Curing plagiarism and other maladies

BY AJITH PILLAI| IN Opinion | 16/08/2012
From"klepto-editomania" to"indexitis", journalists seem to be suffering from an entirely new range of ailments.
AJITH PILLAI stumbles upon a specific treatment for such disorders.
Dipped in Witriol
AJITH PILLAI
Dr De (Press) is no medical doctor. Having just done two years of medicine in a reputed Mumbai institution he decided to drop out because he didn’t like frequent references to the human anatomy in lectures. But in his quit letter to the dean he dramatically stated that he didn’t like to be in any college that accepted an individual like him as a student. Incidentally, this was an unabashed and unacknowledged plagiarism of a letter written by Groucho Marx to a Beverly Hills club refusing its offer of membership. But then originality was never the good doctor’s forte ever since he copied “A for apple” from a student seated next to him during a class test in nursery school.
That apart, after dropping out of medicine Dr De spent the days wandering the streets of Mumbai. His mission: commit to memory the new desi names for old landmarks (Hutatma Chowk for Flora Fountain and Mahatma Jyotirao Phule Market for Crawford Market). The evenings he spent at the Gokul bar and restaurant in one of the bylanes in Colaba behind the Taj. It was here that he met journalists and developed a friendship with them. They in turn began to consult the doctor on various problems they faced at the workplace, and Dr De, having not completed his MBBS and therefore not spoilt by any specialization, was their psychiatrist, general physician, and adviser. He could help solve all their problems (except economic ones and those relating to geometry which gave him vertigo) and was gentle with those who consulted him. No wonder then that he was known as the “journalist whisperer” among the scribes in Mumbai and was later christened Dr De (Press) although he openly confessed that he was “no Harley Street Charlie but simply homespun.”
With such an impressive track record the doctor was recently invited to Delhi, the veritable capital of the fourth estate. Here he opened shop in a mobile van that was stationary most part of the day and parked at vacant and bored-looking parking lots. While at first there was only a trickle of patients, the response improved by the day and soon www.depress.com had quite a few requests for appointments which kept Dr De rather busy.
Luckily for us, being rather meticulous about his work, the doctor made a list of ailments that currently afflict journos. His effort affords us a rare insight into the mental health of mediapersons. The Hoot accessed the observations of Dr De by sneaking into his mobile clinic. Excerpts:
An overview: what ails mediapersons
Klepto-editomania: A condition where there is an intense desire to steal somebody else’s writing. In common parlance it is simplistically referred to as plagiarism. The recent case of Time magazine columnist Fareed Zakaria being caught lifting a paragraph from The New Yorker is a case in point. But the term plagiarism doesn’t quite address the feeling of guilt that seizes the patient after he has done the deed. This in turn triggers such bizarre acts as chewing up the previous day’s newspapers and pressurising the dog and cat to recite passages from Paradise Lost. In fact, I have seen several cases of Klepto-editomania having emotional breakdowns, and each patient has said that he /she could not exercise any control (even with the TV remote) and almost unconsciously memorised a passage or two from any well-written piece they saw and soon knew it by rote like their phone numbers or their editor’s name. 
Such acts of lifting are not restricted to reporters, edit writers and columnists. Those on the desk lift or adapt rock/pop song titles for headlines (The Winds of Change, Burning Down the House, Keep the Faith, Here Comes the Son, Knights in White Satin). Hollywood is also the source of much inspiration (Children of a Lesser God, All The PM’s Men, Maccha Jaggan Reddy’s Gold). Layout artists also lift from foreign publications. In short, behind most pieces of great writing or design is an unacknowledged source. Very often a para on a piece on Spanish cuisine can be restructured to give a new twist to an analysis of India politics.
Treatment: The patient has to be told that he has done nothing wrong. Lifting is only stealing. Not robbing. The passages appropriated still remains in the work of the original writer. This must be illustrated with examples. For instance, take two paragraphs from Orwell’s 1984 and transcribe them on a piece of paper. Now show the patient the original book—he will see that nothing has changed.
Also impress upon the patient that man as a race suffers from Klepto-editomania. Ever since the evolution of the English language words such as “the, then, where, who, why, when, they, he, she, because, source, resource” have all been lifted. And the list is endless. So one must not carry any baggage of guilt-- accompanied or unaccompanied.
The therapy sessions should be conducted in a relaxed environment over a drink. Posters which bolster the patient’s confidence must be put up. For example, English writer John Burke’s observation: “If you steal from one author its plagiarism. If you steal from two, it’s research.” Or, that quip from another wit: “What is originality? Undetected plagiarism.”
Anchor-o-Disorder: This is a condition prevalent among those hosting TV discussions. The unfortunates suffering from this disorder carry their work home in their mind and conduct shows in their sleep. In some severe cases the voice of the guests on the programme is also mimicked by the patient. Since any interaction on television is characterised by angry and loud voices, neighbours will eventually complain and demand that the patient stop watching Arnab Goswami recordings through the night.
Treatment: Have a hot water bath, drink a glass of milk and get into bed. Plug in your I-pod and listen to a selection of the growling and eardrum busting Nu-metal band Slipknot. The therapy works on the theory that if you can’t sleep you can’t talk while asleep!
Guilt-itis: A complex where the patient believes he/she is living a lie. Driving in a Rs. 22-lakh car and talking about poverty; being rude towards his/her domestic help while writing about their rights; ill-treating juniors in the office while laughing at peers in other publications doing the same. This condition is peculiar to editors and senior staff in the media.
Treatment: Advise the patients to give up on guilt and move to the Oedipus complex or the range of other personality disorders and syndromes on offer. Impress upon them that their condition is like that of someone uncomfortable in one building. The simple solution: move to another. As for the big car, substitute it with a designer bullock cart with a mini bar and air conditioning and a motor to make the bullocks’ task easier. The stock of the patient will turn bullish among the glitterati.
Anna-rexia: Journalists suffering from this condition want to desperately purge their minds of all thoughts about Anna Hazare who they banked on and supported till the other day. Now with Anna gone and his Team disbanded these scribes feel lost and disillusioned.
Treatment: Invest in saffron robes and join Baba Ramdev and practise political asanas. Alternatively, buy Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karen(in)a and forget the past with a brave face.
Indexitis: A condition that commentators who appear frequently on news channels might have to cope with. While raising the index finger to attract the attention of the host the other fingers remain clenched to the palm. This can result in the fingers remaining permanently fixed in one position with the index digit pointing skyward.
Treatment: Do simple exercises as a preventive. Refrain from frequent TV appearances. And don’t get agitated countering a point. Remember you are on TV, not in Parliament.

Dr De (Press) also treats general depression and suppression of news. He will be in your city in the near future. Watch out for his ad in the classifieds…

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