mo phat ale

Ok, that’s not the best anagram for Opal Mehta, but it’s the best I could do on short notice. I’ve watched the story unfold over the past weeks, starting with the original Harvard Crimson article, and then all the collective handwringing and schadenfreude. On the one hand, I think she’s a dumb kid who was caught and should pay for it, but not for the rest of her life. On the other, she’s 18, and officially an adult, so I guess she should have expected this. But maybe we should spread the blame around to her money-grubbing producers and the “packaging company” that shares the copyright.

I have to admit that I’m baffled by this essay from Sandip Roy. He, tongue in cheek, thanks Viswanathan for proving “that finally we can fail, that we can screw up spectacularly and live to tell the tale.” He then goes into a lengthy standard complaint about upper middle class Indians in the US, the model minority thing, and overachieving and pushy parents. It’s about the system from within the system, and says nothing about class disparity within the South Asian community in the US, the differences between recent versus established immigrants, the Hindu/Muslim gap, or any of that.

In pointing out how Kaavya-gate (as some are calling it) helps disprove the model minority myth by proving that South Asians aren’t all superhuman superachievers, Roy can be seen to reify that stereotype. Implicit in his “not superhuman” claim we can find “but still high-achievers.” That’s too much, I think. His point is that these pushy parents need to find some perspective. But does the Opal Mehta debacle really point that out? I don’t think so — this lacks the kind of Aristotelian tragic ending that would really send the message home. Roy wants to indict the parents with the child. But to do that we would need some anagnoresis (the tragic hero’s recognition of their own flaw) that comes from them. Instead we have some crap about photographic memories and unintentional internalization. No amount of media spectacle will affect the hordes of pushy parents unless the pushiness itself can be unambiguously blamed.

So Roy’s essay seems off-mark to me. But maybe if I have mo phat ale I’ll start to think differently.

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8 thoughts on “mo phat ale

  1. I think you’re asking too much of 800 words of wry commentary on this issue. He wasn’t aiming for a complete analysis of the class dynamics in the South Asian diaspora. He was intending to elicit a familiar chuckle from those of us who are/ were in the same group both ethnically and economically. Not everything that addresses issues in the South Asian diaspora has to address all issues in the South Asian diaspora.

    As far as blaming the pushy parents, it’s in the record that the “packagers” were recommended by IvyWise, highly-paid consultants on how to get into the best schools, from nursery school on up. While a lot of the blame justifiably falls on the author’s shoulders, a light has been shone, however weakly, on the whole “consultants on college admissions” industry that caters to wealthy, status-conscious parents who only want children they can brag about at cocktail parties.

  2. I had no clue what you were talking about, and had to google opal mehta. Then I realized that I’ve picked that book up in a bookstore and read the cover, and was thinking of adding it to my young adult reading list. Guess I’m too late now!

  3. It boggles my mind that anyone (especially, perhaps, a Harvard student) could think that they’d get away with plagiarism in this day and age. Even if you lift passages from what you think is the most obscure work out there, someone else has read it and will catch on to you.

    Where was she when the James Frey drama was unfolding?

    At any rate, I doubt she’ll be paying for this for the rest of her life. In fact, she’ll probably get a movie deal out of it!

  4. The interesting question, of course, is whether appropriating material from a number of sources and integrating it into a cohesive whole is not, in fact, original authorship. Combining “Haroun and the Sea of Stories” and “The Princess Diaries” is not an intuitive task, to say the least.

  5. It was marketed as a Anglo-Indian/Chick-lit mashup, but usually music mashups cite their sources. There’s a terrible Arcade Fire/Black Eyed Peas mashup with Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels) and My Humps. I think it’s called “Hump My Tunnel.”

    So we should retitle the book “Princess Opal Mehta and the Diary of the Sea of Stories.”

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