Prufrock's Page

Friday, June 30, 2006

Another Review Reviewed

Here's an extract from Anne Garvey's review of Jan Dalley's The Black Hole in The Independent's June 25th edition:

"She concludes that the Black Hole was a reality (the exact numbers, she concedes, must be impossible to get entirely correct), but she does ask questions. 'Was it deliberate brutality of the part of the victor, or was it simply a sad mistake on the part of the nawab's soldiers?' How did the story prevail in a century packed with bloodshed and massacre on a much grander scale? Why were succeeding generations keen to re-tell it?"

Now, here's an extract from Mahmud Farooqui's review of the same book in Outlook's July 10 issue:

"She concludes that the Black Hole was a reality (the exact numbers, she concedes, must be impossible to get entirely correct although Little claims six survivors out of nine prisoners and British historian Linda Colley counts eight survivors out of 40), but she does ask questions. 'Was it deliberate brutality of the part of the victor, or was it simply a sad mistake on the part of the nawab's soldiers?' How did the story prevail in a century packed with bloodshed and massacre on a much grander scale? Why were succeeding generations keen to re-tell it?"

In another extract from Garvey's review, she writes:

"It is hard to credit that thousands would risk their lives, and more thousands their fortunes, for nutmeg. But do believe it. 'All historians agree the British Empire began with stimulants,' Dalley asserts. Our nation would 'go just to just about any lengths for a buzz'."

Over to Farooqui:

"The East India Company and its trading endeavours are, for her, a search for nutmeg, for exotica, 'the need for a buzz'."

Now, look at Hilary Spurling's review of the same book in The Observer of June 25:

"A dismal history of blunders on both sides had been successfully recast, in Nirad Chaudhuri's phrase, to throw 'a moral halo over the conquest of India'. "

Here's Farooqui again:

"...the memory of the Black Hole threw, as Nirad C. Chaudhuri puts it, 'A moral halo over the British conquest of India'..."

Finally, a sentence from Ashling O'Connor's Times' report on June 19th:

"There have been several challenges to Holwell’s account, not least by J. H. Little, an English schoolmaster, who, in 1916, labelled it a 'giant hoax'."

Over to Farooqui:

"So, what was the Black Hole? For British historian J.H. Little, writing in 1916, merely a 'gigantic hoax'."


(NB. Farooqui's review wasn't available online at the time of writing this post, so one couldn't link to it.)


  • How shameful. I'm cringing as I read this- however did this man get himself to use whole portions of others' reviews! The reviewer doesn't know you have found him out. Wish I could direct him to this blog and sit back and watch the fun.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:56 AM  

  • Tch tch. Have to say though, there's considerable artistry involved in lifting whole paras from two or three different sources and then stringing them together. One almost wonders if it might take less effort to just write an original review...

    By Blogger Jabberwock, at 2:20 PM  

  • good job. go over to sonia faliero's. she's found this copycat review on line.

    By Blogger n, at 10:45 PM  

  • hmm. let me save you the trouble. here's the link

    And Jabberwock...well said. An original is definitely easier.

    By Blogger n, at 10:49 PM  

  • Good stuff, P2! In an earlier age these chappies would never have been caught, but thanks to the internet and bloggers...

    By Blogger amit varma, at 1:45 AM  

  • From thisthis article published in the May 15 issue of Outlook
    And then, there is the media. The internet has not just hugely multiplied opportunities for the scissor-happy, but, ironically, also for their detection. A writer snitches from what he or she may believe to be a little-read publication, and blogosphere erupts in outrage. Striking similarities between a film review by a senior journalist with the Times of India and a review of the same film by a Chicago Sun Times reviewer hit blogosphere first. So did similar charges about The Hindu's film reviewer. Both reviewers continue to review, and if any actions were taken by their employers, they are not in the public domain.

    Ah, the irony.

    By Blogger Nina, at 3:08 PM  

  • I don't think writing an original review is necessarily easier. See, then he'd have to actually read the book :)

    By Blogger Rajesh J Advani, at 11:37 PM  

  • Well it seems that you guys have little to do... in an essay which more than the couple of lines that you have quoted,there is an argument followed. Maybe if you had understood the conclusions the essay draws and the line of argument it takes you will realise that it is very diffrent and speaks of better authority over the books than the other review mentioned. well...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:57 AM  

  • yeah anonymous, the brilliant argument in the essay, that you are using to justify the morally bankrupt plagiarism is: "Me stoopid, them clever. But me have Google - now me clever too! Mama proud."

