8.1 - Of Plagiarism, Mid-Day and chalomumbai.com
Background: I posted this piece in July 2000, after I found out that my satire on Mumbai taxis had been plagiarized on chalomumbai.com, a site that no longer exists.
Three days ago, A, an MFM reader sent me mail saying, "Unless your name is Mrudula Nair someone is stealing your stuff and posting it to this site without giving you credit". The site was www.chalomumbai.com, the new avatar of mid-day.com and the article was my "Top Ten" list about Mumbai taxi drivers.
I clicked on the link that A had sent me and sure enough found that Mrudula Nair had lifted that article from my site and credited it to herself. In the middle of my morning work-day, swamped with a hundred and one things to do, the only thing I could think of was how to bring Mrudula to justice. I normally let my secretary do all the calling, especially if it is to organizations where you have to cut through a maze of secretaries and "manager-shielders", but since no one at work knows that I am MFM, I had to do handle everything myself.
I called Mid-Day and asked for an editor, anybody really, not knowing where to start. Everyone was apparently busy, so I asked for Dr. Bachi Karkaria, the editor-in-chief. She too was busy and though I left my mobile number with her secretary, I was sure she wasn't going to call back - this is India and editors-in-chief don't get back to people they don't know. Inspiration struck me and I called again and asked for the "Chalo Mumbai" staff. I actually got through to a human by the name of Rajeshwari. I told her my real name and that I was also "Man From Matunga" and I was pleasantly surprised to find that she had apparently heard about me. When I told her about Mrudula's theft, she said she would talk to Sachin Kalbag, the chief guy at chalomumbai.com and get back to me; she also told me that action would be taken only "if we can prove that she actually lifted the article, which is something we still don't know yet to be true". Fair enough!
I didn't hear from anyone till about 1.00PM, so I called again and left another message for Sachin, who had gone out for lunch. He actually called back around three and after introductions, during the conversation, checked out the article in question and my site. He immediately accepted the plagiarism charge and asked me how he could make amends; the options were, crediting the article to me or removing the article from the site. Vanity raised its head and I asked him to credit the article to me. I also asked him to get Mrudula to call me and to apologize to me - she obviously hasn't done that so far.
Plagiarism is the act of literary theft, the stealing of someone's ideas or work. The plagiarizer therefore is nothing but a thief. Unfortunately, the law and society in general, especially in India, do not treat thieves who steal material objects such as cars, wallets and jewelry and thieves who steals ideas and words in the same manner. The former are typically prosecuted and jailed, but nothing much happens to the latter. As far as I am concerned, if a thief should go to jail for stealing a wallet, Mrudula by the same token should be behind bars for stealing the article. But that will never happen, simply because our society values tangibles more than intangibles.
People usually steal when two conditions are met. First, there should be a need and second, the chances of getting caught must be minimal. Both reasons must have been at work here. Mrudula had been in touch with me earlier, through a hotmail address, which has since been discontinued, asking me to contribute something for this new site. I wasn't too excited and though I initially agreed to send her some stuff, I later just didn't bother. She was probably under tremendous pressure to get material and probably didn't have the time, intelligence or creative power to come up with something and so must have decided to steal the article as an easy way out. Since www.manfrommatunga.com is not a particularly well-known site and in today's million hits a month race, is a relatively obscure and small site, she must have figured that no one would ever come to know. And that is what would have happened, considering that my readership is pretty small. But somehow A stumbled onto the article and recollected having read it earlier and took the trouble to tell me and she got caught. She must have also thought that even if she got caught, "to kya hoga" (what will happen!). In another place and another time, she probably would have been booted out of her job...in our country I am not sure.
To be honest, when I first saw the plagiarized piece, along with a sense of outrage, were mixed a sense of pride and irritation. Outrage that someone could actually steal the piece, pride that someone actually thought the article worth plagiarizing and irritation at the fact that they stole an article, which is not really my best piece. Along with these, was a sense of impending frustration related to the act of trying to bring Mrudula to task.
Today, three days later, I checked the piece again at chalomumbai.com and guess what! They have credited the article to me, but to my real self and not to MFM. Which is why I haven't included the URL of the piece in this article. I have asked them to change the credit, so let's see how long that takes and when that happens.
If you think this is important, or maybe just for the heck of it, you could write to Mrudula and Sachin using the feedback form at chalomumbai.com. I had posted their email addresses here, but Sachin has now threatened me with a legal notice, if I keep the addresses on this page, so I have had to remove them. Apparently, they think that mail sent to them complaining about this is the same as spam. It gets really funny when the accused becomes the aggrieved party.
Addendum: Plagiarism is rampant in India and many parts of the world. Even in professions like medicine, articles submitted to peer-reviewed journals often are plagiarized to a considerable extent from other sources. Very often, this is done by underlings, as in the case of Mr. Aroon Purie of India Today, one of whose editorials contained “lifted” material from Slate.
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