Caught stealing from ‘Songs of Yore’, two Harvard students sadden me

April 20, 2013

plagiarismI wish I had never written this piece, and I tried my best to see that I didn’t have to. Yet there are times when you have to face up to unpleasant situations.

When I started Songs of Yore about three years ago, I did not have a clue what blogging meant. My only excuse was a notion I had about myself that I knew a good deal about old film music. As SoY has progressed, I have learnt a great deal more, and I realise how mistaken I was about myself and how little I knew. I have learnt from fellow bloggers and I have learnt from readers from their comments, and I have often been awed by them, and envious of them. At times I have also used material from them, acknowledging and praising them openly. Similarly, fellow bloggers, who are extremely accomplished, have often referred to something which I wrote, praising me generously and, at times, excessively. We have done it not only because it is legally and morally correct thing to do, but also because it comes so naturally.

This was the virtual word I had stepped into, which was also virtuous and which also matched with my own personal world of seeing goodness in everyone. And in this world, Anu (Anuradha Warrier) recently brought to my notice an instance of two Harvard students, lifting parts of my translation of Chalo ek baar phir se ajanabi ban jayen hum dono on their blog they have started about old Hindi films and songs.  They are 20-something, apparently from Indian background as it appears from Bollywood style pair-photos in ‘About Us’ on their blog.

songs-of-yore-chalo-ek-baar

In fact, if you compare, there is some more than what Anu pointed out. My past infamy has become my companion has been made into My past disgraces have become my companion.

We discussed it a great deal. I also discussed it with a few more people. Even after taking the most charitable view and giving the benefit of the doubt, the conclusion was that the similarities are too glaring to be a coincidence.

Then I posted this comment on their blog, giving them a lot of room to extricate themselves honourably.

My attention has been drawn to this post about similarities in your translation with mine which appeared in my blog on December 20, 2010 here:

http://www.songsofyore.com/a-mahendra-kapur-sahir-ludhiyanvi-ravi-classic/

I quote my translation here with portions being similar highlighted.

O my love! Let us be strangers once again
Let me not have any hopes of tenderness from you
Nor should you look towards me with longing eyes
Let not my words betray my trembling heart
Nor your eyes show the torment inside you
Come, let us be strangers once again

There is something that keeps you from taking the next step
As for me, they say these delights are not mine
My past infamy has become my companion
You too are burdened by the shadows of the nights gone by
Come, let us be strangers once again

When familiarity becomes an affliction it is better to forget it
When relationship becomes a burden it is better to break it
The story which can not be brought to a happy ending
It is better to give it a beautiful turn and leave it
Come, let us be strangers once again

The person who first brought it to my notice is a well respected blogger herself, and a writer and editor in her own right. I discussed the matter a great deal with her and some other readers and bloggers, who are all experienced people, before I decided to comment here. Even after taking the most generous view and giving the benefit of the doubt, everyone agrees that the similarities are too close to be a coincidence. It is possible you have inadvertently missed to acknowledge my translation. It is indeed a matter of happiness that two Harvard youngsters have undertaken this project on our valuable heritage. As an elder I would like to encourage you, and be of any help. It is fair that you post my comments, and make appropriate reference to my translation.

What would you expect two Harvard students to do on receiving this mail? If they were courageous they would have posted my comment with appropriate apology for failure to acknowledge earlier. If they found it too embarrassing, they would have removed that post and written me a private email of regret. The matter would have closed at that.

They were not even up to that. What do you think they did?

Mr and Mrs 55 (they might as well have described themselves as Bunty Aur Babli) ‘cleaned’ their translation and pretended as if nothing had happened.

But in the cyberworld your footprints do not get erased. Here is a picture of their offending post dated Jaunary 9, 2012 as it existed until a few days before their ‘cleaning up’.

MrandMrs55-ChaloEkBaar-plagiarised-version

 

And here is how the same page of their post looks after the cleaning operation, and this is how they would like the world to believe that the page always existed.

MrandMrs55-ChaloEkBaar-cleanedup-version

 

You will notice that besides changing the offending words, they have also changed the layout. Now their translation, instead of appearing separately in a paragraph, has been interspersed with the original lyric, one original line followed by its translation.

Seeing this, I didn’t know what to make of it. This was my first reaction which I wrote to Anu, and which I repeat here:

It still leaves a lot of troubling thoughts. We all commit mistakes, and learn from them. When these kids were caught, I thought Harvard would have instilled in them some sense of morality to own up and apologize, if not publicly, at least privately to me. One would have felt good that they have a genuine sense of remorse. Now I am not sure if they would grow up to be honourable people.

I am more sad than angry at this kind of stupidity by two ’Twenty-something Harvard students’. Let me try to salvage something and give another chance to these kids to redeem themselves, by addressing the final part of my post to them.

To Mr and Mrs 55

1.  We all commit mistakes, at all ages, and more so when we are twenty-something, because we are immature and unaware of many things. There is no shame in being told of a mistake, but the shame lies in trying to cover-up.

2.  In life you would often get a chance to own up and rectify yourself. The earlier you do it, the better off you are. I gave you a very wide window the first time, but instead of doing the honourable thing you chose to ‘cover up’. At times this may prove very costly.

3.  You ought to own up and say sorry not because the law says so, or the society’s moral code says so, but because you have to be true to yourself. You have ‘cleaned up’ your blog, pretending to the world that nothing has happened. But has it cleaned up your conscience, or can you pretend to yourself that nothing has happened? What about people who had commented on the old translation, who might have taken a copy, or who might recall that it is not the same? Are you honest to them?

4. And all this mess for what – a translation of Sahir Ludhiyanvi’s song? If you liked my translation so much, did it require too much of you to simply ask me, or after being pointed out, to simply acknowledge? What have you achieved by the ‘cover-up’? You went into great contortions to replace words, which may not convey the same meaning, and changed the sentence structure. In the process you have completely mangled Sahir Ludhyanvi.  Now if you read your ‘translation’, it is clumsy English not worthy of Harvard 20-somethings.

