Plagiarism Posts

Interview with instapoet Nikita Gill

Alice in Wonderland 

Alice’s rabbit hole began when she entered her father’s library and picked up one of the books she was forbidden to read. In it, the words were flavoured with anger and terror and beauty and everything she hadn’t tasted yet in her young life. People revolting, war, famine, anger at the aristocracy, compassionate philosophers writing famous ideas and wild theories. 

Wonderland emerged when Alice found her love for reading, and even better, acting on what she read. …

She scorned the idea that young ladies of that time should not do what she did. Make change and make waves and create a world more equal for everyone that lives in it. She was more concerned about making a change and in every little way she could find, she would. 

                                                                                                            Wild Embers, pp. 68-69

Nikita Gill is a British-Indian writer and poet living in the south of England. With a huge online following, her words have entranced hearts and minds all over the world. Wild Embers (2017) was her first book. I discovered the hugely popular Instapoet poetry in print, not on social media. It were the print editions that caught my attention primarily because her book publicists sent the beautifully designed editions of Wild Embers  and Fierce Fairytales & Other Stories to Stir Your Soul.  Strong poetry that is a pleasure to read for its sharply articulated ideas and representation of strong, independent, and thinking women characters especially in the retelling of the age-old fairytales. In fact Fierce Fairytales was whisked away by my young daughter as her own! I was a little surprised at her action as I was not sure how much of the poetry she would understand. Yet she surprised me pleasantly by getting the gist of the stories. She may not have got the layered meaning but she got the gist. It speaks volumes of Nikita Gill’s skill as a poet to be able to connect across generations.  Unsurprisingly she has a legion of followers on social media: Facebook (109k), Instagram ( 478K), Twitter ( 26.6K) and Tumblr 

Hachette India helped faciliate this email interview.

1. How and why did you decide to become a poet? 

When I was 13 years old, I was introduced to the work of Robert Frost through English class. There was something incredible in capturing such a wide span of emotion inside a single poem that rattled my soul and I felt a deep connection with it. Soon after, my nani (maternal grandmother) gave me my very own copy of Sukhmani Sahib and the hymns and verses there made me realise how poetry and prayer were not dissimilar, each one crafted from air to create something beautiful in and of itself. This was what made me fall in love with and want to write poetry.

2. How long does it take you to write a poem?

Genuinely speaking I am never done writing my poems. I think it was Da Vinci who said, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.”, and I resonate with that deeply. I frequent my old journals often, and rewrite pieces that I wrote years ago. I have a fondness for visiting an old thought with a fresh mind and a newer heart. I edit my manuscripts over and over again until I have to give them up. On a good day, a first draft will take about 6 hours, and rewrites take longer.

3. You are a huge success on social media. You are one of the few Instapoets who is known worldwide with a celebrity following too. But traditionally publishers are hesitant to publish poetry for the book gets easily read in a store or can be easily copied. How do you manage your poetry posts online from being plagiarized or shared without acknowledgement?

There are battles you can fight and battles you can’t. Plagiarism is a difficult thing to battle when your intellectual property is out on the internet. People get inspired by things, when we are finding our voices, our work tends to be clichéd. The easiest way for me is to write new things which I’m not seeing done around me right now. Fairytales verse retellings, writing about my very specific experiences with Partition and being Kashmiri and Punjabi, and my love for the night sky. The point is to keep reinventing yourself and keeping your head above the water. It’s also the only way to become a better creator.

4. Your primary audience are on social media. Do you find writing poetry for publication on paper is any way different to putting out posts in cyberspace? How does it affect your style of poetry? Would you say that writing for an online audience is predominantly performance poetry but it’s tone has to change for consumption in print? Do you edit the poems before the print publication or do you publish the poems as was first put out on social media? 

It’s interesting because I always thought my primary audience was on social media. But my sales figures show an even split between bookstores and internet sales. Social media is also a very different realm than to paper. You’re fostering a community there. Thoughts, ideas, friendships – also there is close interaction with your audience which you don’t get with a book. I have always said that the community in the comments section is the most magnetic thing about posting your work, unfiltered, online. I wouldn’t call it performance simply because performance poetry is such a beautiful craft in and of itself (the poets on Button who are powerhouses for instance). I would call it “confessionalist bite-sized poetry” which exists to cause a reaction, a thought, a feeling. When I write for a book, the work is edited and reedited many times before I am happy with the story it tells, whereas on the digital platform, I predominantly share excerpts or aphorisms.

