Manoj Muntashir, writer, poet, lyricist was in news recently for plagiarism. While it is taken that writers seek inspiration from each other’s work, blatant theft is a complete no-no and leaves one red-faced.
This news took me down memory lane. I am no Muntashir, neither am I a celebrity writer but there is something in my story that might help you understand the theft game better.
All of September, I wrote poetry for myself. As I mentioned in one of my older posts, I had enrolled for The Himalayan Writing Retreat’s ‘First Draft Club’ with a purpose of writing twenty poems in thirty days. I managed fourteen (not a huge number) raw, unabashed, ordinary poems that will need to go under the knife before they can see light of day. Despite this, it has been one of the most rewarding writing months for me because I was able to write almost consistently and with the relief that what I was writing was not for the consumption of others. (I will come back to this later).
There was a time when this was exactly my writing process. In fact, in retrospect it’s hard to say if I had a process at all! The only difference was that I didn’t keep my work under lock and key back then. A lot of my poetry was for the college magazines or poetry sessions after classes. There was no concept of first draft, second draft or a final draft. A thought would visit me and the next moment I would be at my table, writing, putting the pen down only at the end of a piece. There was no polishing either. The scribble would be submitted without a second glance, and win as well, almost always get published too. I don’t know if I have written winsome poetry this last month, but I’ve written in this very old, inimitable style of mine.
This brings me to a rather interesting episode from my past. I was in the second year of post-graduation, and the wife of a professor of mine was working with a newspaper. They had read some of my poetry and she was starting a new section for her paper, which was focused on the stories of women. The professor asked me if I had something to contribute. I did. (I found that piece online and you can read it here. It’s titled ‘From the Days of Rajni’).
After submitting the article which I had written on a pin page during a free lecture, I went back to my professor the next day, to ask if it had made the cut. Of course, it had. They had both loved it. But I was unsure of my own writing, so I requested if either of them could edit it and make it more suitable for a newspaper (self-doubt continues to raise its ugly head even today). He was rather kind and told me that it required nothing to be done, that it was in its best form. Next Sunday, the piece was published. There was a lot of excitement among my friends, and obviously many of them wanted to submit for the weekly column as well. One of my friends approached me, saying that it would be a good idea if the two of us could co-write a piece. I saw no harm in doing that and asked her what she had in mind.
There was a massive plan- research (?) from a couple of books that she had already earmarked in the library; collating information on progress of women all over the world; getting the required statistics and a final analysis in a paragraph or so.
So far, so good. It wasn’t exactly how I worked, but then there is always something new to learn and to try. We sat down post dinner, in our gears, the writerly glasses and sheets of paper strewn across the floor. And, well, what a night(mare) it turned out to be!
I literally burnt the midnight oil for the first time in so many years, reading, marking relevant information, flagging pages. By the end of a few hours, we were trying to create some order in the deluge of information we had managed to gather. But it was a tough row to hoe, my friend determined to hoe it nonetheless. The problem with these kinds of articles is that you can’t possibly rephrase every sentence you read. So, by the end of it, we had practically lifted up every single line, or at least, every other! Didn’t feel quite right but we made up by citing at first, but then removing it from fear of rejection (not your piece, please).
Well, despite the precaution that we took, the rejection did happen. “It’s not your voice,” I was told. I remember vividly my friend’s furious look, her nose reminding me of the angry dragon breathing fire. We parted ways, the “writing” ways really.
You see, there are several writers in the world. They are all very different from each other. Some are natural, some work hard to get there, some rely on their inner instinct to write, some on learning and practice, some are performative, some academic, the utilitarian, the reportage and technical writers, etc., etc. And just as there are different types, so are there different processes of writing. What works for one, doesn’t necessarily work for others.
I continued to write on pin pages and she went on to do a lot of research-based writing, doing rather well for herself.
Plagiarism isn’t planned. That is how I think of it. And yet, so many writers land up getting a little more than inspired. One reason, as I see it, could be self-doubt, or the ever-rising expectations from yourself. You know, I’ve set the bar so high, I can’t give something not good enough. I must keep my work under lock and key unless I’ve chiselled it. Maybe I need some more inspiration!
I am not sure if these are the real reasons, I am just making assumptions, trying to decipher why a Manoj Muntashir should feel the need to pass off someone else’s work as their own! As I already mentioned plagiarism isn’t planned. No writer sits down at their table with the intention of cheating. But there is a rather thin line between inspiration and theft. Much like the tightrope walking you see in circus shows. The moment your balance is lost, you can topple over to one side. And in writing, it is most likely to be the wrong side!
Do you have some interesting story about plagiarism that you would like to share here? I’m waiting to hear from you.