So Long, Farewell

Well, my blogging time at Sepia Mutiny has come to an end, and it was both entertaining and challenging. I was first approached by the Bloggers-That-Be at SM after my little rant about the other Viswanathan girl, Kaavya. Soon after the plagiarism scandal of How Opal Mehta Blah B Blah hit, I set up a news alert to figure out if there was a story there. Most of the Kaavya V. news alerts were from Indian newspapers, who seemed to be taking this much harder than the American publishing industry. It has even prompted an intelligent if slightly endless letter from desi author Tanuja Desai Hidier, who criticized the idea there’s only on way to talk about the desi experience. You can read her letter here.

One might ask why Hidier feels the need to comment. My guess is that she feels she doesn’t have any choice. I have just signed with an agent for my latest book, a pop history of wicked women, and she has already made one thing clear to me: I am the “Other Viswanathan” in publishing, not Kaavya. For better or worse, she has made her mark, and the rest of us desi authors–even those without her last name–are following her checkered trail.Because, while it’s obvious that there are many ways to discuss the desi experience, there are only a few avenues open–every season brings “the next Vikram Seth” or the “next Zadie Smith,”–the next It-Boy or It-Girl Of Color who will get the oversized advance and the voice that is heard. The publishing world, especially in New York, is tiny; just last weekend the conversation about James Frey had to grind to halt because one of the editors was his friend. My agent is right–whether I like it or not, when my book goes out, I am The Other Viswanathan Girl.

I admit it makes me queasy to envision the future–distinguishing myself from Kaavya in interviews, making subtly snarky comments about rich teenagers and big advances, opening every review to find the phrase “unrelated to Kaavya” in the first sentence. I don’t like being attached to the plagiarism scandal and I don’t want to sit and rag on some teenager who has made enough enemies already. But ignoring it is frankly stupid. I don’t like following in her footsteps, but like it or not, Kaavya is the reason that everyone can pronounce my last name correctly–for the first time in my life.

And, at any rate, I’m not the one selling her experience in a novel. Yes, in a fitting ending the Kaavya scandal, an enterprising author has turned it into a book:

Jamie MichaelsÂ’s KISS MY BOOK, story of a teen writing sensation who gets caught plagiarizing her debut novel, but finds redemption and romance when she escapes to a small town, to Krista Marino at Delacorte, by Michael Bourret at Dystel & Goderich Literary Management

If they make it into a movie, I bet you one thing–the little plagiarist won’t be a desi girl. Unless Parminder Nagra is really looking for a project….

So I conclude my blogging with what brought me here. Many thanks to the SM bloggers for the opportunity and for their continually great content on this blog. I will be setting up a new blog on sirens.com, which currently features a great article by desi writer Lakshmi Chaudhry. And if you ever hear anything about a book by that other Viswanathan girl, it will probably be me.

Unless one of you other Viswanathan authors gets there first. Now I know you’re out there….

15 thoughts on “So Long, Farewell

  1. Bye Vichu. - another Vichu.

    (In case another Viswanathan does write a book – and it’s not you – it’s hopefully me!)

  2. Wow, that month went by very quickly.

    I think your agent is being a bit premature — in 15 minutes, most people outside of Sepia and MediaBistro.com won’t remember who Opal Mehta was, and you’ll have to teach people how to pronounce your name all over again. (But were people really pronouncing “Viswananthan” correctly after Kaavya? That’s surprising to me, and particularly interesting, because according to Abhi, Kaavya’s own pronunciation of “Mehta” left something to be desired.)

    Look forward to your new book — and of course to more snarky comments about rich teenagers, big advances, and everything else!

  3. Good luck Neeraja. We need another Viswanathan on the literary map to drown out the first!

  4. Bye Neeru! Don’t be a stranger! For all the Goth/Indian-girl-hater/Viswanathans out there, you gotta represent!

  5. sorry for the late comments–on vacation…

    I am very glad Sepia Mutiny exists, and I had a chance to participate in the blogging. Many thanks to all those who sparked intelligent discussions, and support this blog and its very gifted, very hardworking regular bloggers. I did not realize how hard it is until I tried it!

    Many thanks for the opportunity…and don’t worry, I’ll be haunting the comments section!