When most people hear that Chetan Bhagat is being sued for stealing the concept for One Indian Girl, the first question isn't 'Did he really?', but, instead, 'Who would want to claim credit for Bhagat's drivel?'
Panned for being over-simplistic, and rooted in shallow concepts and ideals, One Indian Girl is not a work most authors would claim.
So, when we had a chance to speak to Anvita Bajpai, the Bangalore-based author making these claims, this was one of the first questions we asked. “My story doesn't have that shallowness. When Bhagat wrote his book he probably missed the depth. Obviously if someone lacks depth they will be criticised, but just because he does, it doesn't mean I do,” Bajpai says.
My story doesn't have that shallowness. When Bhagat wrote his book he probably missed the depth.
This dissatisfaction with the book, she tells us, is also mentioned in her complaint.
With this out of the way, we were finally able to focus on the actual issue – the plagiarism. Right of the bat, it's important to note a few things. Anvita Bajpai isn't accusing Bhagat of plagiarising her book. Instead, she's accusing him of basing his book on a short story, Drawing Parallels, from her book Life, Odds & Ends.
The long and short of it
Her story is 68-pages-long; One Indian Girl is over four times longer with 280 pages. Isn't this alone enough to make his work original? Bajpai begs to differ.
“From the beginning to the end, the way the story flows is exactly the same as my story. Now, obviously, because his is a novel and mine is a short story, a lot of details have been added or changed, so we have made a list of similarities and differences, and submitted this document to court,” Bajpai explains. However, as she tells us, the complaint isn't based on her opinion alone.
Independent reviewers have also been consulted, and their assesment is included in the complaint.
“Independent reviewers have also been consulted,” Bajpai explains, “based on those reviewer's comments, my own assessment, and my lawyer's understanding of the case, we have taken it forward.”
To substantiate her claims, Bajpai begins to recount the narrative of her story. On the surface of it, there do seem to be plausible similarities between her story and Bhagat's book.
However, aside from the similarity in plot development, the themes in both book are incredibly common. In fact, these are tropes that are common in a lot of fiction based on modern, emancipated women – from multiple partners, to balancing work and family, the quest for self-realisation, Bajpai's claims show both herself and Bhagat as unoriginal.
Unoriginal, but not plagiarists. When we bring this to her attention, taking Bridget Jones as an example, Bajpai responds resolutely. “The movie you're claiming, I've not watched, so I can't comment on it. But we are in an era where people talk of similar issues, but the way you present the issue, that is unique. That is a creative work. My claim is not that people can't use these themes. It's about how I put these themes in a sequence, and this sequence is my creative work. That is my claim,” states Bajpai.
My claim is not that people can't use these themes. It's about how I put these themes in a sequence.
But this justification doesn't entirely make sense. There are literally millions of books out there, which may be extremely similar in plot and theme. This alone, though, doesn't mean their authors are stealing ideas.
Isn't it possible for more than one person to have a similar idea, we ask. “Anybody can get inspired by a story and create a new story out of it, that is a creative work. But they should still give credit, take permission, or else the work has to be completely innovative,” she responds.
Proof of copy
However, some of the 'proof' she has put out in the public domain is less than convincing. “So many names [in the two texts] are also similar, I've also written in the plaint that though they may be written in different context, same names are also there [in both].”
While this may seem like damning proof, the names themselves do nothing for her case. These range from places – Goa, Kolkata, Oxford – that are very common, as well as the character name 'Mark', and references to Facebook.
The names Bhagat 'copied' are laughably generic, from Oxford, to Facebook, and even Goa.
“'Finding myself' is a phrase used in both books,” she tells us, apparently unaware that it's commonly used by angsty teenagers on Facebook, let alone pop-lit authors.
This seems fishy, so we ask her how she can possibly claim this as similarity. “I'm not saying only I can mention certain locations, however, a combination of all these things proves that this book [her story] was read before writing One Indian Girl,” she says.
A smoking gun?
While she may seem to be clutching at straws here, the surest proof would be if she had proof of exact lines or paragraphs that were lifted. This, coupled with her claims of similarities in story flow, would be a smoking gun. But does she have this?
“I have submitted proof to court, and when the court decision comes out that will become publicly available. What I have shared on social media is not the whole truth, there is a truth beyond that which I have submitted to the court,” she says, almost cryptically. But, for now, she won't disclose it.
While she may not have done this for the money, she's certainly receving a lot of publicity.
If there is, indeed, proof of Bhagat lifting lines directly from Bajpai's story, then this could genuinely get embarrassing for the author. Regardless, this will only raise Bajpai's stock. While she may not have done this for the money, especially given her continuing success in the field of technology, this will give her visibility she may never have achieved otherwise. And, even if we are to believe her claim that this is not for publicity, it will doubtless be seen as the reason if her case does get thrown out.
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