The alarming fall in readership is the best thing that could have happened to journalism.
Set free from the yoke of pesky readers, journalists are now at liberty to be at their creative best, which is to say they can copy from various sources and still be confident that nobody will notice. At least none has in my case.
‘Plagiarise and not get caught’ is what any sensible writer should offer by way of sincere advice. Or if he is in a hurry, he should at least say: copy, right. Shakespeare classically alluded to this when he said: ‘Rose by any other name would smell as sweet’. Any literature type, who is also gifted with a nose, can tell you that a rose doesn’t smell sweet, only Rosagullah does. Shakespeare undoubtedly was employing rose here, even though it’s trite, as a poetic euphemism, because it would have been too much for him to come right out and say, ‘rip off, it will still be effective’.
I am yet to write a single original line in my life. As the pasha of plagiarism, I can tell you the trick is two-fold
1) Write in a manner that nobody will notice
In other words, write badly. This takes a lot of skill. Perhaps, you need to be born with this talent. Arundhati Roy and I, to take two random examples, are lucky on this count. But if bad writing is not in your genes, then you have to choose Plan B.
2) Copy from a source that has the least chance of being read.
That is, never copy smses, because they are the only things that people seem to have the brain space to read these days.
But newspaper editorials are a good place to start with. Editorials are those sections in a publication that human gaze seldom falls on. In the newspaper industry, those who write the editorials are among the highest paid. Why pay top money to something that is not read much or not read at all? Well, we in the newspaper business have never asked this question, but we still wonder why the industry is in the doldrums (By my reckoning, the person in charge of TV and cinema listings pages has to be paid the highest).
Even if a publisher puts out explicit pornography material in an editorial, the odds on that being noticed by the subscribers are higher than that on, say, Salman Khan being the Chairman of Save The Black Buck Club. For all I cared, newspapers may already be filling the Editorial column with porn stuff. Will confirm on this when one of these years I actually manage to read an editorial.
Another easy point to copy from is Salman Rushdie, the man who owns the coveted Booker of Bookers prize for his Midnight’s Children.
Now, Midnight’s Children has to be the most outstanding book in the world that people have never completely read even once. I have two copies of this much-acclaimed bestseller, but I am still to pass the 60-page mark for the last decade and half. I have a friend, who has a leather-bound edition, who is still to get past the cover. And he is the one who has a Ph D dissertation on Midnight’s Children (Magic Realism as a Post Colonialist Device To Put People To Sleep).
How did Midnight’s Children become the classic it has? Well, this is the beauty of magic realism, the genre that the book belongs to. In simple words, magic realism is that style of writing that allows you to be a reader without having to read. I think the Indian Constitution and the many legal tomes are also written in the style of magic realism.
Back to copying, if it were a crime, ‘xerox’ machines and the Tamil film industry, would not be around. Kollywood is the place where people don’t even have original names.
Sometime back, there was a French movie called Wasabi (which itself is a Japanese dish). Anyone in the Tamil film world who saw the film, must have been naturally moved to tears —- because without subtitles all French movies are lousy. Only the redoubtable Sarath Kumar and the irrepressible K S Ravikumar manfully took the hard labour of understanding the lovingly-crafted French story and then converting it into a practical pastiche to suit the local taste and sensibilities, by which I mean there was plenty of coarse and loud comedy involving Goundamani.
Still in Kollywood, Rajnikanth became the legend that he is now by shoddily remaking plenty of already shoddily made Amitabh Bachchan starrers of the 80s. If Rajni can end up as the unsurpassed superstar of the Tamil industry, there is nothing that should stop you. Go ahead and copy.
No, wait. Everyone can’t be a Rajni. He is a force of nature. If a tiger had sex with a tornado and then their tiger-nado baby got married to an earthquake, their offspring would be Rajinikanth, ruling the roost in the Indian State of Tamil Nadu.
Isn’t that a wonderful description? Remember you read this here first. Just let me know if somebody else has used it anywhere else.
I hate people, even if they are jetlagged, copying my brilliant original lines.