5.  On your blog, you have given this Commandment:

Please note that all content on Mr. and Mrs. 55 – Classic Bollywood Revisited © is under copyright and cannot be reproduced or published elsewhere without permission. We encourage links to our website directly. Thank you!

Do you realise that if you do not follow this noble principle yourself, it would make you look like hypocrites?

6. You have displayed your affiliation with Harvard, one of the greatest Institutions in the world. Do you realise that among the people who would be reading this, it is possible that many, including myself, might have affiliation with Harvard and Yale and Princeton and Oxford and other great Institutions in much senior capacity? Character and ethics is most important for these Institutions. Please remember that it is not only a matter of your personal honour, but also that of Harvard.

7.  I can see that this is going to make you feel miserable and, trust me, I can put myself in your position and I feel bad about the whole thing. But there might be a lesson in this also. You would be facing far more difficult moral dilemmas as you grow older. You are learning a lesson very early in your life, albeit not in the way I had wished for you. Now you have to call upon your inner reserves and discuss with your trusted friends, family and seniors how best to redeem yourself from this situation. As for myself, and I can probably say for many at Songs of Yore, I only wish that you give us hope that you are as handsome within as you look in your photographs, that what you did was out of ignorance as you did not know how to go about it, and that you have learnt from it and you have it within yourselves to grow up into honourable persons.

 

(Note: I apologise to SoY’s readers for inflicting this upon them.)

{ 49 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Anu Warrier April 20, 2013 at 9:03 am

AK,
I’m glad you had the foresight to take a screen shot of the blog before they cleaned it up. I was kicking myself for not having done so. I don’t think it will make any difference to them, but I’m glad you wrote about this.

2 AK April 20, 2013 at 10:38 am

Anu,
I hope for their sake that it stirs them. If it doesn’t, it would make me sadder still that anyone could fall so low. Thanks a lot for bringing it to my notice.

3 n.venkataraman April 20, 2013 at 11:35 am

Akji,
I can understand your anguish and appreciate the charitable view you had taken and given them the benefit of the doubt. But their foolish actions confirm that it was not a sheer coincidence.
I am sure that it would have been more than a pleasure when blogger’s share the fruits of each other’s efforts and acknowledge the same. But it is a different matter when scavengers pinch away the fruits of your labour.
The ‘cover-up’ action is hardly befitting for this couple, who proudly claim to have a Harvard backgound! But their actions raise a doubt. Hope good sense will prevail and very soon they will regret their initial folly and communicate to AKji to this effect.
I should also thank Anuji for bringing this to the notice of AKji. It is also a lesson for people like me, who have very recently joined the blogger’s fraternity.

4 AK April 20, 2013 at 12:41 pm

Venkataramanji,
In the world of free internet, we might inadvertently use sources without attributing. What is astonishing in this case is the deliberate plagiarizing, and after being told, extreme stubbornness. This makes me doubt if they could be Harvard students. Because it is very educative to read the Harvard Guide to Using Sources. They have gone to such great lengths in explaining to the students with examples the correct approach to attributing sources, which suggests that one has to go great lengths in giving credit. So much so that if in a group discussion a new idea can be attributed to one particular student, he has to be cited in the class paper!

http://isites.harvard.edu/icb/icb.do?keyword=k70847&pageid=icb.page357682

5 jignesh kotadia April 20, 2013 at 1:18 pm

very very nice lesson 4 yngstrs including me …

6 gaddeswarup April 20, 2013 at 1:25 pm

AKji,
Deceit and self-deception are very common according to Robert Trivers, a Harvard Ph.D and one of the great evolutionary biologists of our time. Here is one review of his book on the topic

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2011/oct/07/deceit-self-deception-robert-trivers

7 ASHOK M VAISHNAV April 20, 2013 at 1:28 pm

Internet’s greatest strength and virtue is the spirit of openness. But, if that is not adapted with the required decorum, the free world would become a lawless space. I have not used the word ‘jungle’ in place of ‘lawless space’, because nature has built-in mechanism where freedom is hardly ever abused.
I had come across the sight in question, but never seriously compared their content with those of the other blogs on the similar subject, simply because one takes exchange of ideas and content for granted . Of course, that certainly does not mean that such exchanges are not wholly and sincerely acknowledged. Even that is is also an accepted norm.
Very sad, to know that such an easy principle to follow is so flagrantly abrogated.

I sincerely hope that better sense of THE fair play will, still, prevail and that we do not see such an unpleasant occurrence again in future.

8 Sanjay April 20, 2013 at 2:02 pm

Dear AK’ji and fellow commentators,

At the outset, you all deserve a massive round of applause for the marvelous work with this site. It’s an irony of sorts that such precious content which is the fruit of the passion and dedication of a few people, is treated so casually and disrespectfully by some others. There is a whole different spin to content thievery than what meets the eye. This is the handiwork of people who have a strong sense of entitlement to be recognized and revered and in the process would not mind trampling upon anyone and anything in their rush to gain a little attention.

I’m really glad that you did put this up with all the stolen portions. Thick skinned as these homegrown Harvarders maybe, a little humiliation may work well as a reminder for them in future. Or is it plain wishful thinking. I do not know.

It’s great to keep getting your updates. Do keep up the awesome work.

Thanks
Sanjay

9 gaddeswarup April 20, 2013 at 2:06 pm

Ashok ji,
My view is to go easy on these things. We have enough tensions in the job(which is past for me) and we come to these sites to share, enjoy and perhaps learn things. Are we going to loose time and sleep over these things? I find that most cheat, and can also be generous. I do not know the reasons, perhaps insecurity, pressure of time, different perceptions of what is important and what is trivial and many more play a role. It does not mean that we can ignore some basic values but have to consider the cost-benefit of some of these actions. My experience is that these even out in the end. I have collaborated with people who I felt cheated me and finally found it rewarding. I did some work that I could not have done alone, even the results that I thought I lost were stepping stones for more rewarding things later. Somehow combining with others makes
two plus two bigger than four. My feel is that later on we will feel that we wasted time on trivial things and these will even out in the long run.

