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In defence of Kaavya Viswanathan

By Arun Krishnan
May 08, 2006 14:31 IST
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Birds of a feather may or may not flock together, but they do feel empathy for one other. And being a writer of Indian origin, I feel compelled to spring to the defence of Kaavya Viswanathan, the 19-year-old writer from Harvard whose novel has been pulled from the stores on account of the fact that it is eerily similar to the works of Megan McCafferty.

I know her story well. For the last few months, I have followed Kaavya's dizzying ascent with a mixed bag of emotions.

First there was jealousy. This was when she signed her $500,000 book deal.

Here was a teenager who had received all the riches of the world for her first book. And then, here was me.

Leave alone receiving any money, I had to repeatedly take my friends out to dinner and goad them with wine and Fromage Du Jours to encourage them to complete reading my book.

After jealousy came disillusionment. Was it right that my splendid literary work languished on the output tray of an oft-abused office printer, while a book that dealt with getting kissed and dancing in bars adorned the front shelves of the nation's best bookstores?

What sort of a world was this? Had the youngest of the Brothers Karmazov succumbed under the chariot wheels of a marauding Britney Spears?

But now, all of that has now changed. Today, I feel nothing but anger towards all people who are raising their eyebrows and condemning Kaavya's literary talents.

Firstly, it seems rather unfair that she is being blamed for this turn of events, while her publishers and 'packaging house' -- who have undoubtedly played a major role in bringing her novel to completion -- are escaping all forms of scrutiny.

Even if Kaavya has copied, so what?

Who among us can walk tall saying she or he has never been guilty of lifting a concept, thought or sentence that a more benevolent soul had thought of in better times?

The great American poet Billy Collins admits to pilfering from other poets in The Trouble with Poetry: And Other Poems.

The lone surviving genius from Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino might admit to seeing some similarities between Reservoir Dogs and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three or True Romance and Badlands.

Distinguished artists ranging from George Harrison to Jacob Epstein have been guilty of borrowing.

It is through this generous give and take that the greatest thoughts of our times are passed on from generation to generation. How else would the giant DJ in the sky remix thoughts so fluidly through the centuries?

Kaavya's crime was not that she copied; but that she didn't do it well.

She was young and enthusiastic. In the rush of youth, she didn't take that extra second, to rearrange this thought, move that comma, or insert that metaphor. Her only fault was that she was being overtly honest and -- possibly under the influence of her publishers -- unnecessarily rushed.

I know the feeling. In my early days as a writer, I used a line from a P G Wodehouse novel. I didn't think of it as stealing. In fact I was only too happy to see a sentence that meant so much to me in an article of mine. It went as follows:

"It's a word that begins with X…"


"No… ecstasy."

Now that the years have made a lot more jaded, if I were to use these words without changing things around, it would be, if I might say so, quite extraordinary.

Arun Krishnan is an unpublished writer. Some of his so-so thoughts can be found on

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Arun Krishnan