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. Why do you delete my posts but let that chakding of dubious parentage keep his?

  2. Because you keep using unnecessarily rude phrases like “dubious parentage”. Earlier today, I deleted two comments which were totally out of line, one of which was yours. I came home and found yet another from you. Leave one bad comment, shame on you. Leave two or more bad comments, shame on me for not moderating effectively.

    Here’s a little rule of thumb, for ANYONE who is confused or uninformed about such things: Unless you would say it to MY FACE, don’t leave it here.
    You are welcome, if not actively encouraged to express your disappointment, your disapproval, your cynicism and anger, but please do so constructively, like the vast majority of people here have. You are NOT welcome to type bullshit which involves speculation about how the only thing left for this girl is a career in porn; that is disgusting, misogynistic and totally uncalled for/abusive.

    In other words, you are free to speak, you are not free to troll.

  3. back from a nice evening riding in the woods – yes b&g’s, daddy did the ‘gnarly’ trails – as i perused the globe and mail while soaking my skinny brown ass – my eye was caught by a reference to “kaavya”, so i thought i’d share. here’s the article. The topic is ‘cheating’, and the reference to KV is incidental. The deeper context is worth looking into. Do give it a try.
    For the time challenged, more notable cheaters include Richard Nixon, Rosa Ruiz, Ben Johnson, and … – hold your breath – Isaac Newton, Martin Luther King.
    For the more cerebrally inclined, the author also makes a convincing argument that cheaters cheat when they feel little to no linkage with the party being cheated – there’s other stuff about linking cheating and conscience to the different parts of the brain – interesting stuff.

  4. there’s other stuff about linking cheating and conscience to the different parts of the brain

    Offhand, that would be consistent with the social-psychological findings that people’s stated deeply-held beliefs or values do not necessarily correlate well with their behavior (according to my memory of a Psych 101 textbook from years ago – perhaps someone has a more detailed knowledge?).

  5. I was riduculing ‘this girl’ because if you’re Harvard-material, you ought to know when the tiny tap-water trickle of your ideas is supplemented by another’s words. Of course she can (like she said) “apologise profusely”, after having drawn abundantly from another’s well. I bet you’ll find her on some reality-TV show or another within the next 2 years. She will thrive on her pseudo-celebrity status because that’s what her spin specialists will tell her to do. And once again, being the naive, innocent, “I don’t know what you’re talking about” girl that she is, she will comply obediently. Look, I apologise for what I posted earlier. Being a moderator myself on another forum dealing with pretty edgy themes, I am more accustomed to saying anything I want. Bye, take care.

  6. Offhand, that would be consistent with the social-psychological findings that people’s stated deeply-held beliefs or values do not necessarily correlate well with their behavior (according to my memory of a Psych 101 textbook

    well — the article i posted was a little edgier — said people with more white matter in the brain than gray matter behaved differently than others in similar circumstances — and that a guy with damage to the limbic region lost his capacity to distinguish right from wrong — and that the “cheaters” have “cheating faces” — true or not, i think the article is good reading — and now, i have a date with that master of madness, the sultan of slime, the chief of charlatanry, his royal leguminous, mr bean. this weekend cant get any better!! hey ho, off we go.

  7. said people with more white matter in the brain than gray matter behaved differently than others in similar circumstances

    That’s interesting. Guess I’ll go read the article :) Have fun with Mr. Bean!

  8. Vijay Mehta: “…dealing with pretty edgy themes…” dhaavak: “…the article i posted was a little edgier…”

    A case of unintentional, unconscious Internalization? LOL, boy this is fun! As Johnnie Cochran might say “The Kaavya Syndrome is infectious, contagious, irresistable.”

  9. LOL, LOL, LOL!! Hey Anna, here’s something on the original, more Kaavya-er work:
    Viswanathan said that she had written a piece in the vein of “The Lovely Bones,” the 2002 best seller by Alice Sebold, but that Gluck thought that it was too dark. “They thought it would be better if I did a lighter piece. They thought that was more likely to sell.” http://www.iht.com/articles/2006/04/27/features/opal.php What?!? “In the vein of”???? Is this all this girl knows? This is getting pathetic. I guess you can never use “original” and “Kaavya” in the same sentence without being guilty of oxymoronism. Very bad!

