Wednesday, April 26, 2006


Everyone and their niece, having whistled in admiration or died of envy of the young, strong, pretty-nosed Kaavya Vishwanathan, have also probably heard of her having plagiarised twenty-nine - once more, with feeling, twenty-nine - passages from another chick-lit novel of dubious quality. For those living under a rock (or who don't read the Times of India): NRI Kaavya Vishwanathan, at only age seventeen, sold a novel called 'How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got A Life' for a staggering $500K advance, and was poised to live happily, or at least richly and famously, for her proverbial fifteen minutes after. Then, this week, she got caught out for having copied small but several bits of her book from a writer called Megan McCafferty.

The whole story. Note how bitchy free and fair reporting @ the Crimson can be.

Language Log carries very strong opinions against and for KV's 'seeped into my subconscious' defense.

For what it's worth, I don't think she has any defence against plagiarism. Applying my limited experience to a considerably larger demographic, I can only say that writers who are serious about their work would back off speedily, or at least think very hard before stealing a plot or a significant idea, but that it takes a lot more self-control for them to avoid evoking a mood or a description - something small and well-turned out - by hurriedly dropping in a string of words that you've known and loved from another book. Especially books you've read and re-read in your tender youth, which by all means is where Kaavya V is still situated. Presumably everyone reading this knows that I refer not to stock phrases and allusions, but those things like the transucent skin of the tragically young and dying, and so on.

(Case in point: my writing still bubbles up here and there with some of the more flowery phrases of L M Montgomery, writer of the regressive but hopelessly charming Anne of Green Gables novels. Why yes, I am leaving town forever now that I have made this admission.)

I do, however, think that she is in no position to weather the growing storm of opinion against her. Harvard is threateningly murmuring that they don't have checks in place against non-academic plagiarism. Well, duh. I don't understand why, if at all, such a discussion needs to take place. After all, she's there to get a degree, one that, hopefully, was never going to be awarded to her on the strength of Opal alone. What is going to happen now? Will she be ridiculed by peers? Will her professors double-google all her submissions? Maybe. And those are valid responses. Does she deserve to be hauled over the coals for what she did? Yeah, well, in the public domain, accountability is everybody's friend. I'm still sorry for her. She kicked up a storm of good publicity because she was a young, female Ivy Leaguer, and the shit is going to hit the fan for the same reason.

(When I say I'm sorry, I mean it. I signify a total absence of schadenfreude. I am, of course, quite petty, but it seems wrong to envy a 19-year-old who has just been so dumb. I'll save it to rail against people like Jonathan Safran Foer.)

I blogged, in the past, about James Frey and his fearsome cheat-and-lie-to-the-reading-public skillz.

current musix: france galle - laisse tomber les filles. this song is eating my brain. it's short, sulky, sour, and reminiscent of the days when, one imagines, people ran around naked on the golden beaches of la belle france. oh, wait.

Thursday, April 20, 2006


to last evening:

me: tom cruise has had his pod-baby.
flatmate: wow. and eurgh.
me: yeah. know what they're calling it?
flatmate: no, what're they calling it?
me: suri.
flatmate and i: SURI. CACKLE!!!
me: so i guess she can never marry amrish puri.
flatmate: ...
me: because then she'd be -
flatmate: * facepalm * no. do not say it. i beg you.
me: okay.
flatmate: and isn't amrish puri DEAD?
me: ... another compelling argument to forgo a matrimonial bond.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

births and deaths

Dudes, I am bored. Not that I ever really followed the scary baby-in-a-pod Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes thing, but now that it's all over, there's a certain sense of loss as I wonder: where will all the newsprint devoted to the paternal delusions of that insane and repressed celebrity zealot of a fake religion go? That man, I say, is Captain Nuts. I mean, have you seen The Last Samurai? There's this bit where he tells Ken Watanabe's character about the Greeks at Thermopylae, who all died to the last man, laughs, and then makes sure that all the samurai die to the last man. Tactics? That's - one word for it.

This 'die-with-honour' thing, having irritated the crap out of the last century's most brilliant minds, continues to bug the daylights out of me. I understand that there are times when it's unavoidable - say, if you're Gil-galad facing Sauron during the first War of the Ring - but most of the time it's a farce, not to mention a deeply manipulative false incentive to get young men to sign up to die. I suppose there was a point at which you couldn't blame young men. Take Herbert Read, who went to World War I, and wrote To A Conscript of 1940 about it many years later:

But you my brother and my ghost, if you can go
Knowing that there is no reward, no certain use
In all your sacrifice, then honour is reprieved.

