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Nonfiction
Plagiarize Your Eyes
By Buzz Burza
May, 2006, 14:27

T
he Indian press has always been rightly proud of citizens of this fair land who do well in the West.

Earlier this year I followed with interest the vast amount of initial positive press surrounding the publication in the latest entry in the ill-named field of “chick lit" penned by this brainy Harvard teen lass Kaava Visanathan.

Her coming of age tale, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild And Got A Life was the result of early writing and slick packaging that initially resulted in a sophomore getting a disproportional amount of publicity as well as a half million dollars.
 
I figured another had been added to the pantheon headed by Rushdie, Seth, Roy & Company. Alas all turned to drek quite quickly. The sad "ah ha!" that followed the initial "hoo ha" is indicated by the three quarter of a million hits on Google regarding the plagiaristic propensities of her work.

The current ruckus is of much greater magnitude than the original laudatory ink this well packaged deal generated. I could not begin to read any of Google with sometimes upwards of six lengthy paper articles clipped from the past week’s press in front of me.
 
Their thrust is indicated by titles like Life After Kaavya, Not A Fairytale End and Plagiarism And Modern Publishing. Even the weekly feature answering readers' questions began with the etymology of the word “plagiarism.” Initially, this Latinate word meant “kidnap” and wormed its way into English in the 16th century. Their contemporary definition ended with, a la Visanathan, "I guess it's the price of fame-shame...”
 
It's been a season for successful published work to come under the media microscope.

I’ve just finished James Frey’s confessional opus, A Million Little Pieces, which has come under fire for exaggerating the details to enhance the tale. I dunno. I found it to be an interestingly crafted tale that stands by itself and, for me, worked. I’m also into the second of Dan Brown’s DaVinci-like books with this Harvard prof character he seems to be developing.

Although I don’t write fiction, I do read the stuff and, by luck of the draw, have read several things that have come under the plagiarism scanner. Remember, it's illegal, and to quote our Great Decider George W. Bush, “You can run but you can’t hide.” If a writer “borrows,” somewhere, someone will have read the original and connect the dots.
 
Toronto, Canada witnessed the sad suicide several decades ago of a fired Toronto Star journalist who committed the cardnal sin of lifting paragraphs from a review that appeared in Time Magazine in 1952.

Personally, I used an anecdote twice in essays appearing on the editorial pages of the Times Of India. Out of left field my editor had me bring down copies of all that I had written, as some eagle-eyed Timesman had spotted the item in question, to check for more "lifts." In a word, it’s embarrassing.
 
The whole sad affair seems so emblematic of the times in which we live. The phenomenal beginning of Kaava Visanathan was just the sort of feel-good story these times demand. It's just a damn shame the way it's being played out.
 
What is at stake is an ethical situation that faces any writer. If I may paraphrase the great American ditty master Tom Leer's song, Plagiarize, "Use your eyes, don't plague yer eyes." IN Icon


Buzz Burza is a freelance writer, photographer, teacher, lecturer, film actor and print distribution consultant living in New Delhi, India. Email: buzburza@yahoo.com


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