  10. In the vein of”???? Is this all this girl knows?

    The girl’s nineteen, and thus was a teenager when she wrote that earlier piece. Your writing voice has not developed at that age, and as such you do find yourself influenced by authors and books which make a deep impact on you. Being influenced isn’t the same as stealing from another, or being unoriginal. [That comes when you say 170 malls or t-shirts with glittery pink playboy bunnies]

    In fact, even as you grow older, and you develop your own voice, your literary influences can be traced from your writings. This is how the world works you know, no one is an island, and everyone influences other people.

  11. RCK, I agree. But this is exactly where your mentors, counselors, packaging agents… the whole enchilada… come into the picture. They are supposed to identify the sources of external influence, make the “juvenile” author aware of unintentional appropriation and provide direction/guidance. That didn’t happen here. In this case, analogically, everyone was ready to bet $500,000 on a horse that eventually decided to take a piggyback ride straight to the post-race photo-op.

    If she had any integrity she’d not have cheated. For $500,000 other sincere authors would have busted their humps trying to come up with something original and worth reading.

    And yeah, I’d like to see the movie version of “Opal”. It seems Kaavya isn’t totally opposed to doing a little cameo in the movie. Trust me, you’ll find her on some reality-TV show within the next couple of years.

  12. hey vijay mehta- having the village idiot and the diseased town whore as parents probably gives you the right to doubt my parentage, i am ok with that, but what i am not ok with is you leaving SM without being able to understand why you offend me and some of the others here so much.let me try to explain. if it sinks in, it might make me want to read the blog you ‘moderate’ some time.

    the difference between you, and say abhi(from an earlier thread on KV), is the difference between the humor on the jon stewart show and the david spade show on comedy central- while jon seeks out the absurdity in situations, spade’s commentary reeks of malice towards the perp;and thats why he is not funny, and thats why he probably wont do another season.

    similarily, there are n different ways you can say KV is a cheat, and point out m different reasons for why she cheated. if you read the 500 posts you’d see most of its already been done. what isnt warranted is you taking this lynching one level further and talking trash on where she is likely to land up, and how she should be punished; you probably thought references to reality show and porn flicks would make your comment funny, but it still comes across as snark without insight, and that my friend is bleah.

  13. Changdik, if you can’t stand the malice in my words, three words for you, “GET A LIFE”. I’m flattered you’re analysing me and my words. Jon Stewart, David Spade, I feel giddy already. I can’t wait to hear what you have to say. Wish we could talk in person. Phone? Unfortunately, I cannot give you the reply you deserve. I’ll be decent because unlike you, I get censored here.

  14. Oh WTF…changdik – “Bleah” is exactly what our mutual friend, the village idiot, said to your mom, as he pulled out.

    I apologise Anna. This changdik here, well.. it deserved it.

    BTW changdik, you can join our forum if you have a personal FTP server and are willing to share quality DVD rips of electronic music videos. None of the Japanese stuff, please. Post here if you’re interested. Vijay Mehta

  15. What a vulgar exchange , Vijay and Chakding– Chhi!!

    However, I love the freedom of speech….

  16. i strongly second that ‘chhi!’

    wow, so this is what brown guys are like when they have bitch fights…they have a little internet virtual smackdown…rreow!! calm down people who get all troll-ish, talkin bad about ‘yo’ mamas’ aint gonna lead to nothin’ but an endless cycle of hatred. didn’t mtv teach you that at least?

    i love seein the way the fights go down as well. its like fobness and the movies ‘clueless’ and ‘bring it on’ merge together to create one big brown biatchy amorphous being.

    where is the love, arre baba?

  17. First of all let me reiterate that Kaavya, her agent and publisher are guilty and there seems to be no doubt about it! Here I present what has appeared on “Times of India” in an article written by Nina Martyris: This is about Megan creature:

    “The whole disappointing aspect to this whole dismal affair is that quality of inspiration is so strained. Not one of those lines from McCafferty’s books which have got her (Kaavya) into so much trouble are beautiful enough or powerful enough to flash upon the inner eye in vacant and in pensive mood.”