Coming from the same generation of poets as Wilfred Owen, this is pretty naive, but also touching, in a way, because it illustrates why some people need to retain these illusions to survive. They obscure one from confronting more complex truths about accountability, or alternatives. It's very rarely actually about being desperate enough. It's a waste. It is not okay. Worshipping honourable death for its humanity is a bit like reading Mein Kampf for the sociology.+

Maybe I don't get it because the traditional notion of honour has always been so exclusively masculine. Import it into the feminine world and you end up with things like johar [ insert Bollywood joke here ], borne not only of the notion that rape is a fate worse than death, but that grabbing a sword and sticking it to the bastards while you can is a fate worse than death, which in itself seems to be borne out of the puzzling notion that women are good for nothing but mincing around illiterate and barefoot in shiny constricted clothing, and popping out male babies when required. Honour imported into the feminine world leads to the school stories of Enid Blyton, wherein it becomes a thing not had and not even heard of, by foreign girls (invariably all seamstresses, actresses, or from the circus), and the strong and the popular consistently use it as a tool to bully, patronise and, well, dishonour. Come on. Who is she kidding about enjoying the benefits of mopping up after girls in older classes? I wouldn't do it either! (Sometimes I wonder at my tiny self devouring these stories. I must have been a Percy Weasley in pigtails. Bleck.) Is it any wonder that the lying, sneaking bitches of St Clare's are invariably the soppy, dramatic, ultra-feminine ones? These were the notions that struck me while I was re-reading these books in the house of my mothers and fathers last week - that as a civilisation, we must have been truly far gone to make truth-telling a male thing. Keep it then! I said impetuously last week, tossing my ghostly pigtails. I don't want your oh-I-say brand of unvarnished black and white. I will retreat to the world of fiction and fancy and thence take up my tale. And sucks - or 'shucks!' as the English schoolgirls of a late era might rudely say - to honour.

[I guess it's one reason why I love the Iliad. It doesn't pretend, on any level, to be about honour. It's about pride and shame, certainly, but out on the field it's simply about taking as many people down with you as you can. The funeral games are all very well for the living, but at least the dying are never given to believe that lying back and thinking of England is a Good Thing.]


+I thought about this line as soon as I cut myself off from Internet access for the night and I have concluded, of course, that it is all balls. I do in fact believe that Mein Kampf can/should be read for the sociology. I think I was trying to express my irritation with the sort of people I met in college, all young men and mercifully few, who thought Hitler was 'cool'. And I think sociology is cool. So it was garbled. I'm woolly-headed at the best of times, and evenings after-work are never those times.

Monday, April 17, 2006

slouching away from bethlehem

In spite of having lost phone connections, a computer and practically my entire home to renovations last week, it was an excellent time to take a vacation. I was holed up in a strange house with no access to any of my gadgets, but I felt connected to civilisation. I was in Bombay. My powers of objectivity were orbiting Mars. And life was beautiful.

Some reasons why this may be the case.

Mid-Day: Dear Jet Airways, it was I who stole the Mid-Day copies on each leg of my round trip. Forgive me, but they were as plums in an icebox to a starving woman.

I mean, what is this Mumbai Mirror balderdash? Yet another withered ad-horse slouching out of the underbelly of the ToI Response department. A few pages of perusable whimsy good enough for before the day's first chai. When the sun is overhead and you're workin' those tough streets, baby, it takes the Mid-Day.

Salman Khan: I figured why no one in Bombay has yet gone rioting over dead and diminished celebrities. It's because they're too busy reading Mid-Day. I wonder what might have happened if, last week, the positions of the esteemed Dr. Rajkumar and Salman Khan had been reversed. Or perhaps there'd still have been riots in Bangalore. And young men in Bombay would still have been taking off their shirts. My mother had the last word on the subject - "he's a fool, yaar, that chap!" - but there was a lot that came before, in the 200-odd pages of newsprint scannable on a daily basis chez Roswitha in Bombay. Being an undiluted product of the western suburbs, I cracked up at something that was on the news channels a few months back:

(Puppet) Interviewer: Where'd you get your accent from?
(Puppet) Salman Khan: Yeah, I grew up in the West.
(Puppet) Interviewer: Salman, you grew up in Bandra.
(Puppet) Salman Khan: Yeah, man, 'swhat. In Bandra west.

Bandra: I want to grow up and own a thriving costume jewellery business and a devoted and unsuitable restaurant owner from Waterfield Road for a husband. And we will have a rowhouse on Hill Road (next to Holy Family Hospital!), because Bandra West is just that awesome. I'm not quite sure why the three bazillion restaurants I went to were all required to flash the fake bamboos-and-mulberries decor, but hey. It's Bandra. A place called 'Bread Boutique' has actually not shut down in this marvellous place. It's a mystery and a wonder.