10 gaddeswarup April 20, 2013 at 3:19 pm

AKji,
I have a suggestion. That site seems useful to people like me who do not know Hindi. My suggestion is perhaps to refer to their posts if there is a suitable occasion. If they stole from you, there is a good chance that they stole from other places too. If more people notice and comment, they may tone down their plagiarism.

11 Bipin April 20, 2013 at 4:04 pm

Dear AKji
I am amazed how gracefully you have responded to this lowly act by some supposedly educated people.
Please do not apologise; you have not wasted my time. I read it all the way through and learnt something from it; thanks a lot for posting it.
Kind regards,
Bipin

12 mumbaikar8 April 20, 2013 at 5:52 pm

AK,

Anu caught them with their hand in the cookie jar and
you have a good job of slapping them for their misdeeds.

They have face book account too, I think you should use that account to expose them more.

By the way
Aren’t you feeling proud?
Being copied by Harvard students!

13 Arunkumar Deshmukh April 20, 2013 at 9:47 pm

AK ji,
To say that I am shocked at this outrage is putting it very very mildly !
It is difficult to believe that people flaunting the name of a famous institution,could drop so low.
They seem to be the true representatives of today’s ” Eat,Drink and Be merry ” spirits. Who is bothered about how others feel,It’s ok as long as I am happy !
Very sad !
-AD

14 Mr. and Mrs 55 April 20, 2013 at 10:17 pm

Dear Songs of Yore,

This post came as a great surprise to us at Mr. and Mrs. 55. It was brought to our attention by a comment urging us to “bring this matter to a conclusion with you.” We are stunned. Although you say we are “caught cheating,” this is far from the case and quite a large accusation to make with no proof. What you have are two screen shots of how we edited the blog after it came to our attention that there was some overlap between our translations. We had not heard of this blog previously nor do we ever consult outside translations when writing our own (we use dictionaries or consult our professors). We saw that some phrasings were similar, and so to maintain the uniqueness of our own translation, we chose to alter ours. I’m afraid this is not “proof” of anyone cheating–rather, it was done out of respect to prevent anyone from feeling trespassed on unnecessarily.

I hope we can all appreciate that the true artists are those who have written these great poems, such as Sahir Ludhianvi. If 100 bloggers like ourselves were to translate his words into English, there will always be overlap between the translations because the lyrics and the source material are the exact same. We apologize for this misunderstanding, and we wish you the best of luck as you continue blogging on this subject that we are all passionate about.

Best wishes
Mr. and Mrs. 55

15 Sashandu April 20, 2013 at 10:46 pm

Dear AK Sir
Your blog today on plagiarizing of your content by two seemingly high profile students and not making subsequent amends only proves the point of their arrogance and misuse of this democratic medium. Not long ago a similar issue came up in the printed book of a student from the same university and her books were recalled. ( See details http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/How_Opal_Mehta_Got_Kissed,_Got_Wild,_and_Got_a_Life )

I condemn such act of intellectual impropriety and request you to not let it go easily.
Regards

16 Naresh P. Mankad April 20, 2013 at 10:55 pm

It has been my observation that you have never lost grace and decency and I am really impressed by that. I am happy that this time also, in the face of provoking circumstances you have not lost your composure which can bring one down to the level of the other person.

The incident may sadden others but I do not hope to see any signs of remorse on the part of those bloggers.

17 AK April 21, 2013 at 1:13 am

Dear readers,
We now have the response of Mr and Mrs 55 above. I do not know whether we laugh or cry at this!

@Mr and Mrs 55,
You surpass yourselves. Your statement is not even disingenuous. You have not even understood what I have written here. You have not even realized that people here are intelligent, well educated and have seen the world much more than you. It was not a court trial where your defense counsel had to present your legal defense. My purpose was that you should be true to yourselves. Now it is clear you are not capable of that. I have decided to send the whole thing to Harvard’s Academic Board. Since you have prepared a very strong legal defense with emphasis on “proof” (the correct phrase is “proof beyond any reasonable doubt”), I am sure you will get a clean chit from the Academic Board and any court. You should proudly display that on your shelf, and live happily ever after with an inflated chest.

18 Ruhi Krishnan April 21, 2013 at 5:02 am

@ Mr and Mrs 55:
We saw that some phrasings were similar, and so to maintain the uniqueness of our own translation, we chose to alter ours. I’m afraid this is not “proof” of anyone cheating–

and
If 100 bloggers like ourselves were to translate his words into English, there will always be overlap between the translations because the lyrics and the source material are the exact same.

Are you kidding me?! The source material may be the same, but as an editor myself, I can guarantee that no two people will translate from one language into another using exactly the same words!

You have the evidence in front of you – the second stanza is a word- by-word reproduction of SoY’s translation and you have the utter chutzpah to stand there and say that some phrasings were similar and that there will always be an overlap between translations ?
And you want people to take you at your word – with the evidence in front of their own eyes?!

Unbelievable!

I would have had more respect for you if you had just changed your translation and apologised to SoY for using part of his work – even if it had been done privately. Your present stance adds insult to injury.

19 dustedoff April 21, 2013 at 10:52 am

“The source material may be the same, but as an editor myself, I can guarantee that no two people will translate from one language into another using exactly the same words!

Too true. Incidentally, Anu Warrier had first thought it was lifted from my translation of the song – but we realised that even though there were similarities (as there obviously would be), it was not a precise copy.

Unfortunately, this unethical behaviour isn’t that rare. A couple of years ago, I spotted a blogger who’d lifted a particular screenshot – funny caption and all – off another blog, and yet another blogger who simply passed off someone else’s very good article as her own. The latter, the one who copied the article, got found out, and tried to cover up by replying to the irate writer’s comment by saying that “I was so excited by what you’d written that I forgot to acknowledge you as the writer.” Lame, lame.

The least Mr & Mrs 55 could have done was apologise and vow (to themselves) not to repeat this, instead of trying to defend themselves in something that’s actually indefensible.

20 AK April 21, 2013 at 1:02 pm

@Dustedoff (Madhu),
I feel sad that they have passed up the chance of honourable redemption. Instead, they have gone to great lengths to discuss the “sufficiency of proof” against them. Next they would come up with “point of order” and “preliminary objection on jurisdiction”, armed with legal authorities and citation of case laws. God help them!