    My comments: This Megan person is uneducated, stupid and gross. She was given a chance on the basis of her skin colour and that the publishing industry in US is dominated by Scots/Irish and Anglo Saxons. Her books were written for people with IQ’s less than that of dogs and cats. Those supporting her are equally unsubstantial, insipid caricatures, low-skilled couch potatoes and living on government dole and are just one step away from a mental asylum or a drug rehab center.

    However, just because Megan is a pathetic fool, poor writer, dumb broad with no wits or brains about her; the fact is that Kaavya stole from her books and she has to be fined for tarnishing the image of her country and kicked out of USA or sent to jail! I suggest the DEATH penalty to Kaavya!

  18. Tashi – Not everyone in India is a fob or brown (there are Caucasians too). Refer to an Indian as “Indian”. Prabal – Come on, yaar… “jail”, “Death penalty”?? Be serious. All – I apologise for anything offensive I said earlier.

  19. vijay m:

    -not everyone on this blog is indian. ever heard of little places like pakistan, or bangladesh? fob is just a term to cover ‘em all without writing south asian each time because i’m a v lazy person. maybe ‘fob’ isn’t the best label but to me it’s better than indian, as not all of us are from india!

    -also the name ‘indian’ itself as an indicator of ethnicity is slightly screwed up due to some dead guy called columbus who landed in america and called the red people he saw by the same name. hundreds of years later, and people still can’t switch to Native American. Chhi!

  20. and she has to be fined for tarnishing the image of her country

    Oh puhleez! If Bush, Rummy, Gitmo, and Abu Ghraib and the rest haven’t tarnished the US’s reputation, Kaavya’s little teenchick lit is hardly going to do that, no matter how heavily she borrowed from another person.

  21. Can someone here explain all this to me? So new. But being Jewish, I can empathize, sympathize, all. — dn

    The ABCD experience


    Till recently, the acr-onym ABCD, for American Born Confused Desi, had a slightly pejorative ring to it. It is used to describe mostly first generation US-born children of Indian immigrants, who, the premise went, were conflicted between their American upbringing and Indian roots.

    In recent years, the expression is starting to lose resonance as the distance between India and the United States shrinks.

    Now, it’s as likely that A R Rahman will have a concert in Dallas as in New Delhi. You can access Bharatnatyam lessons in Baltimore or tabla classes in LA with the same ease as in Bangalore or Lucknow. With 24×7 Indian TV channels, almost zero-cost communication, and non-stop flights, India is just a click, call, or flight away.

    Many ABCDs here are now less confused than the DCABs (Desis Chasing American Baits) shambling around India’s shiny new malls.

    My own exposure to ABCDs has been mixed and varied. Some are conflicted, but most seem accomplished, balanced, confident, and most of all, driven (didn’t have to try hard to confect that abcd sequence.) They blend easily in multi-ethnic and multi-cultural America, comfortable in their Indian skin and American mindset.

    There isn’t any empirical evidence to back this, but random appraisal and anecdotal accounts suggest that ABCDs are the most successful immigrant children, matched only by Jewish kids. Pop into any Ivy League campus or any business or medical school to see this.

    If it isn’t a Goldberg, it’s a Gandhi, a friend of mine likes to say. Of all the ABCD qualities, the most intriguing one is how driven they are. It seems failure is not an option for these kids. In many cases, they are not self-driven as motivated or goaded by high-achieving parents.

    The saga of Ka-avya Viswanathan, the chick-lit phenom /plagiarist is emblematic of this pattern. Strictly speaking, Chennai-born Kaavya is not an ABCD. But her parents, both doctors, moved West when she was three, first to Scotland, and then to the US when she was 11, so she grew up in the West.

    The story she was writing was her own — the pressure on an Indian-American girl to excel academically. The words to express this story — at least some — were, alas, borrowed.

    Indian-American children are mostly privileged. Their parents have the highest income and academic profile in the country. Kaavya’s parents — neurologist dad and gynaecologist mother — could pony up $10,000 to prepare her for Harvard.

    More and more, well-heeled Indian parents are pulling kids out of public schools and putting them in private schools where fees range from $12,000 to $15,000 a year.

    They are driven from a young age — from dance classes to piano lessons to tennis clinics — by feverish parents spurring them to success, sometimes a little too insistently.

    The ABCD experience was best captu-red in a remarkable 2003 documentary called Spellbound on the US National Spelling Bee Championship. One of the finalists is an Indian-American whose father is so hungry for his sons, success that he hires Latin, French and German tutors to prepare him for the most obscure English words.

