[INDOLOGY] Malhotra and plagiarism

Al Collins nasadasin at gmail.com
Fri Jul 24 21:49:03 UTC 2015

Dear Dr. Zydenbos,

Tricks of memory are not a joke, nor are they fringe psychology. We all,
every day, are subject to the recreation of our memories based in part on
our emotional state, the shifting representation of self that we have
reconstructed at that moment, etc. Malhotra is no different in this.  He
was engaged in writing a number of books simultaneously, while educating
himself in areas of study that take scholars decades to master. It’s
essentially an impossible task, except in the journalistic way that one
interviews experts, reads secondary literature, and tries to frame the work
within larger and broader cultural contexts.  You characterize Malhotra as
a “pamphleteer,” thus assigning him to the lowest rank of journalism, but
still you make my point by understanding that he does not pretend to be a
scholar. Example: John McPhee is not a geologist, yet he managed to write
lucidly about a geologist and his area of study for the New Yorker, within
a period of a couple of years.  With the New Yorker’s fact checkers doing
their job I doubt that he plagiarized, but absent that crucial (and
extremely difficult) function I think he might well have.  And even so,
there are likely to be mistakes that only a geologist would notice.
Malhotra’s task was far larger (apparently he had only himself to check
facts) and I cannot imagine his doing it without misprision of others’
ideas and likely resort to overuse of their words. Clearly his own writings
are filled with errors of fact and interpretation. I gave up writing to him
several years ago because he never seemed able to listen to my criticisms.

You  found an embarrassing  little blurb I wrote four years ago for
Malhotra, at a time when I thought he was doing cultural work similar to my
own: comparing Western individualism and nationalism (a la Liah Greenfeld)
to Indian understandings of an interpenetrating and interactional self (I
was thinking of my own earlier work, available on academia.edu, and Fred
Smith’s analysis of avis and pravis = “possession”).  I got carried away I
see, and the blurb is one-sided in a way that I hope my current posts are
not.  Still, it is rather insulting to suggest, as you do, that my past job
teaching East/West psychology at CIIS makes me financially indebted to
Malhotra, since he has given that institution money! Surely you jest, Dr.
Zydenbos? In fact, I taught there long before the donation and never knew,
prior to the link presented by you, that it had happened at all.

My point, which  I am afraid the tone of your response exemplifies, is that
Malhotra has brought out the “plague” in us.  Malhotra has little respect,
that is true, but I do not sense in your post much respect for me, Koneraad
Elst or—horrors—Malhotra himself.  The Times of India piece presents a
balanced view of this mutual vilification, and is right in suggesting that
some of the comments on the RISA and Indology lists have become intemperate.
I hope I have not been insulting here, and will not be dismissed as another
crank.  What we have in the Malhotra episode is something deeply important
but hardly new, a typical case of cultural cross purposes. In comparing
Malhotra to Aurobindo,  Gandhi, etc., I do not suggest that his
intellectual or spiritual value equals theirs, but only note that they all
belong within a late- or post-colonial cultural scenario where feeling
misunderstood, angry, and combative are not only natural but inevitable.
Even justified, as the lovely lecture by Shashi Tharoor cited a couple of
days ago shows.  I wish that we could equal Tharoor’s lightness of tone,
and agree fully with others here who point to Malhotra as the proximate
author of the ill will that seems to dominate the discussion. On the other
hand, I have to agree with Malhotra that there is a case to be made for
questioning Western categories of understanding India, and suggesting that
they may contain an unconscious or tacit aggression and will to dominate
the Other (let us not forget Nietzsche, wir philologen!). It is a shame
that he has been unable to make the case without low blows or stupid faux
pas that undermine his credibility in the world he is trying to
critique.  Scholars
should not respond on that level either.  As a couple of people have noted,
what is needed here is contextualization of Malhotra’s speech acts within
the post-colonial debate without presumption that this enormously vexed
question has a generally agreed answer that allows us to dismiss Malhotra
and his circle.


Al Collins, Ph.D., Ph.D.

Al Collins, Ph.D., Ph.D., BCN
Clinical and cultural psychologist
615 E. 82nd Ave. #102
Anchorage, AK 99518

On Fri, Jul 24, 2015 at 12:41 PM, Matthew Kapstein <mkapstei at uchicago.edu>

> Bravo to Robert Zydenbos on all counts --
> Finally someone has hit the nail squarely on the head.
> Matthew Kapstein
> Directeur d'études,
> Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes
> Numata Visiting Professor of Buddhist Studies,
> The University of Chicago
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