How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Went Wild...Get a life!
So, the plagiarism debate has been done to death, you think? With anyone and everyone waxing eloquent on how it's immoral/unethical/plain stupid, or was Kaavya Viswanathan just a poor young thing - naive and under pressure to live up to the $500,000 advance?
It's hard to tell. Her apology certainly was "disingenuous", but she's likely to face a little more than just loss of face - US universities in general and Ivy Leagues in particular have extremely strict views on the subject of plagiarism.
People have been suspended, and had visas pulled, and been practically deported as a result of minor infractions of that 8th commandment, Thou Shalt Not Copy. Not that she's a Third Worlder by any stretch of the imagination.
It's not just the cheating that's led to a lot of those "How COULD she" responses. It's the fact that she's young, relatively talented, and got a paid a whole lotta money as an advance. (Yes, yes, William Dalrymple pointed this out to us!) But it's got a ring of truth...Are our mock-horrified responses not just a tad bit tinged with that righteous envy?
The real question is how could she not? When the world of publishing has changed practically beyond recognition - when you, the author, are the package - the younger, the more glam, the better. It sounds very pot calling the kettle black for me to be sitting here, working in television, and pointing fingers. Yes, TV is all about the slick packaging - the short byte, that ONE frame - and people in television are notoriously image-conscious (I'm not sure how far down that road we've gone in India...)
But the point is when it comes to writing, it all boils down not just to property, which is central to this debate (as young author Rana Dasgupta quite lucidly noted in one such byte), but also the image. If you're a young, hot, Ivy League smooth-talking, slick-looking girl, then writing's not necessarily a talent you need possess to an excess.
There are these firms that will do the hard bit (that is, the writing) for you. They'll package you, they'll sell you in byte-sized portions, and your writing becomes incidental to the story. It's not the book, it's YOU that's the story. Especially if you're one of the beautiful people. If you're selleable, they'll sell you. Talent-shmalent...
Not such an earth-shattering revelation in our beautifully superficial world, but where does that leave your readers?
Well, if they've bought into the whole thing, then it's a win-win, I suppose, but if you're one of the poor deluded souls who believe in the power of the word and the integrity of the writer, I'm afraid we might just have missed the last bus to utopia. That world's just darn-near passed us by.
More about Amrita Tripathi
Amrita Tripathi is a news anchor with CNN-IBN, and also doubles up as Health and Books Editor. An MA in Philosophy from St Stephen's College, Delhi University, she has also taught a few undergraduate classes at her alma mater, informally! When she is not tracking health issues, Amrita is busy chasing the literary dream. Her debut novel Broken News was published in 2010. Before joining CNN-IBN, Amrita worked with The Indian Express.