Art of imitation

Published On: October 27, 2017 07:22 AM NPT By: Biswas Baral  | @@biswasktm

Everybody in Nepal is a master of the creative art of copying. And why wouldn't they be? We like to teach this not-so-subtle art to our children young, and our schools also make sure they learn the needful. As any tireless parents of a school-going child would attest, the homework teachers give to these children, barely six or seven, is actually meant for them.

There is no way children can complete their assigned works—paintings and herbariums and origami and what not—without active parental supervision. As teaching a kid is tough work, many parents do the homework themselves, unprompted—with the added lure of getting to jack up their IQ by a few points every time. 

So your kid presents your work, gets an 'A', and makes you feel proud. You see that hard work really does pay. But if you have no problem with your child presenting your expert work, why should you complain if tomorrow that child grows up, becomes a renowned medical doctor, and then, to make you prouder still, submits a research paper in a famous journal, and gets published. So far so good. But what if some second-rate newspaper was to then declare, in bold type, that the whole research paper had been 'plagiarized'! Come again, plagiarized? 

When you, the parent, were in school, didn't everyone rote-learn and regurgitate whole chapters during exams? Since you and all your classmates learned the same material by heart, no wonder your answer sheets were exactly the same. But, today, when you have to write a professional research paper (your kid is still too young for that) you are expected to 'understand' the underlying concepts and write in your 'own' words. The problem is: no one ever taught you how. So you resort to same tried and tested method that brought us such riches back in school.  

Remember that one bright lad in your class, the envy and eyesore of everyone, who used to submit flawless homework? Since he would be the only one who had completed his assignments, the rest of you would nearly come to blows over who should take his assignment home. A little later, along came the photocopy machine, making the copying process instantly more democratic. So year after year you copied the topper's works and year after year you continued to get good marks. The teachers didn't bother about strange sounding birds like plagiarism in those days.

This is why you struggle to understand the new fuss—intellectual theft, they say. The other day, for example, one broadsheet published a news item of five medical doctors affiliated to Kathmandu University. They had supposedly plagiarized a research paper of another trio of Nepali doctors.

While the original paper had been published in Nepal, the plagiarized version had appeared in a journal published from Indonesia. But there was an important difference between the two papers, you see. The authors of the second paper had taken great pains to change the title of the research. Thus, strictly speaking, the second set of authors was not exactly 'copying'. Nepali broadsheets and their quibbles, I tell you! 

They were only doing what they had done right through their school and colleges days and something, moreover, that they are now doing for their industrious school-going children to great success. They have nothing to hide. 

When one of the plagiarism-accused doctors was contacted by the nosey newspaper mentioned above, he defended his research, contending that although the two papers had some 'similarities', this was to be expected as both the papers were on the same topic. Makes perfect sense to me. 

In any case, the title-tinkering medicos need not bother themselves too much. Before they are forced to resign on such esoteric charges, why, first, the chief of Nepal's biggest and oldest university will have to be punished (punished?!) for his creative intellectual borrowing. Tribhuvan University vice-chancellor Thirtha Khaniya too stands accused of an 'international' intellectual coup.

As everything written by reputed Nepali scholars had been endlessly copy-pasted, Khaniya decided to borrow from a Turkish scholar. Instead of rewarding such ingenious creative borrowing, some are baying for his blood. Unbelievable. When will we learn to appreciate talent? 

We Nepalis are justifiably proud of our rich culture and heritage, and we certainly don't like to be lectured by westerners on our way of life. We don't believe in such alien western impositions as plagiarism.

But if it is clever craftsmanship you are talking about, it is in our DNA. The crafty genes continue to be passed down the generations, from teachers to their students, from parents to their dutiful sons and daughters. This is who we are. This is what we do. You, my friend with faux-western sensibilities, don't like it? Too bad. Humoring you doesn't exactly get my son an A+.

The writer is the op-ed editor at Republica. He can be contacted at 

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