In 2022 the Board of Control for Cricket had announced a two-year ban on journalist Boria Majumdar as a consequence of a controversy involving allegedly threatening messages received by cricketer Wriddhiman Saha.

The fallout from the controversy extended to Sharmistha, my wife, as well. She was the one who usually dropped our daughter to school. Soon after the controversy became headline news, she could sense a few of the parents giving her the cold shoulder. Some even looked at her strangely. She wasn’t affected, though. The fact that I was able to make it through the ordeal without losing my bearings was largely because of her unwavering support, which came to the fore again when we launched my next book, Maverick Commissioner, in Singapore in October 2022.

The Singapore release of the book had been planned for a while and was being led by one of my partners at RevSportz. In hindsight, it was a hugely successful event, one that opened up a number of opportunities for RevSportz. However, the buildup to the event was complicated and a prime example of what I had to go through on account of the entire social media trial that I underwent.

We landed in Singapore, me, Sharmistha and Aisha, on the morning of October 1, with the book launch event scheduled for that afternoon. The plan was for us to meet with our partners for lunch at Tantra, a Bengali restaurant, and then proceed to the venue together. Everything was fine up until that point. But upon reaching the restaurant, I was informed that one of the panellists at the launch had had to withdraw at the last minute, after being instructed to not associate with me.

I was also told that one of the event’s primary sponsors could back out at the eleventh hour and that negotiations were ongoing. They too had been instructed by their India office that it wouldn’t be good optics to support an event promoting the work of a social media pariah.

By then, none of this shocked me, but the only question I had was: “Why now? Why on the day of the event?” I had not really wanted to do an event in Singapore. It was never my idea. But now, with everything finalised and invitations sent out, why these last-minute changes of heart?

I could see that my partner in Singapore, who had spent days organising the event, was visibly upset. On the one hand, he didn’t want to see me uncomfortable or upset. On the other, the priority was to ensure that the sponsors did not walk away just hours before the event was to start. We reached a last-ditch compromise the name of the sponsor would not be mentioned, and no one from the said organisation would come on stage at any point. They would go ahead and fund the event because it was something that they had committed to, and they did not want to leave us in a lurch. For them, proceeding with the event was like an act of generosity. A part of me had just wanted to cancel it. To proceed with a function where some of the hosts were reluctant participants was not something I was used to. Calling it off seemed the pragmatic option. But then, there were other sponsors involved, and all the invites had been sent.

We just needed to grit our teeth and get through it. We reached the venue at 3.30 pm, 90 minutes before the event was to start. While the decision to go ahead was a collective one, there was a noticeable lack of excitement and none of the buzz you would normally associate with the build-up to a launch. Sharmistha had to remind me that I had seen worse and that this was just another chapter in our fight for justice.

At Lounge 1883, where the event was being held, I could sense some hostility from the audience. Almost everyone I was introduced to seemed reluctant to engage. There was little doubt that each one of them had read the things that had been written, in the press and on social media, and they seemed uncertain how to process it now that I was in their midst.

So, when my partner invited me on stage to speak about the book, he was actually doing two things. He was giving me a platform to speak about my work and what it stood for. While not referring to the ban or the incident in any detail, there was enough for me to say. Secondly, it was an opportunity to talk briefly about RevSportz and the strides we, as a new company, had taken till then.

I spoke for 45 minutes without a break and met the members of the audience eye to eye. I saw several nod intently. When I finally stopped, the first thing I noticed were the smiles. All of a sudden, the sponsors rushed to the stage and took ownership of the event. We clicked a hundred pictures thereafter, and all the apprehension disappeared. A number of people who were in the audience then are now friends and ardent supporters. Some have even invested in my company! I was able to narrate my experiences and my perspectives and worldview on sports, which possibly allowed people to take a more objective view of me. They might have been trying to make up their own minds as to whether I was the questionable character portrayed on social media, or a scholar of Indian cricket who had spent a quarter century studying the game and wanting to make a difference.

Singapore was a small but significant victory, and it reinforced my belief that this book had to be written. People needed to be told my story so that they could separate fact from fiction. But the trip also brought home to me just how far the story had travelled, and the damage it had done to my reputation. In a previous era, a book launch in Singapore could be disconnected from something that had happened in India six months earlier. But in the social media age, such boundaries are porous and untenable. People and brands were still cagey about associating with me, and it was only after a long and personal interaction that they warmed up.

While that was feasible in Singapore, with 150 people present in the audience, it was certainly not an option in the wider world where social media diktats held sway. Most folks form their opinions based on what they read and see splashed on social media platforms, and it is impossible to change perceptions overnight. The damage done was hardly the equivalent of a scratch on the paintwork. I just had to put my head down and get through it.

My Wikipedia profile was another easy target for online graffiti. The truth was that I had hardly ever used Wikipedia since I didn’t consider it reliable. However, while in Singapore, and just a day after the book launch, one of the members of the audience now a friend and investor in RevSportz sent me the link and asked why I was doing nothing about it. On reading it, my initial reaction was amusement. Trolls are easily identifiable most of the time, from their distant relationship with both coherent language and logic. Even by those low standards, this was a poor effort a bunch of invectives in a language that I assumed was meant to be English. Instead of a profile, what the page had was a dismal attempt at vilification.

Sharmistha was determined to not let it pass so easily. In fact, she painstakingly worked on the profile that evening and also complained to the administrators about the abuse. For a few hours, the changes she made were on the page. But the very next day, the page had again been ambushed. I clearly had many admirers! This time round, I listed each factual error and filed a complaint.

To be fair to Wikipedia, it was addressed, and while some of those in Singapore told me that I should also try and have the two lines that mentioned the ban removed, I was determined not to. The ban had become a badge of honour. And survival. It was a constant reminder that I couldn’t shrink away from the injustice. Instead of being airbrushed out, it needed to be part of my profile so that I did not give up, and so that I could convince myself to get across to people the consequences of social media trials and kangaroo courts. If you go and check the Wikipedia page today, you will see those two lines about the ban. I hope those who read it will eventually go through this book as well. And then decide what to make of me.

Excerpted with permission from Banned: A Social Media Trial, Boria Majumdar, Simon and Schuster India.