@Ruhi Krishnan, Naresh P Mankad, Sashandu, Arunkumar Deshmukh, Mumbaikar8, Bipin, Gaddeswarup, Sanjay, Ashok M Vaishnav, Jignesh

Thanks for your comments and appreciation. I can understand your outrage. There could not be a clearer case of plagiarism. Some of you are first time visitors, I welcome you all. Some of you were hoping like me – against hope, as it turns out – that these youngsters would show some remorse which will make us feel good about them. But their stunbbornness can convert the most kind-hearted among us into Bajrasen in Tagore’s dance-drama Shyama in the last scene, when he agonises about his lack of forgiveness.

Gaddeswarupji, I went through the review of Robert Trivers’ book “Deceipt and Self-Deception”. We cannot make out from a one-page summary what his final conclusions are. But I remember I had read long ago Colin Wilson’s book on creativity and criminality. I do not remember its exact title, but I find that his complete book A Criminal History of Mankind is available in pdf format on the net. As I read this, I think it is the same book in revised edition with a somewhat different title. He also makes the same point in part which Trivers makes, but gives a holistic message that the forces of creativity finally prevail over criminality, without which human civilisation would not have made such progress over millenia. Therefore, let us believe that mankind is good overall, some aberrations notwithstanding. I quote some parts from his book (page 4).

Criminality is not a perverted disposition to do evil rather than good. It is merely a childish tendency to take short-cuts. All crime has the nature of a smash and grab raid; it is an attempt to get something for nothing. The thief steals instead of working for what he wants. The rapist violates a girl instead of persuading her to give herself. Freud once said that a child would destroy the world if it had the power. He meant that a child is totally subjective, wrapped up in its own feelings and so incapable of seeing anyone else’s point of view. A criminal is an adult who goes on behaving like a child.

But there is a fallacy in this childish morality of grab-what-you-want. The person who is able to indulge all his moods and feelings is never happy for more than a few moments together; for most of the time, he is miserable. Our flashes of real happiness are glimpses of objectivity, when we somehow rise above the stifling, dreamlike world of our subjective desires and feelings. The great tyrants of history, the men who have been able to indulge their feelings without regard to other people,have usually ended up half insane; for over-indulged feelings are the greatest tyrants of all.

Crime is renewed in every generation because human beings are children; very few of us achieve anything like adulthood. But at least it is not self-perpetuating, as human creativity is. Shakespeare learns from Marlowe, and in turn inspires Goethe. Beethoven learns from Haydn and in turn inspires Wagner. Newton learns from Kepler and in turn inspires Einstein. But Vlad the Impaler, Jack the Ripper and Al Capone leave no progeny. Their ‘achievement’ is negative, and dies with them. The criminal also tends to be the victim of natural selection – of his own lack of self-control. Man has achieved his present level of civilisation because creativity ‘snowballs’ while crime, fortunately, remains static.

21 gaddeswarup April 21, 2013 at 4:38 pm

AKji,
You have been very kind to me despite my ignorance of Hindi and generally Hindi films and encouraging me to comment. I am afraid I do not see what purpose this is going to serve. Assuming all that is said here is correct, I think that a bit more noise at the blog level might have eventually improved the situation. This is not a matter of life and death. Those young people are doing a service too spending a lot of time explaining Hindi songs to possibly another group of people. Threatening to report them etc seems to me to be an act of vengeance. I have seen people who plagiarized in their younger days and did not back out and became kind and helping later on. I am not saying that this will happen in this case, but it seems to me that ‘I will teach you a lesson’ kind of attitude is not going to improve the overall well being of all concerned.

22 AK April 21, 2013 at 6:33 pm

Gaddeswarupji,
It is always good to have a differing view, especially from someone elder and respectable in the family. Thanks for your comments. My only wish was that these youngsters show themselves to be worthy of our generosity. If I ever report on them to the authorities, it would not be with a view to teach them a lesson, but so that someone is able to counsel them.

23 Arunkumar Deshmukh April 21, 2013 at 7:01 pm

Ak Ji,

I agree with what Gaddeswarup ji said. It is not going to produce any positive results. You will only waste your time and get disturbed.
Sit quiet,close your eyes,ask God to forgive them and then you forget this episode.
There are many many more important tasks before you in life than this.
-AD

24 mumbaikar8 April 21, 2013 at 7:38 pm

Very good advise by Arunji and Swarupji.
Mr amd Mrs have the audacity to say that its mere coincidence, no remorse for what they have done.
Its best to leave it behind and move ahead.

25 K Harish April 21, 2013 at 9:36 pm

Actions must have appropriate consequences, else there will be no difference between good and bad. Passing off someone else’s work as one’s own is not a matter of life and death, but does that mean we should ignore any crime that is not a matter of life and death? If you see someone pick another’s pocket, will you look away? If yes, you will be unfair to the person whose pocket was picked and others who will be subjected to the same crime since you let the offender go scot-free. With such misplaced charity, you give the offender (and other potential offenders) the message that their wrong is trivial and that they can get away with it. Inaction encourages more such crimes.

In this case, Mr and Mrs 55, far from apologizing for copying, have chosen to say: “We had not heard of this blog previously nor do we ever consult outside translations when writing our own” – indeed! For the greater good of a healthy honest internet, their conduct must not be treated lightly. They were given sufficient chance to own up and redeem themselves, but they chose not to take it. They do not have my sympathy.

26 gaddeswarup April 22, 2013 at 5:33 am

Harish Ji,
There are some consequences already. It may not be open punishment but there is a certain amount of ostracism. Several senor bloggers are upset. Their posts will be scrutinized and they will find it difficult to get help from several senior people. It is a pity. It could have been avoided.

P.S. I studied in Telugu medium and later worked in mathematics which did not need much language skills. I still find it difficult to write in English. I may not be very clear in what I intend to say.

27 Hans April 23, 2013 at 3:47 pm

I would not have commented, because I agree with Gaddeswarupji, but the reply of the offenders have forced me to write.

