We've all spent a fair deal of time analyzing, pondering, lamenting and/or scoffing at the situation of Kaavya Viswanathan, the Harvard sophomore who, after receiving $500K for a two-book deal, has been accused of plagiarizing passages in her debut novel How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life. But someday, the current controversy will be a thing of the past, and what then of young Kaavya? There is, of course, a very young woman at the center of all this.
Gawker Intern Neel Shah thinks he understands. Hailing from picturesque Port Jefferson, Long Island, Neel is a first generation Indian-American who took the SATs in 7th grade, went to the same dorky summer program at Johns Hopkins as Viswanathan, and recently graduated from Dartmouth. His father is a doctor, his family drives a Range Rover, and he played tennis in high school. In some small way, Neel knows where Kaavya's coming from. His culturally specific analysis of her hell and humiliation follows.
Whatever dubious subcontinental wunderkind Kaavya Viswanathan did write, didn't write, had ghost-written, cribbed, subconsciously borrowed, telepathically stole, or else was brainwashed into doing by a bunch of Pakistanis hell-bent on subverting India's credibility in the burgeoning Southeast Asian chick-lit genre, at least one thing is clear: shit like this is the reason brown kids should stick to quantitative math and organic chemistry. Ms. Viswanathan, after all, had all the hallmarks of future i-banker or doctor. Namely:
1. She was Indian (duh).
2. She had typical suburban "Indian" parents — that is, they were highly educated (both doctors), hyper-concerned with micromanaging every aspect of their progeny's education (they spent half a year's tuition to essentially buy their daughter admission to a school deemed "socially acceptable" by the other parent doctors and engineers of the Indian community at large), and owners of a large, drastically overpriced S.U.V. (the rear windshield of which provides optimal placement for a "socially acceptable" college decal used to ramp up envy in the aforementioned parent doctors and engineers of the Indian community at large).
3. She knew what she wanted at a ridiculously early age (a career in finance).
Had she stayed the course that was essentially her birthright, Ms. Viswanathan would've been crunching numbers for a top-bulge bracket bank in no time. Perhaps not by way of Harvard, but at least via Brown or Penn...certainly not — gasp! — state school.
But Brown and Penn aren't Harvard, and for some kids with an innate masochistic streak, Opal Mehta-esque parents who've spent the GDP of a small African nation on SAT prep classes, or have some combination of the both, it's Harvard or bust. And then you have absurdly compensated college counselors (who have to answer to some pretty pissed-off parents if they don't deliver the goods) saying, "You know, having a book deal will look grrreat on the 'extracurricular activities' portion of your Harvard app;" and you have bottom-line-driven book publishers saying, "You know, signing a 17-year old kid to a half a million dollar deal will provide grrreat buzz in a overcrowded but highly lucrative genre; let's worry about whether or not she can actually write later;" and you have overbearing parents saying, "You know, you've had every competitive advantage in life; we won't be mad if you don't get into Harvard, but you should really try your hardest — this book thing looks like a really good opportunity." And now, somewhere in this tangled mess of nerd-camp entitlement (see also: fellow Crimson alum Sylvester, Nick) and shady book packagers, you have a Harvard sophomore who looks to be proper fucked.
But hey, Kaavya: if nothing else, this will totally make killer fodder for a story on redemption and life lessons learned for your med school application essays.