5. Do you find that interacting regularly with your readers on social media influences your poetry as well as selection of themes?

I think I have a huge responsibility towards my readers to ensure my platform remains a safe space for them to share their experiences. My first allegiance is to marginalized people and survivors of trauma and I ensure posts contain trigger warnings. I don’t let it affect my work for the simple reason that the people who follow me only follow me because they enjoy the work I already put out. I need to be true to myself to be true to them. I don’t post at any particular time of the day or daily. Just when I have a fleeting thought to put something up or create something. It’s all so much more organic that way.

6. Who are the poets who have influenced you the most?

I have a fascination for the works of Emily Dickson, Maya Angelou, Sharon Olds, Lucille Clifton, Rabindranath Tagore, Amrita Pritam, Walt Whitman, Anne Carson, Emily Berry – this list is non exhaustive. I think the more older poetry we read, the better we learn how to truly see that poetry is a very vast subject and means very different things for different people.

7. What are the forms of poetry you prefer to read and write in? 

I like to read every form of poetry – there are so many genres to enjoy and such a rich world of poets to discover. Recently, I’ve been experimenting more and more with lyric poetry and moving away from free verse which has been my form for so long. Lyric poetry is far more based on regular meter and it’s teaching me a lot to try and learn how to write it.

8. Your poems seem to be in free verse with a “fludity” about the stories. Do you “work” at this craft or does it evolve on its own when you are writing?

It does evolve on its own. I have to often stop myself from rhyming but the poem does exactly what it wants to do without permission from me. I’ve found that it is best not to fight it, fighting it leads to writers block. So I just go with it instead. And then edit like I am own worst critic (because truly, I am. I don’t know anyone who has ever sworn or yelled at me as much as my inner critic has.).

9. Jesuit priest and poet Gerard Manley Hopkins was very clear that his poetry was meant to be meditative and it is the reason why he developed the inscape technique. It forces the reader to engage with the poems. Whereas your poetry is far easier to read but the ideas of love, feminism and independent women that you share are powerful. Do you, like Hopkins, wish for something equally transformative wrought in the reader after engaging with your poetry?

Absolutely, but I do think that will take time. I am still young in my writing journey and discovering my voice. To be truly transformative is to not only find your voice but have complete of command over it. Whilst I have discovered what I want to say, what messages I want to put out, I feel like I am just at the very beginning of honing my craft. I feel like language shouldn’t be something that is overly difficult to read, but it should make the reader feel changed when they have read a thought a certain way.

10. How did wonderfully sharp and witty Fierce Fairytales & Other Stories to Stir your Soul come about?

I think Fierce Fairytales was something I was always meant to write. The idea within the book all germinates from a single thought: the incredible magic we seek in our environments, in other people, is already within us, and we must seek it out. This idea has been within all my books but with Fierce Fairytales I got to explore it, and tell the stories of the villains who I genuinely believe have so much more to say than just “we are evil people doing evil things”. I enjoyed writing this book thoroughly, so much so that it has been the seeds for multiple new projects which are presently in development.

7 December 2018 

On plagiarism and Ankit Fadia

On plagiarism and Ankit Fadia

In February 2013, Charles Assisi, Executive Editor, Forbes India published an article about Ankit Fadia. Please read. http://http://forbesindia.com/article/beyond-business/ankit-fadia-revealed/34793/0

An extract.
“For a very long time, I’ve despised you as a charlatan. There used to be a time when I thought you a script kiddie, or a skiddie if you will. You know what comprises those types—plagiarists who pass off software programs developed by others as their own. That is why on every forum that matters, I’ve rubbished your credentials as a hacker of any merit. I’ve openly accused you of shameless self promotion. And each time you appeared on television shows or in print as one of the most prominent experts on computing and security in the world, I’ve laughed my backside off. I told everybody who cared to listen you’re nothing but a bag of gas, whose reputation was built by shoddy journalists that eagerly lapped up the tall stories you doled out.