What they have said is wholly untrue and I would show it with an example. Most people would agree that while translating ‘chalo ik baar’ the most difficult part to translate is the third stanza. And this is the stanza which has been wholly lifted, the only change is that the word ‘better’ has been replaced with ‘best’. In my opinion, any person translating this stanza would use only ‘better’ for the word ‘behtar’ or for ‘achha’ and different translators are likely to differ in translating all other words, but the poem demands that only ‘better’ be used as has been done by AK. So this seems to me strange that these people are doing the opposite.

But, still I feel there is truth in what Gaddeswarupji says and perhaps they have even removed the controversial post.

28 Nivedita April 25, 2013 at 1:32 am

This pains me immeasurably. Of all the dishonesties, the intellectual kind has to be the most despicable. Unfortunately it also very common as I am realizing increasingly—and now it has received a special boost thanks to the online culture we live in, which has made it agonizingly easy for crooked people low on talent but greedy for popularity (measured superficially by the number of hits and fawning comments) to build a collage as it were of other people’s thoughts/phrases. Having had this bad experience once myself, I know how disturbing it is.

The two things that crossed my mind when I read this piece were: AK’s extraordinarily classy and magnanimous response in such a vile situation (I am quite incapable of generosity in such situations and can learn from AK); and the unbelievable spinelessness—my apologies to all the invertebrates of the animal kingdom—of Mr. and Mrs. Plagiarism (or Bunty and Babli as AK puts it so aptly) who not only steal unscrupulously but are shameless enough to deny and defend that which can neither be denied nor defended—not by any stretch of the imagination.

Moreover, these buffoons seem to take other people for fools, as evidenced by their strikingly lame and lousy response here. If they think they can get away with a toothless “defense” that defies all sense and rings so pitiably hollow, they must be either pachydermous or plain stupid, or both.

To Mr and Mrs Plagiarism’s point that “We saw that some phrasings were similar, and so to maintain the uniqueness of our own translation, we chose to alter ours”—so, if you guys are really so convinced of the uniqueness of your translation, the one thing that you would absolutely NOT want to do is to alter it. If it were truly yours, you would be indignant about altering even one word of it. That is called the strength of conviction, or righteous indignation, which is alien to you both.

While I agree with Mr. Gaddeswarup and Mr. Deshmukh that pursuing this is only a waste of time, that it disturbs your own precious peace of mind, and that you have better, more important things to concentrate on in this life, I also feel that Mr. Harish has a very valid point when he writes: “With such misplaced charity, you give the offender (and other potential offenders) the message that their wrong is trivial and that they can get away with it. Inaction encourages more such crimes.” And, indeed, as he says, just because something does not have the magnitude of a life-and-death consequence looming over it does not mean that it can be overlooked. It is still bad and deplorable by itself; it is just that when compared to certain other unethical situations, it comes across as relatively less abhorrent.

AK, you should certainly point this out to Harvard’s academic board for whatever it is worth. Whether anything comes out of it or not, at least you will have the satisfaction that you have done your bit in the fight against this menace and not kept mum. Harvard, the Mecca of scholarship, ought to certainly know that there are students in there who bring disgrace to those hallowed grounds.

And such people (there seems to be quite a few of them) will surely go to hell, if not in this life in the after-life. Everything comes a full circle.

29 AK April 25, 2013 at 1:10 pm

Nivedita, thanks a lot for your detailed comments. I can understand your outrage, as also of others. These kids have compounded their misconduct by their arrogance, making it very difficult to feel any sympathy for them. I also appreciate the sobering voices of many readers, especially senior and respected people like Arunji and Gaddeswarupji, to forget and forgive.

Meanwhile, I had a mail from these kids, which was as convoluted as their response here. Clearly they were not able to think through straight. I advised them that they should frankly discuss the whole matter with their faculty and trusted friends, sharing with them everything, including this post, the comments they have blocked on their site (I understand they have started blocking other comments also relating to this matter), as to how best they could redeem themselves from this position. I also added that they should do it without any loss of time for their own long term welfare.

I have not heard from them, nor does their blog show any mention of this matter. And contrary to the impression of Hans, the offending post still remains on, without any mention of this furore going on around it.

http://mrandmrs55.com/2012/01/09/lets-learn-urdu-hindi-chalo-ek-baar-phir-se/

As for the forgiving part, the kids continue with their cockiness. So, whom do we forgive?

Having said that, it is true we have other important things to do in life. No one is interested in grinding their nose to the dust, our only interest was that they redeemed themselves for their own sake. As Mr Gaddeswarup says, this post itself has largely served its purpose.

I could have closed here, but I am afraid the kids are running a big risk for themselves by their conduct. So I would end with a further message to them.

To Mr and Mrs 55

1. My first comment, which could not be more generously worded with not even a whiff of accusation, on your offending post, was sent on 14 April 2013, which you blocked. You didn’t write to me either to explain your position. Instead, you went on a clean-up exercise, thinking that the fingerprints would be removed.

2. I waited for six days before writing this post. If you read it again, you will find, as others have observed, that it couldn’t be more graciously worded, giving you another chance to redeem yourself without much damage.

3. Seeing that the offending post pre-clean up existed, instead of simply expressing remorse, you gave a strange response here. Please read it again. It is in the manner of an accused defending himself in a criminal trial, “Your honour, our first line of defence is that the evidence of two screen shots is not sufficient to hold us guilty. In the alternative, our second line of defence is that we have not done it.” If would have been funny if it was not so pathetic. If you go on covering up, the thought process gets convoluted like this. You combine this with bluster and cockiness which is deeply insulting to everyone.

4. You should realize that any defence that proof against you is not sufficient amounts to self-indictment. There is a famous case of a cheating scandal in the World Bridge Championship in 1965 regarding the top British players, Terence Reese and Boris Shapiro. The World Bridge Federation held them guilty, forfeited all their matches and asked them to withdraw. On return, their national association held a quasi-judicial trial. The British legal system has a verdict in between ‘guilty’ and ‘not guilty’, i.e ‘not proven’. They acquitted them on the ground that the charges against them were not proved ‘beyond any reasonable doubt’. Terence Reese wrote a book on their innocence. The world opinion holds them guilty. Ultimately, it boils down to being true to yourself.