    Back in India, his grandfather feeds 5,000 poor people to pray for his success. The kid cruises through the most difficult words till he trips when asked to spell Darjeeling. “What’s the origin of the word?” he asks.

    Clearly, you can never prepare enough for success or failure. So here is my $0.02 suggestion for parents: Go easy on the kid; it’s okay to be average.

  22. Akka, you wrote: “I was jealous of you.

    Just a bissel, but it was enough to make me loathe myself for a few minutes.”

    FUNNY. Bissel is YIDDISH. How does Yiddish get into your vocab? Cute? Do many Indian women marry Jewish men in America? Or do many Jewish women marry Indian men in America? Doctors? Is there some good Jewish-Indian humor outlets online? Where? Sounds like fun!

    • db
  23. sigh, even that lovely lovely two-cent sentiment that ‘its okay to be average’ would quickly be decimated like this:


    (hopeful, anticipatory tone) ‘hey mum and dad, an indian journalist with a good job said that ‘its okay to be average!’


    brown parents:

    ‘okay’ to be average? do you want to just be ‘okay’ all your life? do you realise all that we’ve done for you… hai ram, you think you can just turn into one of these goras but you don’t know the first thing about how hard life is. let me tell you…

    when i was your age we were forced to tap dance to school which was 128 miles away on a road made of hot coals, all so we could reach a classroom with 300 other kids where we had to get 120% in all our exams or we’d end up a beggar on the streets!

    there’s no such thing as ‘okay’ and ‘average’, if you think like that you’ll end up on welfare and be a drug addict with no teeth. oh god…(continues for at least ten minutes in same vein where the only interesting thing is watching how red in the face brown people can actually get)


    PS my two cents… my jewish friend summed it up pretty well when I remarked how weird it was when we understood each other:

    ‘Oh honey, it’s all the same. Our mothers both overfeed us and want us to marry doctors.’

  24. Re: the virtual smackdown– Yeah, it’s pretty chhi, but I have to admit, it’s kinda funny. These two– Vijay and Chakding– would hardly think of pimp slapping each other face to face. It’s so much easier to have a showdown when no one knows who you are, and you are free to say whatever you want.

    Re: Danny Bee, Jewish Kids and Indian Kids– I don’t like this “model minority” slant. There are plenty of kids– both Jewish and Indian– who aren’t in Ivy League schools and such. In addition, there are lots of white “soccer moms” who force their kids to go to piano and dance lessons, play soccer, and so on. Also,this piece suggests that if there are kids of certain ethnic groups who are pushed to strive and overachieve, then there seems to be other groups who don’t share the same qualities and values??? Perhaps African American and Hispanic American parents who don’t push their kids to achieve the “American Dream” to pull yourself up by the bootstrap and be successful in a capitalist world?? But that’s not true– look at Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Danny Bee, those kids are so successful because they largely come from parents who are successful themselves; and their parents had been allowed to come into the US due to their professional status in accordance with the 1965 Immigration Act which permitted professional immigrants to fill in the high status job shortages in the US. Generally, children tend to have the same socio-economic status that their parents have. This is not to say that there aren’t exceptions, ie Desi Americans who come from low socio-economic backgrounds but still may end up at an Ivy League (and by the way,I am not sure I agree with the belief that Ivy Leagues, because they are considered “prestigious” (sp?), somehow means that that they are top of the tier. Market wise, yes, content wise, I don’t know… Samuel Huntington is a case in point), but I think the more prevalent phenomenon is that kids get to where they are because of the fact that their parents themselves occupy a certain socio-economic status.

    It makes me uncomfortable to hear and read statements that box in and label certain groups– ie “Jewish kids” and “Indian Kids” who are “ABCD”‘s and then lump them together– Jewish and Indian kids share common ground, others do not.

  25. Oh, and I forgot to add: Tashie, I agree with you. I myself am of Indian background, but I tend to define myself as Desi, and here I mean Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Nepali, Sri Lankan, Maldivian, et al. Anyway, before 1947, these differences didn’t exist. We share a lot more similarities then differences. We are all one peeps.

