Kaavya is Innocent, Until Proven Otherwise

Dear Kaavya,

This is your Akka writing. The fact that you have never met me is immaterial; we are brown and we don’t live in the land our parents were born in—that alone means that you probably have relatives you’ve never met, just like I do, so Akka it easily is.

Paavum Kaavya (letÂ’s call you PK for short), there is something I want you to know, but before I disclose that, I have to admit a fault of which I am rather ashamed, a fault which I hope youÂ’ll forgive your imperfect Akka for.

I was jealous of you.

Just a bissel, but it was enough to make me loathe myself for a few minutes. Green looks fabulous on me, but envy surely does not flatter. Wait, don’t frown—I promise that once I was aware that I was being a twat, I earnestly called myself out on it and owned my jealousy. Long before I admitted that my “unlikely-fantasy-if-wishes-came-true” job was acting, I cherished what to me seemed an even more far-fetched aspiration: to write. Getting a book deal seemed like the greatest thing which could possibly happen to someone. To get paid to write? Wow. And that you did, with a stunning advance, which everyone bandies about ad nauseum, since it makes your “fall” all the more violent.

Sigh. How I wished that my parents had been savvy enough to enroll me in an Ivy-League-Prep-Camp-Thing. Where my counselor, who just happened to be a published author, would discover me as if I were some naïve starlet in a ‘40s era soda shop and then pluck me out of the sweaty, freaked-out ranks of cloned overachievers and marvel at my genuine uniqueness. My parents made me turn down Columbia for U.C. Davis. My parents are SO not your parents. Your parents gave you everything, including an inadvertent star-making opp that made me want to howl. You’re nearly half my age. It’s like watching your little sister get married before you do. It’s a little humiliating to endure, in this obsessed with chronological-milestones culture we share.

So, whenever this group blog of mine did a post about you, I’d look down and notice that my skin suddenly looked wayyy more olive than usual. Then I’d take a deep breath and tell myself that you deserved it. That you had hustled for it, working on your writing when in comparison, 17-year old me probably would’ve been brooding over which Smiths or Ultravox LP to spin next. My skin would go back to the shade my mother calls “irrantharam” and I’d exhale with relief. It felt good to be silently proud of you.

Here’s the thing my little PK: I still am. And I’m a little appalled at how many people are crowing elatedly about your alleged toppling. The first thing I thought of when I read the “Crimson” writing on the blog was that tragically accurate, snarktastic story about the pet shop with international crabs. You’re looking at me blankly. I’m sure you haven’t slept. Tut-tut. That won’t do. You know brown girls are predisposed to developing those nasty under eye circles. Take a benadryl, bachi. Your skin and, well, everything will thank you. Hell, take a nap right now. I’ll dispel your probably non-existent curiosity about crabs for you, like a wee bedtime story.

So, there was this pet store and it was renowned for carrying the most exhaustive selection of crabs aroundÂ…there were specimens from Mexico, Japan, RussiaÂ…almost everywhere, really. Each tank had a very secure looking cover to hold in the precious crab-cargo. All, but one, that is. Perplexed, a customer pointed to the open cage and asked the pet store proprietor why it didnÂ’t have a lid.

“Oh. Those are the crabs from India. A lid isn’t required, because as soon as one of them climbs up, all of the others furiously yank it back down. So they never get out.”

Look at you, almost asleep. And I haven’t even come to my main point yet! No wonder you got the book deal and I didn’t. We hadn’t met, so I have no way of knowing if we have this in common, but something tells me we just might—you see, I have a near photographic memory for all things useless. Didn’t help me with German vocab, but it does help me recall conversations I’ve had almost flawlessly, even if it’s been some time since the words were originally spoken (as you can imagine, this makes me a terrifying girlfriend, since it’s exceptionally easy to destroy my boyfriends in arguments…but we won’t go there, in case your parents are reading. Wha-? OH. Hi Viswanathan Uncle and Auntie! I promise I’m a virgin who’s never conversed with men, even ones I’m related to—I’m totally safe to keep around Kaavya!) Whew, that was close.