    At least he didnt just make up quotes. Has he been fired yet?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:54 PM  

  • Actually Mahmud seems to be a silly bugger but I don't think he's plagiarising. He wrote a 1500 word essay where he's liberally sprinkled quotes from different reviewers. BUT some 1300 words of that review and certainly the slant of the argument he employs appears to be his own.

    If you bother to read the reviews in question, I think you would have to concede that.

    By Blogger DD, at 8:47 PM  

  • Am reproducing in full Mr Farooqui's response on the Outlook website. Let's end this now.

    "Regarding the controversy about the review by me, and the various charges of plagiarism, I wish to state the following:

    1. I had read the Anne Garvey review, but not the others quoted in the blog.

    2. The quote from Nirad Chaudhry is the last sentence of Dalley's book and is taken from there.

    3. The 'need for a buzz' and the search for nutmeg - again, it is a quote from Dalley's book. She devotes about 5 pages to nutmeg and the importance she attaches to it would not be lost to anybody who reads the book.

    4. JH Little and the Gigantic Hoax - Dalley discusses Little's analysis and quotes his conclusion and that is where it is taken from. It is Little, as quoted by the book under review, who labels the event a 'gigantic hoax'. That is where it is taken from; I had not seen the other reviews mentioned in the blog.

    5. There are five sentences from Anne Garvey's review in the Independent that occur almost verbatim in my review. Although, those sentences are not germane to the more significant and substantive points and criticism I make, yet I realise that their relative irrelevance - irrespective of whether they entered my review out of sloppiness, oversight or malafide intentions - cannot obviate the charge.

    I wish to emphasise that the impugned sentences do not make any important points about the book. They are not substantive points, but mere illustrative tag-ons. And these are only five sentences out of a review of over 1800 words. Be that as it may, I admit that though not malafide, it indeed was sloppy on my part. I wrote the review in the middle of hectic performances in Mumbai over different sittings at borrowed computers, but I realise that I can hardly claim inadvertence as an exculpation.

    My review is not a cut and paste job - anyone who reads the two reviews would realise that I go on to make substantially different points and offer a substantively different critique and conclusion about the book. While some of the pointed-out similarities are easily explained, as mentioned above, as direct quotes from the book under question, the verbatim sentences from Garvey that appear in my review, intentionally or otherwise, are undeniably a breach of faith and entirely reprehensible.

    While sincerely apologising to all concerned for this hugely unfortunate and avoidable mess-up, I stand by the critique in my review.

    Mahmood Farooqui"

    By Blogger PrufrockTwo, at 10:55 PM  

  • That's a comprehensive response, and yes, it's best to end the issue now. The tone and the conclusions of Farooqui's review, apart from that one para, seem original enough, and this certainly isn't comparable to the other cases of plagiarism we've seen recently. No point in overdoing the righteous indignation.

    By Blogger Jabberwock, at 10:02 AM  

  • Prufrock, I'm glad this controversy has been sorted out: Mahmood seems an unlikely plagiariser, and while he's taken responsibility for the lines he took from the Independent review, I do think it would be unfair to discard the rest of his review.

    Setting aside the plagiarism/ copying issue, I did find it interesting that the two Indian reviews/ articles of any length I've read about the Black Hole and this book are very different from the reviews coming out in the British media. (I'm referring to Rudrangshu Mukherjee's piece for the Kolkata Telegraph, as well as Mahmood's long essay for Outlook.) Any thoughts on this?

    By Blogger Nila, at 12:22 PM  

  • Thanks for carrying Farooqui's response, P2, it's certainly a reasonable one.

    By Blogger amit varma, at 12:58 PM  

  • Nilanjana: Both Farooqui and Mukherjee seem to keep ideas of nation-building at the forefront: they stress the 'imperial myth' aspect of the Black Hole, and how this provided justification for the Raj, even when flying in the face of empirical evidence -- bringing to mind the old 'mythos' vs 'logos' ways of thinking mentioned somewhere by Karen Armstrong. Krishna Datta in The Independent, gives this aspect a cursory glance, as does Hilary Spurling in The Observer (the latter, in fact, sounds offended that the actions of the British come in for criticism); but to my mind, reviewer Anne Garvey does make this a concern. (I haven’t read the book, but it seems evident that the author does pay a great deal of attention to myth-making.) Interestingly, some of the overseas reviewers attempt to draw parallels with the current scenario – “a timely lesson in how the demonisation of a foreign leader can be employed to justify military aggression”.

