The world of wordsmiths has often seen pitched battles over the ownership of works and ideas. Come August, the literary world is going to witness another such war, with a cast of characters as interesting as those in works of fiction. On one side is novelist-publisher David Davidar, currently the MD at Aleph Book Company, and variously described as the man who put recent Indian writing and publishing on the world map, the most successful Indian publisher and one who has discovered top Indian talent. On the other is Sivasundari Bose, a Tiruchirapalli-based novelist-poet, who charges Davidar with having plagiarised from her manuscript, submitted to Penguin when he headed that firm. Sivasundari sued Davidar, saying there are many similarities between her novel—submitted in manuscript to Penguin as I Hunt for the Golden Stag and eventually published by Mosaic Books as Golden Stag—and Davidar’s own acclaimed novel The House of Blue Mangoes.
Sivasundari says the plot of her novel, about a Nadar family of Tamil Nadu and spanning five generations, has been lifted by Davidar for The House of Blue Mangoes. That both authors hail from Tamil Nadu and belong to the Nadar community—Davidar is Christian, Bose is Hindu—may be just a coincidence, but is evidently the reason for the similarities in setting. It’s not about verbatim reproduction of passages, but rather about what she claims in her petition are similar characters and sequences of events, bringing complexity to the case. There’s also the curious fact that the alleged plagiarist’s work appeared in print before that of the accuser—the allegation is that he stole from a manuscript submitted to a publishing firm he headed.
Davidar rubbishes these charges. He says he never saw Sivasundari’s manuscript and that he had started work on his first novel, a semi-autobiographical account of his clan, long before 2000. The first time he heard of her, he says, was when two notices on the charge of plagiarism were served on him by her lawyer and he in turn moved court, alleging defamation last year. “There was no question of ever seeing, much less copying, from the book,” Davidar’s lawyer stated in court. “It wasn’t his duty and it was also physically impossible to see the thousands of unsolicited manuscripts received during his tenure as CEO/publisher of Penguin India.”
But Sivasundari is adamant that Davidar must certainly have read her manuscript because of the striking similarities in the storyline. Some of the many she has enumerated are: the period, 1900 on in her book, and 1899 on in Davidar’s; some instances in which characters in the two novels mirror each other, including having common names; and 31 points of what she claims are similarities, including some minor points.
Davidar maintains there is no similarity—whether in theme, textual content, style, plot, events or characterisation. A point he makes is that, while Bose’s work spans the entire 20th century, his stops at 1947; and that Bose devotes only 45 pages to the period covered by Davidar.
Anyone who reads both the books, he says, would find the charges laughable. He has submitted to the court that he began work on his novel as early as 1988 and over the next decade the book went through three more drafts. The final draft, he says, was ready in April 2000 and edited by author Vikram Seth.
As to Sivasundari’s alleged similarities between the two works, Davidar says they are limited to factual events and conditions pertaining to a certain period; the use of common English words and phrases to describe the same phenomenon; and elements common to multi-generational family sagas.
Denying any copyright infringement or plagiarism, Davidar has made a point-by-point rebuttal (see graphic). Her demand for an apology and public acknowledgement of wrong-doing, he says, is aimed at hurting his reputation and image merely because Penguin rejected her book. He has claimed Rs 21 lakh in damages. Sivasundari, too, has slapped a case on him, demanding Rs 10 lakh in damages.
Publishing in India is strewn with instances of plagiarism and ignominious outings. But this is probably the first case of an publisher-author pitted against an author who once submitted a manuscript to his firm. It comes up for hearing in Delhi High Court on August 24, a year after the first petition in a lower court. The way the case pans out may well have the makings of another page-turner.
Golden Stag vs House Of Blue Mangoes
Sivasundari’s charges, and what Davidar has said in his reply in court...