Anyway, I remember lots of other things as well. I can remember what my very best friend Eileen Perfume was wearing the day Los Angeles exploded in to riots over the Rodney King verdict. (Maroon boucle turtleneck sweater, black crinkle skirt with blood red roses here and there and black knee-high boots, which she had folded down slightly. She had her hair half-up and half-down, eyeliner on the lower lids, ruby lips and no other makeup.) Like you probably are, I’m a devoted bibliophile who can’t bear to be without something to read at all times. My memory kicks in here, too, since as edifying as Gita Mehta or Vikram Seth might be, knowing what either of them wrote at some point ain’t gonna get me an “A” on anything.

So this memory of mine, which I suspect you got too—sometimes, it is almost dangerous, yes? I can remember being in graduate school (has it already been five years since I graduated? Mein Gott.) and being so exhausted, because I worked full-time (as required by my program) AND took all my classes from 7-10 pm each night. I’d read books and articles throughout the entire day and then sit at my computer around 1 am, after the dinner dishes had been washed and my then-boyfriend had been tended to like some entitled Maharajah who keeps asking for “pani!” when he’s supposed to be asleep. Then, exhausted to the point of sleeping mid-keystroke, I would type. And sometimes, I’d go back and see a sentence and think, “weird”.

I’d feel that odd tingle that unmoored recognition evokes. And then slightly horrified and suddenly awake, I’d realize that I had typed, almost verbatim, something I had read earlier in the day. Sometimes, what I had borrowed wasn’t even brilliant. I’d shake my head then. I was terrified of getting caught, since I was certain that one day I’d turn in a paper that contained a sentence that I hadn’t “re-recognized” in time. “Dear Lord, please don’t let it be something craptacular…if I get in trouble, at least let me parrot something genius.” But that’s not how my little universe works, PK. When I was in third grade, my dramatic ascent up the Spelling Bee ladder was destroyed when I misspelled a word so simple, I’m too ashamed to even type it. It’s always the little things that I trip over, in the end.

I donÂ’t believe that you are the torment-deserving fraud that many of my fellow pajamahadeen think you are. I donÂ’t think you copied those words, that youÂ’re a plagiarist. I think that either one of two things occurred, neither of which is really your fault:

1) You pulled an “Akka” and regurgitated something that was playing on your mind. Like the number “170”. Even if this is true, I blame your handlers for not vetting a manuscript that had received sooo much attention, in this post-Frey era. Perhaps I am mistaken, but aren’t they supposed to read, re-read and triple read what they’re hawking? I can’t help but believe that this is quite common in terms of the writing process, this borrowing a phrase or voice. If this public flogging hasn’t happened often to other writers, then I feel like some critical step was missed in this entire process. Even if I’m wrong, and the process allows that manuscripts DON’T get vetted as carefully as a cabinet-level appointment (WTF?) I think you didn’t intend to lift such craptacular writing. If you were pushed over the ethical edge by exhaustion, pressure and your Ivied obligations, I think you would’ve chosen someone better to borrow from.

2) And this one is the more sinister, more galling and I think, most possible. I keep reading that your book was initially quite different. Darker. Truer. Kaavya-er. I heard that THAT manuscript wasn’t “marketable”, not with a pinkish cover and some strappy stilettos. I heard that lots of Kaavya disappeared and in its place, fluff was stuffed in to Opal Mehta. I don’t know if you’re being set up (that would be even MORE sinister! Perish the thought!) but I do think that someone else did that heavy lifting, dear girl. And I think you’re the one who’s getting marched up to Golgotha for it.

Speaking of Golgotha, perhaps the reason I have so much faith in you is because I suddenly have a lot in me, quite literally. I spent enough time in church last week to qualify being religious as a part-time job, potentially with bennies, if itÂ’s like Starbucks. I emerged from my week of holiness, calmer, stronger, fortified with light. Buoyed by hope and a renewed determination to see good everywhere, in everyone, in all things. If I can have faith that bread and wine when consecrated by a priest, become the body and blood of my savior, I can give my PK the benefit of my doubt. Let people trash and thrash you, Kaavya. Blogging has thoroughly taught me that the bile which they spew (my sinful self included, natch) indicates more about them then you, anyway. You deserve to be innocent until proven otherwise. And I believe that you might just be exonerated of these heavy, back-breaking charges which lay now on your similarly irrantharam shoulders. And if you should fall, while on your way, no matter what causes you to stumble, you will have my prayers and support. We are all human, pots and kettles the lot of us and we all deserve a little bit of compassion.