  26. Danny Bee:

    I think there are some deep similarities between, in particular, Hindu culture and Jewish culture, which might contribute to a similarity of experience between Jewish and Indian immigrants. Its an interesting question. Both cultures (correct me if I’m wrong) are priestly cultures (ie a priest figure is top of social totem pole)as opposed to martial cultures. Both cultures lay tremendous emphasis on scholarship/education. Both communities assimilate very well (when allowed to). Aren’t there strong pantheistic tendencies in some sects of Judaism, as well?

    Incidentally, the three Jewish communities that existed in India (very small now due to migration to Israel) were, I think, the only part of the diaspora that was not persecuted.

  27. Cicatrix, thanks for this comment with the Slate article, which begins to answer my question — I knew there had to be some science out there. Amardeep has already pulled out and quoted what I thought was the most interesting passage:

    Viswanathan is hardly the first plagiarist to claim unconscious influence from memory’s depths. George Harrison said he never intended to rip off the melody of the Chiffons’ “He’s So Fine” when he wrote “My Sweet Lord.” He had just forgotten he’d ever heard it. And when a young Helen Keller cribbed from Margaret Canby’s “The Frost Fairies” in her story “The Frost King,” Canby herself said, “Under the circumstances, I do not see how any one can be so unkind as to call it a plagiarism; it is a wonderful feat of memory.” Keller claimed she was forever after terrified. “I have ever since been tortured by the fear that what I write is not my own. For a long time, when I wrote a letter, even to my mother, I was seized with a sudden feeling, and I would spell the sentences over and over, to make sure that I had not read them in a book,” she wrote. “It is certain that I cannot always distinguish my own thoughts from those I read, because what I read become the very substance and texture of my mind.” Psychologists label this kind of inadvertent appropriation cryptomnesia, and have captured the phenomenon in the laboratory. In one study, researchers had subjects play Boggle against a computer and then afterward try to recreate a list of the words they themselves found. Far more often then expected, the researchers found that their subjects would claim words found by the computer opponent as their own. Even if cryptomnesia is a real memory glitch that happens to all of us from time to time, however, it’s hard to figure how it could lead to the involuntary swiping of 29 different passages.
  28. Gargi:

    How exactly are you defining “cultures” here?

    First of all, not all of Indian culture is “Hindu”; you are conflating “culture” with religion. We’re talking about INDIAN AMERICANS, who could very well come from non Hindu backgrounds, ie Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Jain, etc…So you might want to be careful about labeling “Indian’ culture as “Hindu” culture. That is some sticky terrain that you’re waddling through.

    Secondly, looking at the description of what defines “Jewish” and “Hindu” culture, ie “cultures” being priestly which lay emphasis on education, I am not so sure about that. How would you account for all of the instances that do not fit your conceptions of what “Hindu” and “Jewish” cultures are? Those that don’t “assimilate” well (and what does “assimilating” mean here?), those who don’t lay a “tremendous emphasis on scholarship/education” and the existence of martial elements in both societies? Actually, you’ll find that there is a varying degree of all kinds of elements existing in most cultures, whether “Hindu” and “Jewish” or whatever.

    Lastly, Jewish communities weren’t the only ones who had not been persecuted; neither were the Parsis. So it is not that there is something singularly unique about “Jewish” culture that allowed it to flourish undisturbed.

  29. Chokri,

    You add absolutely nothing to the discussion with your nitpicking. I did not equate the word Indian with Hindu – but India is predominantly Hindu, and Indian culture is also predominantly Hindu. Sorry, that’s the way it is. Secondly, I did not dispute the existence of martial elements in both cultures, so your point is irrelevant. Just because there are martial elements in Hindu culture does not mean it is essentially a culture that elevates the priest over all other types. Thirdly, considering all the groups which have been persecuted in India (widows, tribals, untouchables) I’d consider that there may indeed be something uniquely compatible about the Jewish and Hindu cultures.

  30. not all of Indian culture is “Hindu”; you are conflating “culture” with religion.

    What’s the difference between “Jewish” religion and “Jewish” culture?? Or it is ok to conflate there? Because everyone does it from the Media to Jewish people themselves.

    We’re talking about INDIAN AMERICANS, who could very well come from non Hindu backgrounds, ie Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Jain, etc..

