Thursday, April 27, 2006

Kaavya and Plagiarism

Read the following two paragraphs:

# “Sabrina was the brainy Angel. Yet another example of how every girl had to be one or the other: Pretty or smart….”

% “Moneypenny was the brainy female character. Yet another example of how every girl had to be one or the other: smart or pretty….”

Do you find any similarity between the two? The first one is from McCafferty’s novel called “Sloppy Firsts” a novel she wrote in 2001. The second one is from Kaavya Viswanathan’s “How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life”. A pure coincidence? May be!

Check the following two sentences, the first one is from McCafferty and the second one from Kaavya.

# “Finally, four major department stores and 170 specialty shops later, we were done.”

% “Five department stores, and 170 specialty shops later, I was sick of listening to her hum along to Alicia Keys....”

The plots of the stories are similar and so are the sentences and phrases. Such similarities run into 40 or more. They are available at this site.

Now, for most Indians these similarities seem very normal. It anyway happens all the time in Indian mainstream media, entertainment and literary sections. Movies are copied- scene to scene, dialog to dialog, without giving any acknowledgement and the Indian audience laps it up cheeringly without an iota of concern that it was “plagiarized”. Songs are blatantly copied- music notes are ‘borrowed’ without any change and most of the articles and books written by many authors ‘reuse’ pages of text verbatim without even changing a comma.

Actually, ‘plagiarism’ is an alien word to most Indians. They do not seem to be affected by it at all. This runs in corporate world as well. A former team member working in my company once wrote a brochure on our company’s offerings and to my astonishment I found out that it was ‘cut and paste’ from a close competitor. It was the same font, same words and same structure. And when I told him we cannot do that, he adamantly retorted- “Why not?” and though I tried to convince him otherwise, he maintained his stand that it was quite OK to do it. He even reasoned that ‘we shouldn’t be reinventing the wheel’.

Most of the students in India participate in essay writing competitions having mugged up a whole length of text from a newspaper item, a journal or from the web. They write verbatim having memorized the whole text- and the one who copies the best wins the first prize. It is not a contest of how you express your ideas; it is more of a contest who remembers the text better.

The words ‘plagiarism’ or ‘intellectual property’ do not seem relevant to most Indians. It is very natural to copy a text, copy a lyric or a tune without acknowledging the originator. And the roots for this are laid during our primary education enforced by the teachers. Most of these teachers who undergo B.Ed. or M.Ed. are actually instructed that they should encourage students to write in their words and to discourage them from writing the exact text. Such instructions, the teachers brush them off the way most Indians brush off other such instructions like- ‘Stand in Q (line)’, ‘Stop at Red light’, ‘Don’t give or take bribe’, etc. These teachers foster an extreme form of plagiarism amongst growing children by insisting that they should write the way it is written in the text book. All of us who have gone to school in India are familiar with words like ‘mugging’, ‘mug up’, ‘by rote’, ‘by heart’, ‘ratta’, ‘pidi’, etc. They all mean the same- to write the answer as it appears in the text book- verbatim, not missing a comma or apostrophe. To illustrate from my own experiences from school education in India- for a ‘Geogrpahy’ subject in Class IX, I wrote an answer to a question for which I got very less marks though I covered all the salient aspects. In fact, I was extremely good at Geography and every one in the class knew that. When I asked my teacher, he explained away my low score citing the reasons that I did not write the exact text (as it is in the text book) and that I used bullet points while the text books does not contain any. Also, I changed the order of salient points and that was not acceptable to him.

By the time students get into engineering and degree colleges, they become experts at ‘mugging’ and reprinting the text. My favorite word to describe this phenomenon is ‘creating excellent Xerox machines’. So, when the whole of India is diligently engaged in creating these copy machines, how can one find fault with poor Kaavya for her “accidental and unintentional” similarities and coincidences which amount to mere 40 of them?

I for one strongly support for a strong action against her ‘borrowed’ works. Because we need some good examples- which can be viewed and watched by many parents and teachers across this country- so that they realize that this ‘copying’ business will have negative consequences. If Kaavya is let go free, it will be unfortunate because India will now go back to its usual business with renewed energy and confidence to continue its plagiarism activities and will continue breeding another generation of ‘copy making’ students.


Kaavya admits borrowing
Publisher Not Happy
Kaavya In trouble
40 such similarities
Why Plagiarists do it?

1 comment:

  1. it is clear that she has simply copied these words. Saying that she had "unconsciously internalised it" is also probably a phrase borrowed from some other book..

    However she can be forgiven on three counts:
    -she is Indian
    -she is too young
    -she probably never reckoned with her writing being a publishable material, much less a popular one


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