Like I told you the other day, I thought it impossible how the books you’ve authored until now could possibly have managed to sell 25 million copies. I thought it completely ridiculous on your part to claim you were contacted by American “intelligence agencies” for help to decipher an encrypted email sent by Al Qaida operatives post 9/11.

But after an email interview and five hours of talking the other day, all I have to say is mea culpa. You are perhaps one of the smartest 27-year-olds I’ve met in all my years in journalism. And I’m willing to bet every rupee I have you’ll go a very long way because you’re twice as smart as CEOs I know who are twice your age—and that you are exponentially smarter than I am.”

I posted the link on my Facebook wall. And here follows the conversation between Ankit Fadia’s first publisher, Joseph Mathai and Charles Assisi of Forbes. Pranesh Prakash, Centre for Internet and Society also responds on plagiarism. This is a conversation that took place on my Facebook wall on 28 Feb 2013. I am copy-pasting the conversation thread on to my blog as well with the permission of Charles Assisi, Joseph Mathai and Pranesh Prakash.

Joseph Mathai: I published Ankit’s first book when I was in Macmillan India. Yes it was written when he was 13, he turned 14 by the time we got around to publishing it, after getting it thoroughly reviewed. That was the “Unofficial Guide to Ethical Hacking.” In 2001 I sold the international publishing rights of the book to a company later taken over by Thomson Learning (now Cengage Learning), one of the few technical books sold abroad by an Indian publishing entity. It has been selling for about fifteen years now.
28 February at 12:34

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose: Joseph Mathai So the 25 million figure as the sales figure for his books holds true?
28 February at 12:48

Joseph Mathai: I don’t think so, but if you think of the number of titles and the number of years the actual figures would be impressive. In fact when people have asked me for sales figures I have told them in the absence of any independently verifiable figure it would be against my own interest to be honest. That was not the purpose of my comment, I wanted to share some facts which I think are in themselves impressive.
28 February at 12:58

Charles Assisi: The problem with that book though Joseph was that it was heavily plagiarized. All the pointers to that have been out in the open for a very long time now. For instance, http://attrition.org/errata/charlatan/ankit_fadia/unofficial.html
a summary of ankit fadia events demonstrating charlatan status
28 February at 13:04

Joseph Mathai: Yeah, those were the days when we did not have the Internet tools to pick up plagiarism at this level. But 32% plagiarism, that too from a variety of sources, in what was, even in its first edition, a fat book; is that such a big crime to place on the shoulders of a 13-year old. I have witnessed worse from adults, and people who continue to hold teaching jobs in government funded colleges and universities.
28 February at 13:24

Charles Assisi: Yes, it is. A crime is a crime and it cannot be condoned by people. If a child were to copy from another students paper in something as routine as a school exam, they are made examples of and penalized heavily. That is because you want them to grow up into individuals who place a premium on integrity. Condoning a crime simply convinces the perpetrators to believe they can get away with it. In the long run, it’s a lose lose for everybody. The perpetrator included.
28 February at 13:37

Joseph Mathai: “ ‘I’ll be judge, I’ll be jury,’ said cunning old Fury: ‘I’ll try the whole cause, and condemn you to death.’ ” When we refuse to take a more discerning view of the nature and scope of a “crime”, we do a great disservice. I merely wanted to add colour, shade and texture to a story that came across a little too monochromatic.
28 February at 14:23

Charles Assisi: Oh no Joseph. Not at all. Declining to take a discerning view would have meant not giving him a chance to defend the charges. But after corresponding over email, recorded conversations that lasted hours, and all facts double checked, then a story deserves to go into print. Monochromatic? If that’s what it comes across as to you, I’ll have to accept your verdict and respect it.
28 February at 14:42