    What about Jewish Americans?? Oh … I see their the conflation is allowed. Right, I forgot. How about Indians from religions such as Vaishnav, Kashmiri Shaivism, Buddhism, Radhaswamy, Swaminarayan … etc I guess the difference between all these is the difference between night and day, right?

  31. Going back a few steps-

    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.

    What Anna and Siddhartha said! Sometimes little bits and pieces I write for print get thoroughly rewritten with the wrong cadence and alternative substance, and then printed up under my name without my prior permission, so I know that editors here often see themselves as uberwriters. In this instance, they were clearly driven by what they perceive to be the market for a story about a little browngirl becoming American through canoodling– Kaavya, I think it’s time for Rajiv Malhotra http://ia.rediff.com/news/malhotra.htm to step in….

    I’m all for giving her the benefit of doubt…but keep in mind this girl did pay someone to help with her college applications. When you shell out $20,000 for a service like IvyWise you are getting more than just grammar check. Someone helped her write her admissions essay, her resume, and helped her fill out all the forms. And not to be a crab, but I can’t help but wonder how much of her application essay was all hers. And Kaavya dear, one isn’t a prime number. It is the very first line in you book- you shouldn’t be that careless.

    Catty, if the system of buying in and getting other people to write your colege essay is so much in place that people are running a business off of it, how is a seventeen-year old, who is in the program and even admitted to Harvard through the program, going to know what the cribbing boundaries are anyway? It seems her editor and agent wrote the book — i think many Mutineers smelled a rat on that score as soon as SM posted that picture of the cover…

  32. Has anybody here read the book? Opal Mehta (a N. Indian name) has relatives called Venkat and Kali?

  33. Gargi: I’m nitpicking because I broke down your logic?

    I think there are some deep similarities between, in particular, Hindu culture and Jewish culture, which might contribute to a similarity of experience between Jewish and Indian immigrants.

    The discussion had been “Indian Americans” and Jewish Americans and their success in the US and you busted out with “Hindu culture” and “Jewish culture”. Whether Indian culture is predominantly Hindu or not, how would you go about verfiying that? Where would you draw the lines? As I pointed out, Indian Americans don’t have to be Hindu. They can be other things as well. I’d like to see you go tell Indians of other backgrounds, ie Christians, Muslims, that they are basically Hindu.

    Holding culture as the explanation to why some people succeed or not is specious. It is an easy but unsubstantiated answer.

    RC: What’s the difference between “Jewish” religion and “Jewish” culture?? Or it is ok to conflate there? Because everyone does it from the Media to Jewish people themselves.

    I agree with you on the first point, it is hard to seperate Jewish “religion” from Jewish “culture”.

    What about Jewish Americans?? Oh … I see their the conflation is allowed

    In terms of my discussion, I was, again, saying that Indian Americans don’t necessarily have to be Hindu. But can Jews be Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Jain, etc? Judaism is a religion, whereas “Indian” is NOT.

    Peace out, Neha

  34. Gargi: One last thing: This is your response to what I wrote: I did not equate the word Indian with Hindu -

    This is what you had written to which I responded in the first post:

    Hindu culture and Jewish culture, which might contribute to a similarity of experience between Jewish and Indian immigrants.

    Um, I think you were equating “Indian” with “Hindu”….?

  35. Chokri:

    You didn’t break down anything, except the possibility of an interesting discussion about the similarities between the Hindu and Jewish cultures. What is your overall point? That Indians aren’t all Hindu? Thank you, Einstein. That ‘Indian’ isn’t a religion? You’re a genius.

    My original comment was not attempting to establish a philosphy of Hindu domination, as you appear to have understood it. The fact is that most Indian immigrants are Hindus. Most of Indian history is Hindu history. NOT ALL, and I’m not claiming that. There is, however, some possibility that the affinities between Indian Americans and Jewish Americans can be traced to deeper religious affinities between Hinduism and Judaism. What about this throws you into a such a hissyfit?

  36. What about this throws you into a such a hissyfit?

    Religious explanations to describe socio-economic realities is basically superficial and stupid. Period. Generalizing about “Hindu” culture also discounts the fact that even within Hinduism, there are many differences. Moreover, there are aspects of India that have been influenced by non-Hindu (gasp!) religions.Take Gujarati Hindusim, which had been heavily influenced by Jainism; Gujarati Swaminarayans are not the same as Bengali Hindus. Or Sikhism, which had been influenced by Islam as well as other elements.

