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Opal passes the pavement test
- Plagiarism gives a push to sales of pirated copies of Kaavya’s novel

Mumbai, May 14: Kaavya Viswanathan got caught, got pulled off distribution, got pirated and sold very well.

If the final test of a bestseller is the pavement, then How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life is right there. Mumbai’s pavements are paved with pirated copies of the book; so are Bangalore’s.

“It should be the same in Delhi,” said Thomas Abraham, who heads Penguin India, the distributors of the book in India. Abraham, who is based in the capital, was out of town.

While the debate rages on about what is more criminal ' plagiarism, or the act of paying an 18-year-old half-a-million dollars for an exercise in mediocrity ' it seems any controversy is good, as far as the book’s sale is concerned.

In Mumbai, at the Pedder Road traffic signal, Opal Mehta is the first book that the young boys who peddle pirated books shove into the hands of a prospective customer inside his car.

A copy of the book ' photocopied from the original ' is selling for between Rs 200 and Rs 100, depending on the customer’s bargaining skills.

Viswanathan’s book shares pride of place with Mumbai’s other current bestsellers: Amartya Sen’s The Argumentative Indian, Suketu Mehta’s Maximum City and Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat, along with the perennial self-help books.

On the pavements of Fort and Colaba, the pirated copies are available at a more affordable price ' Rs 50.

Not the black market alone. Opal Mehta, which is on the Amazon bestsellers list, has sold well officially, too.

“In the first week, 8,000 copies of the book were sold (to the stores),” says Abraham. After the controversy, the sales picked up and went up to 15,000. Which is a very respectable number for English fiction in India.

On the day the controversy broke, 3,000 books were ordered.

He said there were orders for 5,000 copies from bookstores when Little, Brown and Co, the publishers, issued the notice for withdrawal of the book.

Penguin India notified the booksellers immediately and is expecting that all the copies will be returned by May 15. But since it was not a “seize sales” notice, some bookstores are still trying to sell the copies. They are not having a very tough time.

The bookstores, too, confirmed how well the book had done. Strand Book Stall, one of Mumbai’s leading book shops, said it was not stocking Opal as it was “banned”. But it had ordered 50 copies of the book and they disappeared within the first week.

The bookstore at Taj Mahal Hotel echoed this. It had ordered 25 copies and they were sold out.

Early this month, Little, Brown issued the notice to withdraw the book after complaints that Kaavya had plagiarised passages from other novels.

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