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose: Joseph Mathai I have to agree with Charles Assisi. Plagiarism is a crime. It is the stealing of original content/ IPR created by an author without due acknowledgement. It does not matter whether the plagiarist is a 13 year old or an adult. It remains a crime. Using the lack of internet tools at the time of publication to gauge the extent of plagiariam done by Ankit or to say he notched up impressive sales of his book as some sort of justification, does not take away from the crime that it is. In any case in the days before (and now) Internet tools the onus lies upon the editor, publishing house and the expert readers to whom the manuscript is sent to spot the extent of plagiarism. Ask the copyright experts — Raghavender Gudibande R, Shamnad Basheer and Pranesh Prakash.
28 February at 15:24

Joseph Mathai: I am not denying that plagiarism is a crime. Even after assuming that the analysis is true I say that 32% in a 608 page is not a big crime. Collating information from different sources and bringing them together in one flow that appeals to readers is an achievement. If in around a third of the material this has been done wrongly then that is the measure of the crime. A crime is not a crime — it has its specificities, it has its context. The piece emerges as monochromatic because it does not explain the continuing success of Ankit Fadia. Or are you of the opinion that most of the people can be fooled all of the time.
28 February at 16:15

Charles Assisi: Surely, you’re kidding me Joseph! But I guess to each his own. Good luck!
28 February at 16:22

Charles Assisi: And please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not trying to change your opinion on what I wrote. That’s a view and I have to accept it. Just responding to the plagiarism bit because I’ve not hesitated in the past to sack people who’ve even attempted it. But like I said earlier, to each his own.
28 February at 16:25

Joseph Mathai: As a publisher of books we deal with authors to whom writing is at best a part-time pre-occupation. Plagiarism is a vexing problem that is faced in the textbook publishing industry, as textbooks are a synthesis of views already expressed in published books. For me the ideal textbook is Sumit Sarkar’s Modern India (published by Macmillan India when Tejeswar Singh was there). It sketched out the state-of-the-art on the subject, and the meticulously kept extensive bibliography worked liked innumerable labelled doors that allowed readers to explore particular aspects in greater depth if they wanted. The tragedy is that many textbook writers do not go to research based publications, but just synthesize three or four other textbooks to prepare a new one. This started happening in the days when IT could not be used to detect such practices easily. It had its advantages because the authors would compile the textbook in line with syllabi considerations and in tune with the way in which questions were asked in the university. Plagiarism was caught out only when authors recognized their content in books not written by them. Once publishers became familiar with plagiarism detection tools available on the Internet, we could see significant instances of 70-100% plagiarism. Which is why I consider 32% plagiarism a “minor crime”. Even in these situations we needed to deal with the situation. In some cases we could not afford to “sack” authors whose content showed plagiarism. This context calls for a more discerning view of plagiarism. I recognize that in a newspaper/magazine situation where a higher degree of professionalism is called for from your writers who you pay on a time-rate basis, you might need to have a binary approach to plagiarism.
28 February at 17:44

Pranesh Prakash: Joseph: The problem is not about having 32% of “non-original” stuff in a 608 page book. It’s about hiding the fact that it is non-original. And Jaya, I’d rather keep copyright infringement issues separate from those of plagiarism. Copyright infringement can exist even if you acknowledge your sources; plagiarism is about not acknowledging your sources. And while saying that, I’ll leave you with one of my favourite essays: “The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism” by Jonathan Lethem: http://goo.gl/2X0Vl
28 February at 18:53

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose: Thank you Pranesh Prakash especially for differentiating between plagiarism and copyright infringement. It is a fine distinction but an important one.
28 February at 18:59

Charles Assisi: Succintly put Pranesh. Have to share the piece. Thanks for the pointer
28 February at 20:46

Joseph Mathai: Pranesh I was talking about it from a plagiarism perspective itself, and the act of hiding the original source. In a situation where rampant plagiarism is seen I feel there is a need to look at percentages.

I liked the article, my own views reflect those of the postman in “Il Postino” when he is accused by Neruda of using Neruda’s poetry to court the love of his life. The postman dismisses the charge as being irrelevant saying: “Poetry belongs to those who need it.”
1 March at 07:35

Charles Assisi: Disagree with you Joseph on percentages. But love Neruda
1 March at 07:41

On 27 March 2013, Penguin Books invited Ankit Fadia to participate in Spring Fever 2013, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi.