April 28, 2006

Plagiarism - Kaavya Viswanathan

Book by Kaavya Viswanathan faces plagiarism controversy - contains similarities to other works - apparently 29 to 40 passages of her book were straight straight from books by author Megan Mcafferty, who Kaavya admits to have read voraciously as a teenager and been influenced by.

Update: The book has been withdrawn from bookstores by its publisher. Mcafferty has said she is not pressing any charges and just wants to forget this whole episode and move on.)

Can't help but opine here...
(damn.. sound like Bill OReilly...he really loves the word, opine..doesn't he use it at the end of his show every time when he asks for viewers..his faithful followers...to 'opine'? I havent seen his show in ages..but when I had seen it, he said that word almost every time..at the end..)... since this one particularly bothers me maybe because she is Indian..maybe because she writes chic-lit, which I deem inane (see rant below), or maybe because there was a hint of jealousy in reading that even a 17-year old could get a book contract - although to be fair I have also been riled up by other cases of plagiarists - Indian as well as Non-Indian. Cheating, by any other name, is cheating and its NOT COOL in my book (pun unintended.)

Surely Kaavya will recieve a lot of flak in the next few days and months for what she has called a
"unintentional and unconscious" infringement (implausible, I say! Influenced in style is one thing - copying entire paragraphs is not unconscious!! See these examples - Unpardonable, IMO) from many online like us who do not even know her nor will ever read her books to others in the publishing world as well as people she knows! She was on a high with some big contracts, making newspaper articles locally and maybe internationally...and probably enjoying the positive attention. How she handles the negative press and criticism is unknown but given that in todays world, in the US but more and more in India too maybe, notoreity is not a bad thing , she just might be ok - if, as a 17 year old, she can handle the pressure of this "infamy" and learn how to use it to her advantage. No big $$ contracts or fame like a vikram seth or vikram chandra maybe but she'll continue to write pulp novels like she does.. and nothing dishonorable in doing that - IF SHE LEARNS NOT TO PLAGIARISE/GET INSPIRED/WHATEVER U WANT TO CALL IT....

Without reading her book, one last comment on the general genre of writing - I had no idea when I had initially
blogged about her on my Indian Subcontinent Literature thread that she was a chic-lit writer -
to each their own..what can i do if people want to read nonsense like a book titled ' How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life ' - what kind of a book title is that?!! uugggh... Is it a play on 'How Stella got her groove back', a book whose popularity with women has really ended up in more and more of this chicklit garbage ending up on bookstore shelves. Can understand it though - women are a big target market-group and maybe there was a unmet need for a Mills-n-boons for the cynical relationship-jaded women of our generation? (I am posing these as questions as I have not read them and so do not know if my bias against them is justified)... if people want to read such garbage on how someone got their groove back, or kissed, or cuddled or got wild and got married instead of reading great authors of the day like Ishiguro, Mcewan, or even a Vikram Seth - let alone going back to classics from the past like Turgenev or Balzac or Proust or...heck, even a Chaucer or a Shakespeare...then so be it! I myself have no time for such inanities...so much to read ...so little time... too many distractions..too many books...too many interests....

enuf said..

Others have also opined ;) and she's been already added to the blacklist on the Plagiarism entry at wiki.

Plagiarism and punishment - We should find a way to treat Kaavya Viswanathan and William H Swanson as we do our errant students.

29 to 40 passages of her book were lifted straight from author Megan Mcafferty’s books.

Falstaff 1 and 1, Sepia Mutiny 1 and 2 - links I found via Amit Varma's post at India Uncut who writes about an interesting aspect of this unseemly affair - something I had not read about before...
But this isn't all that is unpalatable in this episode. Apparently a 'book-packager' called Alloy Entertainment helped put this book together, as also many others in its genre. The more I read about them, the more the lines blur between the author and her 'consultants,' whose role seems similar, as Manish Vij speculates here, to the music industry guys who manufacture boy bands.
Another unrelated article in the NY Times on the competitiveness for college admissions has another interesting tidbit about an interesting consulting outfit she used in getting into Harvard as an example of students going to extremes and possibly even cheating to get a leg up. She is called the 'Barry Bonds' of today's college crowd....

Kaavya Viswanathan.., a
Harvard sophomore won admission to the university partly through the ministrations of a consulting outfit named IvyWise, which charges $10,000 to $30,000 for its services. Then she wrote a roman à clef about the process, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life. Now, Miss Viswanathan has been accused of plagiarism, and, in an interview with The New York Times, has acknowledged an "unintentional and unconscious" pattern of appropriation from two other books. Of course, Barry Bonds has insisted that all he ever knowingly took were nutritional supplements.

UPDATE- May 2, 2006
She really thought she would get away with it....aaj ke duniya mein!!??

Sepia Mutiny, a blog I sometimes read (the guy who had the great pictures from Bandra recently), is mentioned in this Outlook article.

What is significant is that almost all the new "revelations" seem to have been the results of close readers posting their comments on various blogs and sharing their findings with each others or mainstream media.
The similarities in passages with Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories (HATSOS) were brought out on the weblog Sepiamutiny.com where it was pointed out how the passage in Rushdie's book where his hero, Haroun, enters a bus depot and passes by several admonitions written on the walls surrounding the depot's courtyard found its echoes in Viswanathan's book where her protagonist, Opal Mehta, helps another student place posters on a wall that discourage drug and alcohol use.

On page 35 of Rushdie's HATSOS, one of the warnings reads: "If from speed you get your thrill / take precaution ”make your will."
On page 118 of Viswanathan's HOMGKGWAGAL, one of the posters reads: "If from drink you get your thrill, take precaution ”write your will."
On page 31 of Rushdie's HATSOS, another warning reads: "All the dangerous overtakers / end up safe as undertaker".
On page 119 of Viswanathan's HOMGKGWAGAL, another poster reads: "All the dangerous drug abusers end up safe as total losers."

And so on ...so forth...!!

Guilty Kaavya hopefully survives: Rushdie Financial Express, India
Rushdie enters row over young author's 'plagiarism' Scotsman
Salman Rushdie: 'Kaavya a victim of her own ambition' Hindustan Times
Salman has no sympathy for Kaavya CNN-IBN

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