5. On your brazen denial and cover up, I must caution you based on my own experience as a graduate student in the US long ago. As you must be aware, the American society is very tolerant of a mistake, because, as I said, we all commit mistakes. But they hate nothing as much as a lie and cover-up. I should illustrate it with Gary Hart-Donna Rice scandal, which blew up while I was there. In the 1988 presidential election, Gary Hart was the frontrunner for Democratic Party nomination and a strong contender to win the Presidency. His campaign collapsed in one moment, not because of his dalliance with Donna Rice, but because he had been denying the affair brazenly. Considered among the brightest politicians of his time, his political career too evaporated soon after that.

6. Another article of faith for the American society, which you must be aware, is the respect for free speech and open discussion. You have firewalled your blog by denial and blocking any reference and comments on this matter. But can you firewall the internet? Tomorrow if it surfaces within the Harvard community, you would be putting yourself in a very untenable position. If you were clean, why the clean-up exercise? And, when the affected person brought it to your notice in the politest possible language, why didn’t you post his comment with whatever explanation you had to offer, the first time? And, when this post appeared about this incident, why the convoluted response of “insufficient proof” combined with bluster? And finally, when all this discussion was going on about your site, why did you block any mention or reference to it on your blog?

7. When I said that I might report the matter to the Harvard authorities, the idea was that someone should counsel you. Now I would think very carefully before doing it because of the risks involved for you. You may get the benefit of the doubt or you may not. What if someone takes a very strong view, as a gross misconduct on your part bringing a bad name to the Institution? I would not like to put you to that kind of risk. I often try to detach myself and view such episodes for lessons they throw about human nature, ethics and questions of right and wrong. Therefore, I may bring it to the notice of some professor in Harvard, whom I know, purely as an academic exercise to develop a case study on ethics, for class discussion.

8. Even if I close the matter from my side, you still need to think about your mental peace. If you think about the whole matter very carefully, many of the things we are talking about are not a matter of some abstract moral principle, but one’s own enlightened self-interest. Would you like the world to believe that there is something innately wrong with you making you prone to unethical behavior, and on being caught to resort to denial and bluster? And that you have not learnt anything, but would keep on doing it, only trying to cover your tracks more cleverly in future? I am sure you would not like to leave this impression about yourselves, which your denial and bluster is bound to create.

9. The difficulty you are facing is not unique. Just as we all commit mistakes, at all ages, many of us, on being told, find it extremely difficult to own up and say sorry. Some of us do it instantly and gracefully, some of us do it kicking and screaming. You are hurtling yourselves deeper and deeper into your self-created hole, and do not know how to get out of it. In this condition, it is not surprising that you have lost the ability to think straight. In such a situation, you need outside help. Fortunately, you are living in a society where seeking help and counseling is not considered embarrassing. Before anyone else reports this matter, I strongly recommend that you yourself go to the authorities, your faculty and trusted friends and be completely truthful to them, sharing with them this post, all the comments including the comments you have blocked. My guess is they would advise you to bring out everything in the open on your blog, and write an open post of apology to all. Trust me, people would respect you for that, and you would be finally able to get rid of your inner demon, which has gripped you, not letting you think rationally.

30 jignesh kotadia April 26, 2013 at 1:08 am

stanza of this song is absolutely befitting to this chaos caused by the song itself !! haha..::: ”,’woh afsaana jise anjaam tak lana na ho mumkin, use ek khoobsurat mod dekar chhodna achha”,’
Anilji, u tried sufficiently to get an ‘anjaam’ with this situation but failed and than gave a ‘khoobsurat mod’ in comment no. 29 …..very nice…respected song’s ultimate advice has worked …

31 Subodh Agrawal April 26, 2013 at 8:47 am

I have been reading this post and the comments for the past few days. I didn’t comment myself, as my internet access was limited; and all that I wanted to say had already been said – and said better – by others. I will only add my appreciation for the restraint shown by AK in his post and comment, and share his concern for the future of two young Indians who are bright enough to make it to Harvard, but lack the moral strength to own up a mistake and rectify it gracefully.

32 naras May 2, 2013 at 10:04 pm

AK Ji, it seems that a compulsive scribe has re-blogged it. Perhaps he needs the link to this post too 🙂

http://compulsivescribe.wordpress.com/2012/12/26/72/

Another piece of cover-up through obscurity. Under the alphabetical list, chalo-ek-bar now links to aap ke nazaron ne samjha. New visitors can scratch their heads!

33 AK May 2, 2013 at 10:48 pm

I have sent my comments, referring to this post. Let us see what do they do. Thanks a lot.

34 Atul May 7, 2013 at 12:59 pm

I visited this blog after quite some time and I see that several new posts have been added. This was the second post I went through (after the wonderful interview with Minu Mumtaz), and I immediately began to empathise. Contents that a blog like this may be free but writing the contents do not come cheap. The appreciation that the author(s) get from knowledgeable readers is the only reward the seek, and rightly so.

Passing off someone else’s writing is plagiarism, plain and simple. Different minds work differently. If I like an article so much that I need to use it in my blog, I would give credit to the original writer. This is the easiest and the most honourable thing in the world to do. The original author would rarely refuse you the to use his/her contents if one only just asked (or simply gave credit).

In this case, the urge for passing off this blog’s content as one’s own stems from the misguided urge to prove one’s intellectual superiority. The plagiarists want to impress their readers by the quality of their translation. Urge to impress others comes naturally to youngsters. Someone like me do not feel this urge and and so no need to pass others’ content as my own. Instead of impressing others, the plagiarists will end up losing face. I am sure that the plaigiarists have lost face, even if they may not be brave enough to admit it.

I too have faced the situtaion where I noticed a few of my writeups being used by a facebook users as their own, without giving credit. It upset me and I lost my composure for some time and that prevents me from devoting time on my blog. And now after reading this, I find myself unable to devote time on my blog.

One needs to protest whenever one sees one’s content being plagiarised. It is a waste of our time. but their own contents are our copyright and how can we tolerate someone else brazenly claiming our intellectual property as their copyright.

