Inspiration or Insipidity

We’ve seen a lot of plagiarism; in literature, in music, in any work of creative ingenuity basically. Writers have been caught red-handed and all their glory lost in a matter of seconds, which took years to build. Just recently we saw Fareed Zakaria, the guy from CNN, admitting to lifting portions from The New Yorker. His career, it’s safe to say, is over.

One might ask the question as to why would a writer, an established one no less, would risk all his glory by maneuvering a stunt like that? Is he not scared of getting caught? Is he under the impression that nobody would find out? Or is he under the false notion that he is loved and liked by one and all and that he will never come under the scanner of criticism? No matter how far ahead you think of this it doesn’t resonate well. It just cannot end well for the cheating author.

Also, what of the reader? Doesn’t the author stop and think what the ramifications of his act will be? His fan following will take a hit and, trust me, that is the least of the issues he will face. I’m not even going into the courtroom scene, the legal battle, the huge money involved etc. I’m talking about the hard acceptance of his fan base. I look up to the authors I like to such an extent that it’s a little scary. To some extent I will ignore certain things that the author demonstrates in his book for the simple reason that I have been a great admirer of his work.

A little while ago I posted this in which I maintained my steadfast approval and admiration to Greene and Orwell. I repeated, more than once, that Orwell has faked a few incidents in his semi-biographical “Down and Out in Paris and London”. But I still stood by him. I think the reason behind is that the respect his Animal Farm and 1984 instilled in me was magnificent and humungous and I couldn’t help but ignore a little lying. Of course, “lying” is being taken so seriously because it was supposed to be factual!

Or else, who cares about lying in novels!

Anyway, lying a little and blatantly copying copious amount of matter from a peer’s work, usually the peer is a senior and a much more respected personality than the plagiarising author, is something not even in the same ballpark.

I recently read the sad events that took place in the life of Kaavya Viswanathan, the author of “How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life. Almost a dozen paragraphs were simply lifted (with due “corrections”) from two books by Megan McCafferty and a book authored by Sophie Kinsella. Kaavya maintained that she was a great admirer of the authors and she might’ve copied their style and that she doesn’t quite remember any of it because the book went through 50 revisions.

I don’t know what to say to the excuse. Is it an excuse? People might say no. But I really believe that it is a little possible. Of course, it doesn’t absolve Kaavya of the literary sin she committed.

When I was in my late teens and began harbouring thoughts of writing a novel I realized that my style resembled a lot to my teen hero Alistair Maclean. I kid you not. I could clearly see that the sardonic tone in the hero was so much similar to John Bentall from Maclean’s “The Dark Crusader”. Events and circumstances were similar, descriptions of the scenery were so much like the spectacular Maclean and it was not surprising that the backdrop was reminiscent of an amalgamation of various novels.

That was the moment when I realized that I need to be careful. I had been reading Maclean back to back. I had finished 8 of his books that summer.

After that I stopped. I didn’t touch a Maclean for around 3 years.

I’m sure it is easy to get swayed, to let the wind take you places on its own. But it never bodes well. Kaavya was a new comer, she had just stepped foot in the literary world. Ignore the girl. There have been instances of big shots like Mulk Raj Anand and Rudyard Kipling who have been associated with this.

Kipling himself wrote that his extremely brilliant Jungle Book had shades of other work. Mulk Raj Anand, the brilliant writer who gave us “The Liar” and “Untouchable”, was said to have lifted an article written by an Oxford professor.

Everything said and done, it is something that is to be thought of in terms of literary value. These days the issue with all the copyright infringements and meeting deadlines and marketing a book the literary flavor is lost in the clinking of dollars and Euros. Vikram Seth received a 7 figure advance for his “A Suitable Boy”, which, at around 1400 pages, is one of the longest books ever written in English. Now, a 7 figure advance can really create havoc in the mind of the writer, the publisher, the marketing team, the legal experts and why not? A lot of money is riding on the creativity of the author.

With that kind of money the trajectory of things that can potentially go wrong, for whatever reasons, is high! The great news is that Seth finished the book and it was a good one (I haven’t read it though), but the bad part was that he kind of missed the deadline. Anyway, such things happen in the bad world where some books are sold at insane prices equivalent to 100 square meals!!!

Well, I obviously cannot help when it comes to plagiarism. But we can accept it perhaps. By acceptance I don’t mean to accept the literary sin as anything lesser than a sin, but that these things will always happen. And, if going according to this line of thought is getting difficult there is always Wilde to think of.

After all, imitation is the most sincere form of flattery.


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