons who waste time. I request my supporters to help me get rid of the pests so we can focus where our collective yajna takes us.

I asked her: who are the ones in out texts that destroy the yajna of someone else. She said they are rakshasas. She also suggested Karna as the prototype who opportunistically switches sides as he is not rooted in dharma. This made me think: Just how grounded are such hecklers in the dharma? If they are not transformed by guru and by sadhana, then what is their motive for claiming to be “champions of Hindu dharma?” Are they trying to ruin the yajna without having one of their own? Are they loose canons?

In my interviews taped yesterday, I thanked the type 2 genuine supporters. I can continue on my journey with their encouragement.

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