This is your Akka writing. The fact that you have never met me is immaterial; we are brown and we donÂ’t live in the land our parents were born inÂ—that alone means that you probably have relatives youÂ’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, donÂ’t frownÂ—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 Â“unlikely-fantasy-if-wishes-came-trueÂ” 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 Â“fallÂ” 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 naÃ¯ve starlet in a Â‘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. YouÂ’re nearly half my age. ItÂ’s like watching your little sister get married before you do. ItÂ’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, IÂ’d look down and notice that my skin suddenly looked wayyy more olive than usual. Then IÂ’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 wouldÂ’ve been brooding over which Smiths or Ultravox LP to spin next. My skin would go back to the shade my mother calls Â“irrantharamÂ” and IÂ’d exhale with relief. It felt good to be silently proud of you.
HereÂ’s the thing my little PK: I still am. And IÂ’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 Â“CrimsonÂ” writing on the blog was that tragically accurate, snarktastic story about the pet shop with international crabs. YouÂ’re looking at me blankly. IÂ’m sure you havenÂ’t slept. Tut-tut. That wonÂ’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. IÂ’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.
Â“Oh. Those are the crabs from India. A lid isnÂ’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.Â”
Look at you, almost asleep. And I havenÂ’t even come to my main point yet! No wonder you got the book deal and I didnÂ’t. We hadnÂ’t met, so I have no way of knowing if we have this in common, but something tells me we just mightÂ—you see, I have a near photographic memory for all things useless. DidnÂ’t help me with German vocab, but it does help me recall conversations IÂ’ve had almost flawlessly, even if itÂ’s been some time since the words were originally spoken (as you can imagine, this makes me a terrifying girlfriend, since itÂ’s exceptionally easy to destroy my boyfriends in argumentsÂ…but we wonÂ’t go there, in case your parents are reading. Wha-? OH. Hi Viswanathan Uncle and Auntie! I promise IÂ’m a virgin whoÂ’s never conversed with men, even ones IÂ’m related toÂ—IÂ’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, IÂ’m a devoted bibliophile who canÂ’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 ainÂ’t gonna get me an Â“AÂ” on anything.
So this memory of mine, which I suspect you got tooÂ—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. IÂ’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 Â“pani!Â” when heÂ’s supposed to be asleep. Then, exhausted to the point of sleeping mid-keystroke, I would type. And sometimes, IÂ’d go back and see a sentence and think, Â“weirdÂ”.
IÂ’d feel that odd tingle that unmoored recognition evokes. And then slightly horrified and suddenly awake, IÂ’d realize that I had typed, almost verbatim, something I had read earlier in the day. Sometimes, what I had borrowed wasnÂ’t even brilliant. IÂ’d shake my head then. I was terrified of getting caught, since I was certain that one day IÂ’d turn in a paper that contained a sentence that I hadnÂ’t Â“re-recognizedÂ” in time. Â“Dear Lord, please donÂ’t let it be something craptacularÂ…if I get in trouble, at least let me parrot something genius.Â” But thatÂ’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, IÂ’m too ashamed to even type it. ItÂ’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 Â“AkkaÂ” and regurgitated something that was playing on your mind. Like the number Â“170Â”. 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 arenÂ’t they supposed to read, re-read and triple read what theyÂ’re hawking? I canÂ’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 hasnÂ’t happened often to other writers, then I feel like some critical step was missed in this entire process. Even if IÂ’m wrong, and the process allows that manuscripts DONÂ’T get vetted as carefully as a cabinet-level appointment (WTF?) I think you didnÂ’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 wouldÂ’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 wasnÂ’t Â“marketableÂ”, 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 donÂ’t know if youÂ’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 youÂ’re the one whoÂ’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.