I request that you should bring this fact to the knowledge of your Harward acquintances. I hope you have already done that. These plagiarists have been given enough opportunity to redeem themselves and they have shown by their misplaced arrogance that they deserve no sympathy.

35 AK May 7, 2013 at 3:12 pm

Thanks a lot Atul. I can understand that you are more likely to be a victim of this kind of situation, because so much more useful content is there on your blog, where someone can be tempted to use it without acknowledgement. Yours and some of your guest authors’ articles are based on enormous effort and research, and contain very original information. It would be very unfair if someone lifts something without linking or attributing. Finally the public censure on the blog is probably the most effective thing you can do. A friend, who is a Harvard alum, was equally shocked. But I do not know if it is worthwhile to waste one’s mental peace with very shameless people.

36 Atul May 7, 2013 at 4:26 pm

I had never heard of that blog. And it appears that few others had. And for good reason. I tried to do some quick analysis on the blog. Here is what I found.

Blog began on january 2012. Number of posts – about 90. Total Number of comments till date (about 500). Many of these comments are pingbacks and spam.
Total number of email subscribers till now =Nil
The blog has a farmaish page too, and it had received just ten farmaishes in last one year.
Google page rank for the blog (out of 10)= No page rank, not even zero.
I do not think this blog gets more than a few hundred visitors per month. Neither visitors nor search engines care for this blog. The attention that this article gave is the most attention that this blog will ever receive.

In short, that blog does not deserve our time and attention, no matter how much it plagiarises.

37 silverambrosia May 7, 2013 at 8:51 pm

Hi,

I am a regular at ‘Mr&Mrs55: Classic Bollywood Revisited’ and just learnt of this whole incident a couple of days ago, by chancing to come upon your blog. I think that the plagiarism in question may have been inadvertent or may well have been, as Gaddesswarup says, a question of ” pressure of time, different perceptions of what is important and what is trivial”, coupled with the fact that the source material is exactly the same. I honestly can not think of many ways of translating the line “Chalo ek baar phir se ajnabi ban jaye hum dono”. It is also possible, that as they say, they had not actually seen your translation of the song. In this case, they should not have made the alterations that they did, and these changes that they made, does make the case against them look bad.

Having said that, can I just say that I think your response has not been particularly gracious, as opposed to what other commentators here are saying. If Mr. and Mrs.55 did indeed engage in an act of deliberate plagiarism, than you have sufficiently named and shamed them by way of this expansive post. It is extremely unlikely that there will be future incidents of this sort. Quoting from texts like ‘A Criminal History of Mankind’ and taking up the matter with the Harvard Academic board, just strikes me as wholly disproportionate and purely vindictive. I really find it quite disingenuous for you to say that you are doing this “for their own good” or “so they are able to get counselling” and thus become “better people”.

I understand that the comment above mine, made by Atul, may have been made hastily and indignantly but I find it somewhat unfortunate. Atul has just adverted to some statistical findings that he has made, without adverting at all to the actual contents of the blog. I can say for one thing that the statistic about ’email subscribers’ is wrong because I am in fact an email subscriber. It is a still quite a new blog, and is in fact, I think, a very good blog. It’s makers do care passionately about the subject matter they engage with, and are trying to make the things they care about more broadly known and appreciated by others. Substantial time and effort has gone into this blog. Unfortunately, most people of Mr and Mrs 55′ and my generation, do not know an awful lot about Old Indian cinema and music, and this blog is about conveying to others what’s great about Classic Bollywood . Totally damning MrandMrs55 and saying saying things like “The attention that this article gave is the most attention that this blog will ever receive” on the basis of this one incident, is seriously uncalled for.

38 Atul May 8, 2013 at 12:44 am

Sigh !

39 silverambrosia May 8, 2013 at 2:32 am

If it wasn’t already clear from my above comment, I do not think that plagiarism has been conclusively proven here. I think there’s a good chance that what was done was inadvertent. At any rate, this post doesn’t seem to be purely directed at ‘righting a wrong’ (the comments made by AK are way too disproportionate for that). It goes well beyond that, and seems to be more about demeaning the other side and making sure that they lose face.

40 gaddeswarup May 8, 2013 at 2:40 am

Actually I started following the blog since I find it helps me to learn Hindi a little using the medium of film songs which I listen to anyway. I gave links to it in my blog and Facebook yesterday saying that it may be useful to others who do not know Hindi.

41 gaddeswarup May 8, 2013 at 2:53 am

There is some thing about Hindi songs and dances from films which appeal not only to Indians but various other groups around the world, somewhat reminiscent of different versions of Panchtantantra and hundreds of Ramayanas which have spread around the world. I think that the youngsters are making Hindi songs accessible to more people. I would suggest that we forget the controversy and encourage the young people.

42 Nivedita May 9, 2013 at 11:11 pm

Thought this would be interesting here: an instance of plagiarism from a popular Indian fashion blog:

http://www.highheelconfidential.com/seeing-double-plagiarized-again/

43 gaddeswarup May 10, 2013 at 2:47 am

I came across an academic discussion (usually discussions there tend to be very long, erudite with lots of links and I usually give up after 20-30 comments)

http://crookedtimber.org/2013/05/08/28709/#comments

44 AK May 11, 2013 at 6:38 pm

Nivedita,
I find that the YT channel has started posting comments openly accusing them of plagiarism. The channel is still on, what happened to YT policy of pulling it down after three notifications? I could already see more than three.

Gaddeswarupji,
You have sent me a very interesting link. I would not have known that there are so many dimensions and nuances of plagiarism. Thanks a lot. What I understood from all the high sounding academic jargon was that you must err on the side of giving credit. Honesty requires that even if you do not give a rigorous foot note as in an academic paper, you must tell in some way that the idea or turn of phrase has been taken from some source.

45 gaddeswarup May 11, 2013 at 8:42 pm

AK Ji,
Perhaps because I am reading Michael Mann’s ‘The Sources of Social Power’ now, I saw the the reactions of Harry in the post as results of power relations and conventions. Going through some of the comments again, your summary seems apt to me.

