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.