Food: As you may have guessed. I spent rather a lot of time in Bandra restaurants. Well, I ate. I ate Chinese food, Indian food, more Chinese food. I ate three scoops of ice-cream in one sitting at Gokul in Santacruz (if anyone has the opportunity; go for jackfruit). I ate peanuts at Gokul in Colaba, the original Seedy Bar and House of General Ill-Repute around them parts. Vada-pao. Even more Chinese food at Ling's Pavilion.

But most of all, there was home food. Barrels of it. My insides are still trying to recover from the assault of curd and coconut. I feel a little more ready to take on the world and its oily mirchi ka salan now. We Mallus may not know how to throw a party, but I think we're pretty okay at stuffing people's faces so that they don't actually miss the loud music and silly dancing.

Family: I hate to say it, but I'm not sixteen anymore. I love my parents, man.

Friends: The communications breakdown meant I didn't get to see people I wanted to meet (such as Imhunt) but I did catch up with a few people and had a great time. Really great. Maybe we can all have adjacent rowhouses in Bandra?

A Midsummer Night's Dream: Ah, that Tim Supple production. It was good. In fact, it was most high and excellent. I had a great time, mostly because I could understand everything except the Bengali and Sinhala, and the Malayalam/Tamil actors had Viv and me laughing our heads off a significant number of times. It was like being in college again - a sense of wonder assailing the mind, people one had exchanged class notes with on stage, familiar faces all at hand, and enough stupid people in the audience - "what's he saying ya, I can't understand this language!" "see see, she has abs! but they didn't have gyms in those times!" - to keep one smug.

It'll be boring in Paradise without all this nostalgia.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

blips on an unhappy radar

I can't decide if today's been a good day or a bad one. On the one hand, I caught up with two old and dearly missed friends who are strutting around in the US of A watching rodeos and doing advanced degrees. On the other hand, I woke at six forty-fve this morning instead of my usual seven-thirty and I'm feeling a little beaten-up. So why am I blogging? I don't know. And as much fun as it would be if the words 'I don't know' could replace actual content on a public web page, it would be immoral.

Two links: Some nutter called David Horowitz compiles a book about the 101 most dangerous academics in America. (the list.) Notice how Harvard-and-Yale-free the list is. Columbia University, on the other hand, has a staggering total of NINE professors on it. I know where I'd like to be studying for an advanced degree. (And I can totally deal with the scarcity of rodeos around NYC.)

And JK Rowling updates her site. Yes, I know these things because I keep a watch on Harry Potter news, for I am shallow and easily amused. Anyway, this is interesting because it is apparently a spontaneous rant on 'thin' culture.

His bemusement at this everyday feature of female existence reminded me how strange and sick the 'fat' insult is. I mean, is 'fat' really the worst thing a human being can be? Is 'fat' worse than 'vindictive', 'jealous', 'shallow', 'vain', 'boring' or 'cruel'? Not to me; but then, you might retort, what do I know about the pressure to be skinny? I'm not in the business of being judged on my looks, what with being a writer and earning my living by using my brain...

She prefaces her rant with a subtitle: 'for girls only, probably.' Probably. It's certainly aimed at young girls, and that's okay. My major problem with the shpeel is that she insists over and over again that the 'fat' insult is exclusively girl-on-girl violence. Bwah? Fashion industry oriented towards women who want to be attractive to hyper-judgmental men, et cetera et cetera? Here's ye olde woman-is-woman's-worst enemy reasoning. Sure. After all, women in provocative clothes ask for come-ons, and lesbians are women who can't catch a man. This tendency to continually bring the argument down from the level of the systemic to the circumstantial will END the WORLD someday.

And I need to stop listening to so much Radiohead. It is making me crabby. Those guys are like drugs. Actually, they're more like being on a constant withdrawal from drugs. Oh, gorgeous cold turkey. Sometimes I think Coldplay was sent down from above to balance out the Radiohead-y goodness. Coldplay is so awful they make my brain (and the baby Jesus) cry, and not in a good way. It wouldn't matter so much if I didn't like The Scientist, but I do, and the rest of their music is less a rush of blood to the head and more like a vacuum where your soul used to be.

Also: who says she isn't judged on her looks? Media blitz for a blonde, leggy woman who also happens to write this maniacally popular series, ahoy. Not but that I think JKR deserves all the castles and ponies and bouncy babies she wants. It's great that she gets it all.

current musix: radiohead - street spirit (fade out). WAAAAH.

p.s. i'll be in mumbai next week!

Monday, April 03, 2006

a short life update

Just to say that at this point in time, the flatmates and I have acquired a pitifully recognisable profile.

Ros and Roomies: the Elmer Fudds of househunters.