    Since you’re the genius and Einstein here, why don’t you grace with an eloquent description of “Hindu” culture and how this plays into “Indian Americans” in the US– you still keep coming back with the connection between “Indian Americans” and Hindu culture, without ever really substantiating that connection.

    How do you know that the Indian Americans, IF they are indeed of Hindu background, practice or have knowledge of Hindusim to the extent that it influences their lives and socio-economic status? And what of Indian Americans who are Muslims that excel in school, career, etc?? Or is it because the “Indian” part of Indian American Muslims–which you claim is Hindu– is what has played an overriding role in their success?

  37. Thanks, everyone, for a very interesting discussion of Indians and Jews in the USA. Of course, there are huge stereotypes, mothers who overfeed and hopes for girls to marry doctors, but it is all part of a certain kind of family unit, and maybe Jews and Indians have similarities on this. I would love to see an Indian-American comedian on TV or on the movies play on this and have fun with humor about life in the USA, similar to Jewish humor. Humor always helps. It has helped the Jews for centuries. Let s hear some good examples, MORE, of Indian humor is USA. Are there any popular comedians yet doing stand up on this subject in LA or NYC? Who? WEbsites? Dish!

    Humor is a good way to get over the bumps in the road. Even some GOOD Vaanyaa V jokes can help. She is not a bad girl. She just go in over her head and mishandled, manhandled by her handlers. It happens to the best in the USA every day…..SMILE

  38. sigh.

    to add to chokri’s words, remember, there are desi jews, too. i think someone else mentioned that, but in case you missed that in the last 500+ comments, i thought it was worth repeating. that’s not why i know a decent amount of yiddish, but i just thought i’d tie this all together, so i can go back to shielding kaavya from unnecessary cruelty.

    i almost wish one of our mutineers was a personal friend of hers…i am concerned about her and hope that she is doing as well as possible, under the circumstances. i’m all for having “experience” as your professor, i just don’t think anything self-destructive needs to be on the syllabus.

  39. Danny–

    If you want to see some good ass Desi humor, you HAVE to check out Russel Peters. It was long overdue, to have a Desi comedian. There’s just too much to make fun of :) Being Desi offers tons of good material to work off of.

    Anna– yes, you are totally right, there are also Desi Jews. It was Gargi who had pointed it out.

    Anna, is there any way you can contact Kaavya so as to offer long distance consolation? Oh,re: Kaavya and racism, check out the “How Kaavya got rich” board to see the post about South Indians.


  40. Chokri,

    Sure, you can send her an email. On Harvard site, finding someone’s email address as easy as it gets. There is a seach/ phone directory for Harvard College students. She might be little scared and tentative about emails and random contacts, I would assume. NJ crowd might know her family too.

  41. P.K./Kaavya/I think Anna subconciously christened her with the right letter if not moniker, ie used the right letter (one can almost safely say that at this point whether she herself engaged in it or “others”)(pls note the qualifiers “almost safely”)

    having read ALL the posts and being mindful of all sensiblities and senstivities and appreciating Anna’s call for not rushing to judgment and also empathizing with her while not totally sympathizing a voice of moderation, all i can say is:

    Be careful what you wish for Your wish just might come true

    — courtesy the Great American Marketing Machine of course and the Great American Media

    This story raises questions about how any and everything is marketed or packaged and made marketable

    even the media loves disposabale news items

  42. Kush Tandon– Thanks for the tip, though I wasn’t asking for myself, it was for Anna, so that she can lend a virtual shoulder to Kaavya.

    Yeah, I bet Kaavya is as scared as a deer caught in headlights… poor Kaavya, she must really frightened right now, huddling underneath a maroon (Harvard color) blanket with big round eyes. Since I don’t feel confident enough to say I know exactly what is going on, despite the information overload, there are two things I’d say: 1) if she got sucked into the whole Celebrity Culture Syndrome and then tried to make a buck by plagarizing, then this experience will add to her life knowledge about the things you do and don’t do; and 2)if she had been somehow manhandled and/or manipulated by her publisher, then my sympathies go out to her…………….

