I wrote this letter to the editor of Times of India before the whole story of the Kaavya Vviswanathan fiasco came out – this letter was not published. So I thought I 'll publish it in my e space without changing it ‘cos this was my spontaneous reaction on reading the story. I stand by the central idea that the girl is too young and should not have attempted publishing at all: and the media should leave her alone now.
However unfortunate the Kaavya Vishwanathan episode is, one should not forget the fact that the person involved is a mere seventeen year old girl. At seventeen an aspiring writer is still very much in the workshop. At that stage of a writer's literary career, the most predominant tendency is imitative. The early works of the greatest of writers will bear testimony to this truth. None less than Shakespeare himself has used huge passages verbatim from his sources (check out the famous description of Cleopatra -,' The barge she sat etc etc'- with the original Plutarch's Lives), but of course copyright laws were not in place then. So he went on to become the Greatest!
I am inclined to believe Kaavya Vishwanathan when she says that she had internalized Megan McCafferty's novels to such a degree that sentences from them appeared in her novel without her quite realizing it. I believe her, particularly since the so-called plagiarized sentences are not ones of extraordinary literary brilliance. Working under pressure of deadline and inspiration (both have a history of going together - remember Dr.Johnson's Rasselas was written in a matter of days to meet the funeral expenses of his mother), ideas and words present themselves in an uninterrupted flow. It is in the saner moments of editing that the writer realizes that there are intertextual presences in her work. Apparently, Kaavya Viswanathan had either no time or the inclination for editing! Probably, the former. The mistake she made was in trying to get her book published before she and the book were ready for it.
Talking about plagiarism, how many books published are totally free from plagiarism? And how many have been withdrawn on the grounds of plagiarism? The withdrawal of Kaavya Viswanathan's novel could have waited till competent authorities studied Opal Mehta alongside McCafferty's novels, and ascertained that the similiraties were more than superficial. And McCafferty, being an established author ought to have been a little more generous about the episode and a liitle less hasty in crying foul- After all, imitation is the best form of praise and appreciation!
But what was most distressing about the whole episode was the unholy glee with which the media pounced on the teenager! Surely they could have been a little more charitable in dealing with the issue- or could have reserved their expert comments till real experts passed their judgement on her work.
And I do earnestly hope that this ugly, heartless episode has not caused the premature death of a literary career.