Friday, April 28, 2006

Opal Mehta : From Chic-lit Genius to Chic-Cheat Fraud

"Churi-bidya mohabidya,
Jodi Na poro dhora"

Translated in English this Bengali proverb means "The Art of Theft is a very very fine art...Only If you don't get caught". And do you know what happens when you get caught. More than half of the blogging world comes crushing you from all sides. It started with the pony-tailed guru's phoney tales. Quizmaster Parnab was squeezed from all corners of the blog. And now the richest and the youngest entrant to this Hall of Shame is Kaavya Vishwanathan. To think of it she had it all : A teen with good looks, education at the best IVY league college, a six figure two book contract, another fat agreement with DreamWorks for the movie rights. But unfortunately just before copies of her book "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life" were to hit the stands a nosy reporter at the Harvard Crimson(Harvard’s student newspaper) discovered instances of similarity with other chic-lit (Wow a new word to my vocab) novels "Sloppy First" and "Second Helpings" both by the same writer Megan McCafferty. The storyline was identical with one of the books and the number of VERY VERY similar passage between these books was more than 40.With so many co-incidental matches very little room was left for doubt that Kaavya's literary genius was a sad case of Ctrl-C + Ctrl-V.

The best part was when questioned this literary celebrity came up with a brilliant defence line that would have made Grisham's lawyers go green with envy. All she said was that "I wasn’t aware of how much I may have internalized Ms. McCafferty’s words". It looked like just before the audience was to clap at the levitating magician the invisible rope snapped and with a heavy thud she fell flat on her face and said "Oh..Oh...the rope should have been stronger".After all who can guess there are suckers who reads books with weird titles like "Sloopy First" and "Second Helpings" other than budding writers trying to internalize the words, only to externalize later inside a new book cover with a new title.

Indeed it was a sad day for people like me who have a huge admiration for the masters of this greatest art form. In my book the finest master was Eduardo de Valfierno. He had got one idiot glass fitter Vincenzo Peruggia to steal Mona Lisa for him from the Louver. While the original was locked up with the idot, the master had sold 6 fake copies of Da Vinci's masterpiece and made a fortune for himself. He lived life to the fullest in the cosiest of the villas at the French Riviera, sailed in the best of yachts, drank the best of the wines and had the company of the best of the women folks. Before his death he called an American reporter Karl Decker and told him of his adventure, which instantly became a hot seller.

During my days at college I too met one master of this trade. For anonymity purpose let's call our hero Bluffmaster. Bluffmaster was the shrewdest artist when it came to cheating in the examination halls. From Harmonium (a rectangular sheet with all the answers written in microscopic handwriting and folded between two fingers) to Diagonal Scales ( a white piece of paper with answers scribbled was cut to the exact dimension of the scale and pasted to the back of the scale) he had excelled at these tiny feats during his kindergarten days. So he left the small tricks for us and went on to bigger things. But like all big players at one point of time he got carried over and one day was caught red handed while copying.

As the vigilant professors would have it, they made him write all the next exams sitting in the first bench right under the invigilator's nose. Those days we were all big worshippers of the concept of division of labour. So this is what we used to do,one guy would read one particular chapter, the other guy another and just one hour before the exams we would have a round table conference in the canteen were all our knowledge were dumped down. Loaded with common sharing we went into fill up the answer sheet with scribing of transferred knowledge. This phenomenon was called Pre-Hall Collection and was a sure shot way to cruise through the semesters. Surprisingly after they made him sit in the first bench our Bluffmaster used to be missing from these life-n-death discussions. He used to come just 10 minutes before the exam halls were opened...used to sit quietly in the next room...walk quietly to the hall...write the exam and quietly go back home. Being the curious cat that I was,I got hold of him on the third day and asked him "Bluffmaster whatz the story man? So far as I know you there is some special trick going on".

He put on his trademark wicked-yet-lovable smile on his face and told me "Sshh..Don't tell anyone" and raised his shoes. And there it was,a paper cut to the exact shape of his shoe-soles containing all the formulas that were needed to wade through the exams. All these days he had come, gone to the other room and stuck those paper...and since couldn't afford to dirty his source of copying so he skipped the Pre-Hall Collection...sat in the exams with his legs crossed and all he needed to do is to turn over his shoes to see the formulas. Even the most vigilant of the professors could not imagine of what lies beneath the shoe.

On the last day of the exams the very same professor who had caught the Bluffmaster was on invigilation duty. From the time we got the question paper the Bluffmaster was all the time peeking into his shirt's pocket. After this happened fourth or fifth time our vigilant professor asked the Bluffmaster to empty his shirt pocket. There was only some blank papers and a few currency notes. Thinking that there might be some invisible ink scribblings on those blank papers and currency notes he confisticated the items and asked him to take back after the exams. Just 5 minutes before the exam ended Bluffmaster went to the teacher’s desk, submitted his answer sheet and took back his items. He went out only to come back minutes after with I-Am-Robbed kind of expression on his face.

The teacher asked him "Is there anything wrong?"

Bluffmaster replied in the politest yet loud enough for others to hear tone,"I don't know how to put it Sir...but it seems there is a 100 rupees note missing from the currency notes I gave you...just came back to check whether I dropped it it is not here....must be lost when you took it from me...can you please check sir...actually I need to pay for my college dues today".

And then leaving the professor dumb-founded with the how-dare-you-say-that anger mixed with the loser’s sadness he walked out of the hall with the same wicked lovable smile of his.


tanvi said...

Thats hilarious! I kinda admire the guy ur bluffmaster. I wanna make him my guru and learn from him. then maybe we will open an institute on cheating. I am sure we will make a fortune. Please forward my business proposal to him.


Priceless....incidentally did I know this guy?

Vijay Krishna said...

That made for a hilarious read. Brought back memories of similar bluffmasters from my college days.

Bishu said...

@tanvi: Sure I will forward him your proposal.And if this institute becomes a hit do remember me when you issue the IPOs ;-)

@greatbong: Yes,you do know this guy...further details in mail.

@vijay: We all had brushes with these geniuses and learnt a lesson or two in the process.Too bad Kaavya didn't have anyone around her to learn her lessons correctly.