Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Review: How Opal Mehta Got Kissed ...

I guess almost everybody knows the plot of 'How Opal Mehta Got Kissed...' by now, so I am not going to bother. The book is pretty much like one of the many coming-of-age chick-flicks that the Disney group churns out every year, except that at times Kaavya Viswanathan makes you grin amiably at the sheer familiarity of the happenings with her gently self-deprecating humour. In fact, I would rate this book higher than the two recent Chetan Bhagat books that have been celebrated and exalted by the media - I found the call-center one really bad. The girl (At 27, I am entitled to call a girl of 17 a girl !!) can write.

But of course, How Kaavya Viswanathan Got Famous is another story altogether. Accusations of plagiarism (especially from Megan McCafferty's first two novels) are flying all around like crazy, and the eerily similar paragraphs make the charges kinda hard to refute. There have been new allegations of other 'similar' passages doing the rounds of late as well. Sadly, the books have been withdrawn from the market (I have my copy - hurrah!).

I am not sure that I buy Kaavya's defense entirely, but it is indeed possible that a lot of paragraphs of a favourite book can stick in one's mind; believe me, I can quote from 'The God of Small Things' extensively (I can also recognize/remember most books and the characters in them just by reading the summary on the back-flap). Could passages from memory unconciously work their way to what somebody tries to put down? They could, I guess - this is really a question for psychologists who have worked with short-term and long-term memory, and not for the media to speculate and unequivocally condemn.

IMO, the plagiarism was not intentional. First of all, reading the book (or any book, for that matter)clearly gives you a mental picture of the author, and dumb this author certainly is not. Only really dumb people would copy passages almost verbatim from other books, and then publish the damn thing - I mean, this is something that is read all over the world, and I am certain that the author would have been concious that the possibility of discovery would have been failry high. Secondly, Kaavya Vishwanathan is no mean writer (read the book and decide for yourself), and she would/need not have copied passages so explicitly. And most important of all, Kaavya Viswanathan makes me want to support her. While countless episodes of even more blatant plagiarism (especially in the tinsel world) go unnoticed or are even excused, a 17-year old girl is being unmercifully lynched by the media for what might have been an honest mistake on her part. The fact that Kaavya had the gumption to admit her mistake and apologize (I can't stand people who do not admit her mistakes) also makes me want to go bat for her.

I hope the second Opal Mehta book (hope there is one!!) makes it to the bestseller list too, but sans the controversies !!


Astraeus said...

this is rohit kumar dasgupta from india. this is really sad that some one from india could do something like that. when i first read the reviews of the book i was stunned and happy for this girl, bringing up the name of india. if she has managed to get into harvard it surely means there is something in her but sadly the recent controversies prove against her. it will be quite a surprise if harvard on checking her application essay finds it to be a copy of something. with kaavya it can be anything. she has put her entire country to shame. i will be coming to US this fall for undergrad studies and when i was talking to a few people over there they asked me if i had heard anything about the book opal mehta. can you belive that of all the books. i was really embarassed to and toldt them the case had got as much publicity here as it is probably being getting there. lets hope her application essay and her various literary papers too don’t turn out to be crude copies of other works. heres to kaavya and the shame she has brought upon us.sadly neither her this book nor will future subsequent books of her come out again, sans controversy!!!!!!

Shruthi said...

I haven't read the book, so I cannot comment on her writing. 10 or less instances of similarities I can understand. But so many? One more thing. if the similarities are found in multiple books, then also I can understand. I also claim to be terribly influenced by some styles of writing. But all from the same book? Ok, maybe same genre and all that, but still I smell a rat :)
I have been hearing a lot about book packaging and all that.. so I tend to believe that the publishers are somehow at fault (how, I am not equipped to say), because I also believe that nobody can be so dumb to copy so blatantly. :D
All in all, I feel kinda sorry for Kaavya.

Ranjit Nair said...

@Rohit: I think entertaining thoughts of her application essay being plagiarized as well is kinda cruel; one has no idea of what kind of student she is (I admit, I am inclined to think of a 17-year old author in a favorable light; the only other teenaged author I can think of is Christopher Paolini, and I like him a lot too).

As for the 'bringing-shame-to-country' bit of it, I can think of far worse candidates - innumerable politicians, for instance. Also, don't you feel its immature of somebody to classify the whole of Indian fiction (in English) based on a solitary book by a 17-year-old?

Ranjit Nair said...

@Shruthi:You raise a valid point about the different passages all being 'influenced' from two books by the same author :( (unless there are more 'influences' waiting to be discovered). Yet I cannot help feeling that nobody, but nobody would be as silly as to copy passages in a book (s)he intends to publish.

And yes, I can't help feeling sorry for her too !!

Priya said...

isnt it so very obvious that she didnt lift passages on purpose? when you're writing a book at that level, getting that much of publicity, so much of the media spotlight, no one will pull such a cheap trick! the risk of being found out is waaay too high that most people attempting stuff like this atleast rephrase or paraphrase the plot and passages.

Ranjit Nair said...

@Priya: yes, that was sorta what I though too; nobody could possibly be so foolish. But then, as Shruthi puts it, there are far too many instances of similar passages to dismiss it as coincidence. going around in circles here, I think !!

the dude said...

Well for all the abuse she must be recieving. I feel we couldve been a little kinder.
Hey at 18, how many of us can write our own stuff?
OK, at 18 we dont get million dollar contracts. But then what was the publisher doing offering it, that too, a two book contract without reading a word? hey thats whats absurd.
Well to be honest with you, I couldnt write perfectly original stuff when I was 18. but today i can. and mind you im only 21. I feel its just a question of age. an age when every new idea, however wierd, appeals. You simply cant wait to let it out.
Kaavya, my heart goes out to you. but you learn only from mistakes.
But I feel a little let down. I admire females who stand up. but more than once, the standing up is followed by a fall from grace.
well, maybe girls are not that great people.

Ranjit Nair said...

@at avaran 'maybe girls are not great people' !!!! dude, ur in for some serious ass-kicking out here if you continue with that kinda stuff.

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