India Today, which describes itself as “India’s Number One magazine”, has plagiarized this blogger’s work.
In April 2007, I posted a piece titled “Mills and Boon: An Indian Romance”. The post, which chronicled my teenage fascination–and subsequent disenchantment–with Mills and Boon romance novels, was also featured on the Indian blog aggregator site DesiPundit, which has over 20000 feed subscribers.
India Today, according to the company website, “is the most widely read publication in India—a position it has held for over a decade—with a circulation of 1.1 million every week and a readership of more than 15 million.” Ms. Damayanti Datta, Deputy Editor of India Today, writes a blog “Personal Choice” for the publication. Her post “Grow up, Mills and Boon”, published Nov. 2008, is clearly plagiarized from my post.
Having shipped more than 3 billion books since 1949, Harlequin continues to write its own remarkable publishing story.
3 billion. And I bet a billion of them found their way to India; I personally devoured several hundred thousand in my mid-teens. I had favorite Mills and Boon authors (Betty Neels, anyone? Catherine George?) And favorite jacket colors (turquoise). And at the local lending library, I’d read the plot summaries carefully before making my selection.
Over 300 crore books have been exported across the world since 1949. 300 crore Mills & Boon romance. If even one-third of that 300 crore reached India, I have been a breathless reader of hundreds in my youthful past. My favourite writers were Anne Mather, Betty Neels, Penny Jordan. And my favourite cover colour was blue. I clearly remember those frenzied hunting hours spent every month amidst the termite-laden lending libraries of Free School Street of my city, Calcutta.
BP: Most embarrassing: I never remarked that the heroines were always in subordinate positions to their male counterparts– nurses to the he-doctors, secretaries to the businessmen and so on. And that interracial romance was noticeably absent; the tall dark handsome men were all Spanish or Italian. The women were usually younger, usually virgins, and always so grateful to have been chosen for love by these rich successful men. (Disclaimer: I gave up reading these books when I left my teens; perhaps the books have changed over the past decade or two to include more than straight, white-on-white, doormat-meets-matador romance. )
IT: I am ashamed to admit that as an M&B reader I was never stirred by any feminist sensibilities. I never noticed how the heroines were always less ‘successful’ than the heroes—if the hero was a doctor, the heroine would be a nurse; hero businessman, heroine secretary, etc. I never asked why the heroines—simple, sweet, pure and always a virgin—were always way younger to the heroes. Or why at the end of the story, the M&B ladies were so full of gratitude to life for managing to be the love interest of the super-rich, super-successful, super-handsome men (I must point out: I have not been in touch with Mills and Boon ever since I moved on to my 20s; the doormat-heroines and larger-than-life heroes may have changed their love-talk now).
BP: Back in eighties/early nineties India, every girl I knew read (or had read) Mills and Boon romances. They were especially sought-after during boring college lectures–the books were small enough and bendy enough to slip comfortably into Samuelson’s Macroeconomics text, or P.L.Soni’s magnum opus on Inorganic Chemistry.
IT:All the girls I knew back in the ’80s and ’90s—in school, in the neighbourhood—read (or flipped through relevant pages of) those Mills and Boon romances. We would narrate stories to each other, lend and share books, and fall asleep clutching an M&B. Not just that, those handy volumes were our best friend at all those sleep-inducing, yawn-invoking classes, slipping neatly inside a Resnick & Halliday physics tome or an A.L. Basham’s Wonder That Was India and enveloping us in a warm glow.
BP: I wonder why these books were so bloody popular. Perhaps the insanely competitive Indian academic scene, where doing well in the Class 12 board exams was a matter of life and death, led us to cherish the guaranteed happy ending the books offered? Perhaps it’s because there was no formal sex ed. class in our school curriculum, and we sought enlightenment wherever we could find it? The Mills and Boon books I read were pretty tame though; sex was described, if at all, in cagey and coy terms–”and then the room rocked and tilted, and she was borne aloft on a shower of golden sparks till she knew no more”–pshaw!
IT:Why were M&Bs that popular with us? Perhaps, those winning tales of wholesome love brought joy to lives juiced dry with the pressures and competitions of Board exams? Perhaps, without any meaningful lesson on sex and sexuality in school, we got a whiff of adult life from those? Not that, one could learn much about adult goings-on from the M&Bs that we read. Man-woman relation was always clothed in high-sounding metaphors: “then the room swam around her, and she soared on the wings of a sudden burst of golden light” etc.
BP: I think there’s more to the phenomenon than comfort or curiosity about sex, though. Many of us Indian readers had our love-lives mapped out for us early-on by family; a comfortable arranged marriage was both inevitable and desirable in the eyes of most. A Mills and Boon was perhaps the closest many would get to love-at-first-sight, lust-conquerors-all territory. The latter wasn’t something everyone necessarily wanted, but certainly something that everyone wanted to know more about. And the books were unrealistic, yes, but no more than the average Hindi film…
IT: Were we interested just in sex? For most girls my generation, love-life was neatly mapped out since childhood. An arranged marriage with a boy chosen by one’s parents, a happy home, children, cars were all that we were destined for, and probably couldn’t think beyond. Perhaps, M&B gave us the first inkling of a life beyond arrangements where one could fall in love at first sight and step into a dream life of made-for-each-other ecstasy? Not that we all dreamt of falling in love. But we all wanted to know what it means to fall in love, how does it feel, how different is it from those arranged marriages? Sometimes, of course, we found the M&B route to romance absurd. So what? So are Hindi films…
I have a Creative Commons License on my blog that explicitly disallows sharing of my content without attribution or derivative works based on my content. Ms. Datta works for a respected publishing house and knows all about copyright; in fact, she emailed me back in April 2008 to ask for permission to use one of my articles which appeared in The Smithsonian Magazine. I wrote back explaining that copyright reasons prevented the same, and I never heard back from her. I learnt about the suspicious similarities between our two posts from another blogger last week.
I am upset. But I am upset not just for myself, but on behalf of bloggers everywhere. Why is our creative content and our copyright not accorded the same respect given to a piece in a print publication? Ms. Datta obeyed the law of copyright when it came to my article in The Smithsonian Magazine, but apparently felt few qualms about plagiarizing my blog post.
I have written to the editor of India Today, Mr. Prabhu Chawla, informing him about this incident. I will update this post if/when I hear from him.
UPDATE: As of Oct. 18, 2010, I haven’t heard a word back from India Today. Following the outcry over their editor-in-chief’s plagiarism of an article from Slate, I wrote this post about the culture of plagiarism at this magazine. India Today showed its customary good sense and posted a weak-kneed apology for the Slate incident as a comment on my blog while continuing to ignore my complaint. I hence emailed India Today yet again on Oct. 14. Here’s the text of my email:
Hello, India Today Group Corporate Communication People,
Your unmitigated gall in posting an explanation for your plagiarism of the Slate story ON MY BLOG, while ignoring your plagiarism from this VERY BLOG leaves me amazed. So Grady Hendrix deserves an apology because he’s from Slate, and I don’t because I’m an independent blogger? You couldn’t have demonstrated your stunning lack of principles better than with this incident. I never received a reply, let alone an apology, to my complaint made eighteen months ago, though you were quick to disable comments on the article on your site. And yet, you’ve reacted remarkably fast to the outcry about the Slate article.
Do the right thing and have your deputy editor apologize already. And no, you can’t blame jet-lag for this one.
No, I’m not holding my breath.