    Actually, come to think of it, we are all really, really, really mean. We are virtually murdering a SEVENTEEN year old for having PLAGARIZED, for Christsakes’. Isn’t that pathetic? I mean, look at people like Rummy, George, Dick, Condi whose lies have MURDERED countless people, and I don’t remember seeing this type of collective wrath and punishment for all of the lies they spewed (and continue to spew). I think Philosopher Abhi wrote about this– maybe this obsession with collectively beating up Kaavya with an iron fist is a convenient way to transfer our anger of being lied to onto a hapless, naiive 17 year old punching bag. I now feel ashamed.

  43. Chokri,

    You can’t simply amputate religion from socio-economics – religion is necessarily going to play a part in at least the ‘socio’ part, and possibly also the economics(‘protestant work ethic’, anyone?). Do you maintain that religion has no influence on the way individuals work and play and spend – and just who gets to work and play and spend? Of course it does. What’s superficial and stupid, chokri, is jumping all over someone when they merely SUGGEST that PERHAPS Hindu culture has something to do with the way Indian Americans are.

    I haven’t been referring to the ‘success’ of Indian Americans at all, nor have I anywhere drawn the inference that non-Hindu Indian Americans are only successful because they are de facto Hindus. These are conclusions you have jumped to. Islam and Christianity and Jainism etc. may all contribute to the way Indian Americans are. My original post referred to ‘some deep similarities between, in particular, Hindu culture and Jewish culture, which might contribute to a similarity of experience between Jewish and Indian immigrants.’ The key words are ‘might contribute’ and ‘in particular’. This statement does not exclude anyone in any way.

    You ask me to provide a definition of Hindu culture. This implies, of course, that you’ve never used the term ‘culture’ without having a precise definition of the specific culture you are talking about. If this prerequisite were broadly adopted, it would result in the vast majority of us never talking about culture at all. Yet certainly we should be able to speak about ‘culture’ in the same way we speak broadly of ‘the West’ and of ‘India’, even though these, too, contain thousands of different shades.

  44. This implies, of course, that you’ve never used the term ‘culture’ without having a precise definition of the specific culture you are talking about.

    Yes, you are right, I do not have a “precise definition of the specific culture [I am] talking about”, becaues if I did, it would be too simplistic. I try to veer away from using the word “culture” to describe various peoples and societies; likewise, I avoid describing places as some big, uniform monoliths, ie the “West” and so on. Since it is true that people do speak of “culture”. The point is to find out what people actually MEAN when they say “culture”; that is, to see how the word is used by people and what they mean by that. Which is why I asked what Hindu culture actually meant when you referred to it.

    Apparently there is some way to measure just how much Hinduism, or any religion for that matter, plays into people’s lives. I myself don’t know how to accurately measure that, especially given the fact that the degree of just how much a person adheres to their faith and incorporates it into his/her daily life, varies.

    Yet certainly we should be able to speak about ‘culture’ in the same way we speak broadly of ‘the West’ and of ‘India’, even though these, too, contain thousands of different shades.

    Why speak “broadly” about any culture or region if you recognize the fact that “these, too, contain thousands of different shades”?

    If you’re interested, there are several books propounding the ties between Hinduism and Judaism, available at some Radha Krishna Mandir bookstores, like the one close to where I live. Good night, Gargi.

  45. Anna, So dish. How Do you know Yiddish, just from the culture seeping in, or friends, or what? When I saw that BISSEL term, I chucked out loud, COL, and loved it. I firmly believe we are all one people on Earth, all of us, one human race, but then again, I am said to be ahead of the times. Anyways, do tell me how you learned Yiddish. It is so refreshing to hear a bissel of Yiddish on a blog like this. You can learn more about moi at http://bubbieandzadie.blogspot.com

  46. Akka, Loved your post!! Go Aggies.

    Hey, how about the reason that KV’s papa said that something like they haven’t been through US school system and so didn’t know how to apply and therefore recruited IvyWise. Silly reason to justify after the fact.. Wow, even a brain surgeon cannot figure out how to apply to US schools…

    Plus, feel that had she lived in US longer (since may be ele. school) she wouldn’t have thought that people are so naive here as to fool them through her silly statements. In Chennai, people are used to saying stuff like this and get away..

  47. Enough, shut this post down. It’s served its purpose… well, maybe not.