564 thoughts on “Kaavya is Innocent, Until Proven Otherwise

  1. I too had sat in a gradaute class of all brown faces. All FOB. Except for me. Yes, me. A minority in my country. Why?

    Because they are all coming here and getting master’s degrees in engineering so that they can get Green Cards.

    And engineering becoming an industry that only immigrants will do.

  2. Not Brown:

    I too had sat in a gradaute class of all brown faces. All FOB. Except for me. Yes, me. A minority in my country. Why?

    Err… You do realize that this is a “brown” blog?

    First: how is sitting in a “graduate class of all brown faces” equivalent to being “a minority in my country”? The graduate class is the same size as the population of “your” country?

    Second: are there numerically enough “FOBs” (as you charmingly call South Asians) to surpass the white population in this country (I’m assuming you are white, since you consider this country as being “yours”)?

    My Desi ass may be brown, but your ass is plain stupid.

  3. okay.. i’m now casting for ‘kaavya’… the tragedy…from overacheiver…to embarrassment…

    here is what i have thus far:

    her father: manish, range rover driving oncologic neurosurgeon her mother: neha, who throws red rose petals at her daughters feet kaavya: anna, who is currently taking ‘time off’ from harvard her agent: abhi, i still believe she will graduate first in her class at harvard the harvard crimson writer: ennis, hehe… we broke the story and i was on the TODAY show.. take that! the angry mob: all of us SM commenters.. hell we can have a pro/con warfare scene in the middle of it all…

    god.. i have the entire production in my measly protein filled bean of a neuron… dammit..it would be fantastic… don’t you think? just await the script my dears… this is if manish doesn’t make it onto the bollywood scene first… ;)

  4. Hey Not Brown —

    I can totally relate to what you’re saying. As an undergraduate majoring in English at Chicago, I too am always in classes with all-white faces. All honkies. Except for me. Yes, me. A minority at my college. Why?

    Because they only want easy majors so that they can get higher GPAs, go to law school, and work at their daddy’s law firms.

    And English becoming a joke major that only white people will do.

  5. Danny Bee: I’ve come across a fair number of Indian women who’ve married Jewish men in the US — including me :) …we had the funnest, wildest “Hin-Jew” wedding complete with shared traditions such as huppah/canopy, taking circles around fire/candles etc! I suspect it has to do with both cultures valuing tradition, family etc.

    Haven’t come across any Indian men married to Jewish women yet, although I’m sure that combo exists as well.

  6. PS: re #557 In context of the above Indian-Hindu debate, I realized (re-reading my post) that it sounds a bit like I too sound as if I’m conflating being Indian with being Hindu. Not so: in this case, it just so happens that I am both Indian and, inasmuch as I have a religion, Hindu.

    I agree with Gargi’s position in this debate. To try to equate ‘Indian’ with ‘Hindu’ is to fall into the sort of propaganda that Hindutva-types are hoping to spread.

  7. Thanks, Cheap Ass Desi: I got confused with all those postings. I agree with Chokri’s position!!!

  8. 560–

    Yes, I noticed your post right away, because it I who wrote it: “chokri” was my previous avatar.

  9. ms finknottle:

    Haven’t come across any Indian men married to Jewish women yet, although I’m sure that combo exists as well.

    indeed it does; my father is one.

  10. Haven’t come across any Indian men married to Jewish women yet, although I’m sure that combo exists as well.

    I also know two couples of Indian men married with/dating Jewish women.

    I have noticed a new phenomenon emerging: Japanese men and Indian women.

  11. Ms. Fink Nottle:

    I suspect it has to do with both cultures valuing tradition, family etc.

    Incidentally, I have many friends of diverse ethno-religious backgrounds. Interestingly enough, each people claims that their culture uniquely “values traditions, family, etc” which makes them distinct from others. Mexicans say that Mexicans values family and traditions. Asians say that “Asian values” underline family and traditions. Indians say that too. Arabs as well.

    Religious groups claim this too. Catholics say that Catholicism places a huge emphasis on family and traditions. Muslims also. Jews as well. Hindus ditto. Each purports that these “cultural values” both distinguishes them from others as well as tying them to other groups, ie “Hindus and Jews share this”, or “Muslims and Hindus both place significance on this”, “Protestants and Sikhs have this in common” (trust me, I have heard the latter before) etc. The list can go on and on.

    Each group argues that these specific cultural traits are characteristic of their group, but all these cultural traits are found in most societies. Turns out that these “values” are not so distinct after all.