46 Anu Warrier May 12, 2013 at 6:36 am

I am coming back here after a very long time, and I see that this post has generated much discussion. I wouldn’t have commented if I hadn’t come across this gem:

If it wasn’t already clear from my above comment, I do not think that plagiarism has been conclusively proven here.

Huh? The last stanza is a word-by-word copy of SoY’s post. How much more ‘evidence’ do you need of plagiarism? I applaud the loyalty that led to this defence, but seriously? There comes a time, when need to see right and wrong, and be able to stand up for what you believe in. And if the poster above really believes that it is not plagiarism – with the evidence presented in bold– then I’m afraid that people today just do not get the seriousness of copying others’ intellectual property.

47 silverambrosia May 12, 2013 at 3:32 pm

Anu,

I am not making this defence out of some kind of blind sense of loyalty. I think the fact that the first stanza is substantially dissimilar should have at least some bearing on the question whether the translation has been plaigarised. I am not even going to include the line “Chalo ek baar phir se ajnabi ban jaye hum dono”. Can you think of any more more accurate or commonsense translation other than “Come, let us be strangers once again” or “Come, let us become strangers once again”? I can’t think of any other translation of this line, which does not diverge from, or convolute the meaning of the original.

It is also inaccurate of you to say that the second stanza is a word by word verbatim reproduction of AK’s translation. It is not. The lines are, however, very similar. Certainly in the case of the the line “use ek khubsuurat mod de kar chodna achaa” the translation Mr and Mrs. 55 have made is again the most obvious common-sense translation there is . ‘Khoobsurat’ literally means ‘beautiful’ and ‘mod’ literally means ‘turn’. 9 out of 10 times, this line would be translated in the way it has been by both AK and Mr and Mrs 55. That leaves 4 lines out of a 15 line song which may cast a doubt. If it was me I would be quite happy to attribute these four lines to coincidence, as may very well have been the case (and I am not saying this because of any loyalty or regard I may have for Mr and Mrs 55). I am simply not the kind of person who places a negative construction on everything.

It wasn’t the translation that was the problem, it was the response of Mr. and Mrs. 55. If they were going to make the changes they did, they should have given some kind of explanation or clarification. They should have emailed AK saying “Our translation is our own, but if four lines of our translation are bothering you so much, and giving you sleepless nights, we will change it, for your satisfaction”. Their failure to do so, has made their actions open to alternative negative constructions. The original email, sent by AK, was not as he says “without a whiff of accusation”. It was implicitly accusing them of plaigarism. They may have taken offence, and not bothered responding. And this was their mistake; they should have clearly responded. And, again if they did indeed engage in an act of deliberate plagiarism (something I am not convinced of, scoff as you may), the post and the comments made by AK attending this post, go well beyond what was required to rectify the situation and ”right a wrong”.

48 AK May 12, 2013 at 3:40 pm

Anu,
Silverambrosia’s aggressive defence of Mr and Mrs 55 is indeed odd considering that the latter’s own conduct of cleaning up and removing the fingerprints, and blocking of all comments and references is screaming out wrongdoing.

Can anyone genuinely believe that these similarities can happen by coincidence? Here is one by Madhu (Dustedoff):

Come, let us once again
Become strangers, the two of us…
Neither should I hold out any hope
Of your bestowing your heart on me
Nor should you look towards me
With impropriety in your glance
Neither should my heartbeat
Quaver when I speak
Nor should the secrets of your dilemma
Be revealed in your glances

Your confusion holds you back
From moving forward
I too have been told by people
That the wonders I long for belong to another
The infamy of my past is my constant companion;
The shadows of nights long past
Are always with you too

When an introduction burgeons into a malady,
It is best forgotten;
When a relationship becomes a burden,
It is best broken.
When a story cannot be brought to its conclusion,
It is best to give it one last beautiful twist
And leave it at that.”

Here are two more sites I have taken randomly which carry the translation of this song:

http://anondogaan.blogspot.in/2011/09/chalo-ek-baar-phir-se-lyrics.html

https://groups.google.com/forum/?fromgroups#!topic/msi-hindi/2dMsyX53O_c

You can multiply the examples. Not only the translation of the last verse which is most complex and difficult, but of the other simpler lines are very different from each other.

Our friend can do a simple test – get ten people whom she thinks are comfortable with the source language and ask them to translate the last verse. The reason why they would be very different is that some of the complex words have no commonly agreed equivalent in English. When I relooked at my own translation, I felt that the words I had chosen were not the closest equivalent, but I let it be because that is the way I liked it.

Later I had to translate another song of Sahir’s. By that time I had come across Madhu’s translation, which I liked. Instead of doing my own cut and paste, and reinventing the wheel to make it look original work, I simply referred to her translation. It is puzzling why such a simple thing should be so difficult.

We can hope Mr and Mrs 55 would never do it again, and Silverambrosia would realise that she should not waste her kindness on something indefensible.

We have said everything that can be said on this issue. So I am closing the debate here. But the readers are welcome to mail me at ak@songsofyore.com in case they wish to discuss something.

49 AK December 9, 2013 at 3:00 pm

Dear friends,
I had closed this post for comments with a view to forget and move on. I am coming back again and opening for comments because two blogs I regularly follow and admire have since faced something more frustrating.

Atul found that his posts were copied verbatim by two sites, apparently owned by the same person, as soon as these appeared. It seemed to be done by an automated programme. When he wrote about this plagiarism, one of the offending sites promptly carried this also! The automated machine does its job faithfully!

The plagiarism of my post was brought to my notice by Anu. And here is what she writes of her experience of wholesale lifting of her article by two sites, a replay of what Atul had to go through.

In both the cases contacting the offenders was of not much avail. At best one of the sites agreed to remove the stolen pieces. No question of any remorse or apology.

Where do we go from here? As long as it was a human being, one thought the person when caught would show some remorse, or faced public naming and shaming. But what if it is an automated programme, or a human who pretends to be a machine under the cover of anonymity which the virtual world provides? I gather from experienced people that legal recourse is not very effective. But we do need to share experiences, show solidarity and discuss if there are technical tools to prevent such offences.

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