I was intrigued to read about Sivasundari Bose’s allegation that David Davidar had plagiarised the manuscript of her novel (Who Cloned Them Blue Mangoes?, Jul 16). I can narrate my own comparable experience. I had myself been working on a novel since 2009. In March 2012, I happened to read Davidar’s Ithaca. As I read through it, I kept coming across strange similarities between this book and my own work-in-progress. When I came to the end, and its denouement, I realised, to my unpleasant surprise, that the novel was almost a replica of my own. I had not shown my MS to anyone, or talked about its contents, not even the proposed publisher. I immediately mailed Davidar, telling him about my experience, and got a reply. The matter ended there. My point, essentially, is that such weird things—synchronicities—do happen in the world of ideas. Perhaps the English scientist Rupert Sheldrake is right when he talks about ‘morphic resonance’: the idea of collective memories within species, and unexplained telepathy-like connections between organisms. Having worked in the realm of ideas for long, I’ve seen many examples of this.
Anvar Alikhan, on e-mail
Considering how facilely Outlook allowed Davidar associate Khushwant Singh to openly promote his House of Blue Mangoes as a ‘bestseller’ before it had even begun to sell, there is, almost certainly, a generous dose of sympathy for Davidar at Outlook, whether Bose’s claims are proven true or not. That said, Davidar clearly used the title of Sandra Cisneros’s huge bestseller, The House on Mango Street to, ahem, inspire his own book title. He also paid homage to her style of writing—if you consider imitation the highest form of flattery.
Mehul Kamdar, Appleton, US
Both Davidar and Bose seem to have mutually decided to trade charges for publicity. Davidar went into obscurity after Penguin fired him. And no one has heard of Bose and her book.
Ramesh Raghuvanshi, Pune
It’s clearly a case of an obscure writer fighting a mediocre writer. If you’re looking for one battle not worthy of following, you have it here.
Asa Harkavy, Hissar
Davidar, Sivasundari Bose and Outlook deserve each other. All of them personify ineptitude and mediocrity.
Rajeev, New Delhi
Apropos Who Cloned Them Blue Mangoes? (Jul 16), it’s a situation played ad nauseam the world over—a person who perceives himself as untouchable using power and position to further his own ends.
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
Obscure writer fighting a mediocre writer. If you're looking for one battle not worth following - here you have it.
I think both mutually decided to charges each other for publicity Davidar went in obscurity after Penguin fired him.No one know to Bose and her novel
Considering how facilely Outlook allowed Davidar-associate Khushwant Singh to openly promote his "House of Blue Mangoes" as a "bestseller" before the book had even begun to sell, there is, almost certainly, a generous dose of sympathy for Davidar at Outlook whether Bose's claims are proven to be true or not. That said, Davidar clearly used the title of Sandra Cisneros's huge bestseller "The House on Mango Street" to - ahem - inspire the title of his book, and he paid homage to her style of writing, if you consider imitation the highest form of flattery. While it would be expected for an author to be inspired by works that preceded his / her own, there is more than a degree of blue sky in both Davidar's writing, as well as in his style of blatant self-promotion. What did Khushwant write in Outlook when "The House of Blue Mangoes" was about to be released? Something about Davidar joining the ranks of multimillionaire authors as I recall. Sure, the book sold in enough numbers to make Davidar a multimillionaire in Zinbabwe dollars. And, all of those who got together to praise Davidar ended up resembling the mandarins who dance with joy after smelling the baby Pu Yi's droppings in Bertolucci's "The Last Emperor."
David Davidar, Sivasundari Bose and Outlook deserve each other. All of them personify ineptitude and mediocrity.
I sypathise with Sivasundari and David both. Only Gd knows who is guilty and it is possible that both are guilty and yet ignorant about their deeds.
The similiarties between two storylines can sometimes be a matter of coincidence. It can also be a case of a subconscious mind governing the storyline which is not one's original.
Sivasundari has a reason to feel cheated as the all the first time authors are often asked to submit the full manuscript or synopsis and they then have wait for up to 6 months before the publisher takes a decision on publishing their work. It is quite possible that the script was initially considered good enough by Penguin to be sent to David for his perusal.
The script might have got embedded in David's mind and subconsciously he may have authored his book as his subconscious guided him.
Any thing is possible but charging David of plagiarisng is shocking
Author of 'The First Lady of Roli Petroleum'
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