<b>Sliceoflife<b>: Stole the thunder
It is easy to accuse one of plagiarism but coincidences in the publishing world are not that unusual
The worst nightmare for any author is not unsold piles of their books, or a novel full of typos due to poor editing, or an apathetic publisher, even though all of the above are guaranteed to cause sleepless nights. There is something, which is even more disastrous, and that is the accusation of plagiarism.
The latest controversy to hit the hugely successful Chetan Bhagat is an allegation of plagiarism, where a Bangalore high court granted a temporary injuction that prevented sale of copies of his book One Indian Girl, following a lawsuit by Anvita Bajpai, who claimed that the book was based on one of her short stories.
She claims that she gifted Bhagat, her book in 2014, at the Bangalore litfest.
Chetan Bhagat stated that he would never, ever do such a thing, and that the trust of his readers was most important. He would never dream of letting them down. As a fellow novelist, I can completely relate to this sentiment. I would be indignant if anyone accused me of stealing someone’s ideas. Originality is the life-blood of an artist or any creative person. An accusation of theft is a character assassination. As a writer with eight bestselling titles that have been translated into several languages, and having sold more than a million copies and more than 10 years of publishing experience behind me, I can vouch for one thing — coincidences in the publishing world are not unusual at all.
Years ago, when I was only two novels old, I started writing a book which centred on a housewife who was abandoning her family. I was about 25,000 words into the book, which any writer would tell you, is a considerable amount of work. I was browsing the book-section of the Sunday newspapers, and came across an Irish author who had just come out with her book, and I was shocked. It was the exact idea that I had developed. The plot was eerily similar. Since that book was already published, I had no option but to junk my entire work that I had done so far. I did not read the Irish author’s book, but just the synopsis itself was enough for me to abandon my work, and think of something new. I shudder to think what would have transpired, had I not come across that book, that Sunday morning.

At literature festivals, any popular author is mobbed by a bunch of adoring fans. I have experienced this myself at the last three editions of Bangalore Literature festivals, where I could barely breathe, and volunteers had to step in, asking people to move back. There are many who want successful author to read their books, and often authors are forced to accept these gifts, mostly out of politeness, and also because they do not want to hurt the person who is gifting them their work.
Let me reveal a secret — most authors including myself simply do not have the time to read and critique a book by someone who is self-published or someone who is a newbie. A successful author also gets many requests for a blurb on the cover of a book, most of which they decline, as it is an assignment that can eat up several days.
At literature festivals, the authors travel from their hometown, and most carry a few extra copies of their own books. Almost all authors I spoke to admitted that they would hate to lug excess baggage, in form of unsolicited books, which add up those extra kilos that have to be paid for! As soon as the person is out of sight, the author leaves the book behind, or hands it over to a volunteer, or leaves it in the hotel room.

Unless the person who requests you to read is a dear friend, most authors simply do not have the time or inclination to read things gifted to them. Also, most authors will have at least a 50 of ideas that never made it to novels. I have a folder on my laptop, which reads ‘Ideas for novels’ which I might or might not develop into full-fledged novels at a later date. Ideas are plenty. But it is the hard work that you put in, sitting at your desk day after day, night after night, hammering out those words, so that you reach that magic number of 80,000 words (most novels are around that length), which counts. A short story, on the other hand, can be written in a few days at the most.
Unless it’s a very unique piece of work, like Benyamin’s Goat Days which is one of the finest books I have read, there are bound to be similarities if you write a generic story.
And as the drama unfolds over the days to come, I can only hope that justice prevails. And I agree with my fellow-author Tuhin Sinha who says “To ban a book until judgement is passed is amatueish.”
(Preeti Shenoy is the author of eight bestselling books,the latest being a fiction titled It’s All In The Planets)
Preeti Shenoy