January 23, 2020
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Yann Martel accused of plagiarism, but no such problems for William Dalrymple, while Arvind Krishna Mehrotra hits out at literary critics.

illustration by Jayachandran Fame has its hazards. Yann Martel found himself in the centre of an unholy row in Brazilian literary circles soon after winning the $75,000 Man Booker prize last month. The Brazilians are accusing the 39-year-old Canadian writer of "borrowing" freely from an acclaimed book, Max and the Cats, written by Moacyr Scliar. The Brazilian’s story of a Jewish youth who survives a shipwreck and ends up sharing a lifeboat with a panther certainly resembles Life of Pi where a boy from Pondicherry is adrift on the high seas with a Bengal tiger. It is no coincidence that the plots are so similar: Martel has acknowledged his debt to Scliar both in a foreword in the book as well as in interviews. But Scliar is not quite pacified: "I feel flattered that another writer considered my idea to be so good, but on the other hand, he used that idea without consulting me or even informing me. An idea is intellectual property," he says in an interview to the New York Times.

illustration by Jayachandran Let’s hope Bilkiz Alladin does not react the same way. Over two decades ago, the Hyderabadi writer published a novella on a Hyderabadi princess who fell in love and married a British resident. A plot around which William Dalrymple has spun a spectacular Indo-British historical that is receiving rave reviews worldwide. But Dalrymple, apart from acknowledging her contribution to his research, took care to win over Bilkiz during his many visits to Hyderabad while researching the book, and she readily agreed to lend him not only her idea, but even her notes.

illustration by Jayachandran It was the critics’ turn to come under fire. Poet Arvind Krishna Mehrotra used his book launch to fire a few salvos against literary critics who are, according to him, anything but literary. The prose they use is so ghastly that he claims they "resonate when I lie down at night". One nightmarish sentence which still haunts him: "The heart of darkness beats on the pacemaker of history." What does it mean, he wailed to the merriment of his audience who have long suffered in silence a leading literary critic’s pomopoco (post-modern-post-colonial) jargon.

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