    By Blogger PrufrockTwo, at 3:44 PM  

  • Interesting you should mention that; parts of Mahmood's review sounded as though he was speaking directly to Garvey and Dalley. (That's partly what made his review work for me, despite the cribbed section; it sounds like a conversation between reviewer and author, reviewer and reader.)
    Here's Garvey:
    Britain, this draughty, cold Northern island, was desperate for spice. It is hard to credit that thousands would risk their lives, and more thousands their fortunes, for nutmeg. But do believe it. "All historians agree the British Empire began with stimulants," Dalley asserts. Our nation would "go just to just about any lengths for a buzz".
    And here's Farooqui:
    But this is a British book, written primarily for British audiences. It is evident in the way she narrates the history of colonial expansion. East India Company and its trading endeavors are, for her, a search for nutmeg, for exotica, ‘the need for a buzz’. In this account of individual bravery and risk-taking, there is no place for political economy, for the fact that there was a massive European expansion in all corners of the globe, that the world of the Indian Ocean was a thriving metropolitan scape of diverse nations, tongues, and peoples, that until the 18th century, the Indian merchants dominated trade bound to and from India far more heavily than Europeans, that they had credit and financial mechanisms that extended up to Africa."
    Here's where Garvey's review ends:
    "Yet, over time, [The Black Hole] represented "a fear of strangeness and came to epitomise, through its very name, the savagery of other peoples". And, with the appalling toll taken by the Indian climate, where young men often died within two monsoons of arrival, it vindicated the British presence - a story of solace for grieving relatives in the English shires who saw one son after another sacrificed to the brutal climate of faraway India. The Black Hole explained why we were there; this one small corner of human suffering justified the leap from trade to conquest and ultimately, the creation of the Empire."
    And here's where Farooqui's review begins:
    "British Imperial mythology on the other hand, when you begin to probe it, is often less about glorious victories than accounts of defeat and dejection -- think Dunkirk, Khartoum, Kanpur, Black Hole -- which tells us how the most desperate imperial scare could end up, reworked into fiction, historiography and national myth, actually bolstering imperial self-confidence."

    Sorry, long comment! But these reviews, and other articles about The Black Hole, did make me curious about Dalley's book and about Indian accounts. It would be interesting to read these side-by-side.

    By Blogger Nila, at 1:34 AM  

  • Mr.Farooqui may have pursest of the pure intentions while quoting from another review.However, the fact remains that he did not cite the review he was quoting from,nor used appropriate punctuation marks or required style format.In other words like Ben Jonson creating a world record after taking drugs,Mr.Farooqui has been caught.It is for the publisher and the readers who pay to buy their Outlook to take the matter to its logical conclusion.May be good case for consumer courts.

    By Blogger Nearly Man, at 2:07 PM  

  • After some thought, have deleted two comments above. Needless mud-slinging and four-letter words will find no place here.

    By Blogger PrufrockTwo, at 11:01 AM  

  • Farooqui says only one paragraph was plagiarised out of 1,800 words. That is strange. Why is he comparing paragraphs with words? To be more precise, one of 13 paragraphs was copy-pasted from someone else's work, and passed of as one's own, regardless of whether or not it was part of the main argument. Or put it this was: 76 words out of 1,883 words were plagiarised. As for the rest, the evidence is disputed. The extent to which Farroqui borrowed his ideas or words from other reviews, only he can know. For us, it seriously damages the credibility of Mr farroqui, and not least that of Outlook which has not even apologised in the next issue.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:31 PM  

  • Mahmood and I team up for the Dastangoi performances. Well, this has given me an opportunity to interact with him professionally and of course we're friends now. I find him original in his ideas and execution of the same. He is generous, hospitable and has a keen sense of observation.

    I remember we were in Mumbai preparing for our Prithvi performances when Outlook approached him to write this review. We were living off a friend and our schedules were extremely tight. I think this was one of those dumb moments when stressed, fighting a deadline you end up doing something silly. Mahmood has already written in his defence. I think we may just bury this issue here. And I hope and wish he comes up with something spectacular next to bury this controversy forever.

    Also, I think Prufrock has been very gracious in his conduct. That's how gentlemen behave. I wish well to both of you.

    Best regards

    By Blogger Innocent Bullet, at 9:11 AM  

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