I detest anyone who takes credit for my ideas and work. In India, it was very common. There weren’t any consequences for idea-stealers. Whereas in America copying something without permission and acknowledgment falls under plagiarization.
Growing up, my mother would take my thoughts and make them her own. At that time, I didn’t see it as stealing, I was just happy that an adult was verbalizing my thoughts.
My younger sister would take my drawings and class-posters and submit them as her own in high-school. My parents had a simple explanation. Me–the dumb one—was helping my sister so she doesn’t have to spend her precious time on useless things like art, so she could get the highest grades in school. She got the highest grades; I received the lowest grades.
My idea-stealers were most active in architecture school. Every week for every class, we presented our designs for critique. We went in alphabetical order of our last name. Fifteen students were critiqued on the first week; the remaining fifteen presented next week. It was a biased system, as the second half of the class got an extra week to work on their projects.
I was always the second person to present. My classmate, let’s call him M, would take the interesting elements of others and my designs and copied them into his design. M plagiarized every project for five years. We would taunt him; the professors would snigger at him, but M continued to steal others ideas and make them his own without any consequences. Four years ago from Facebook, I find that M is a practicing architect. Nowadays, he must be copying designs from architecture magazines and brochures.
Then there was A, who sat behind me in exams. For five years, he copied my designs in the final exams. Today, this copycat is practicing in South of India.
My biggest blow came at my first job at Premnath & Associates in Bombay. There I met my four-year senior from architecture school. She would take my ideas and present them as her own. When I rebelled, she made my life miserable. As I write this, I am tempted to her nasty messages via Facebook.
I thought that once I moved to other architecture firms, I would get rid of such cheaters. But India was full of copycats. For the next decade, in every architecture firm, every senior would take my designs and make them their own. I won two architecture design competitions, but my boss got the credit and applauds. I didn’t even get a bonus. If I had complained, I could have been fired. That was the way of things in India. There was nothing I could do about those cheats.
Twelve years ago, during my grad school in Texas, I learned that in the American education system there was an Honor code and that plagiarism was a crime. It was a relief which lasted only a few days. One of my classmates–a Texan, who was a kind friend, and who was the greatest ass-kisser of the department chair–would simply copy my answers and designs. This went on for three years. I was an international student on a student visa. I didn’t share this with anyone as I was afraid that if I complained, I would get in trouble. Snitches never go free, do they? Of course, today on reflection, I wish I had said something. But today I am wiser and stronger and understand that America is not as corrupt as India.
Over the years, none of my coworkers tried to make their ideas mine. I find that people in the US are pretty cautious of plagiarization. But then you still have Indians in America.
Four years back, I took an evening Perspective Drawing Class at the local community college. I met an Indian woman. She was of my age and was also an architect from India. She would copy the design elements I had used in my assignment into her next assignment. One day she told me that she wanted to dress like me. (Tales of her are many.) She irritated me more than she angered me. It was difficult to scream at an person who lacked the originality to even dress.
A few days ago, accidentally I came across something that ignited memories of all the past idea-stealers. This newest form of cheating was most bizarre.
It’s outlandishness lies in the cheater’s arrogance. He was one of the volunteer-in-charge of the place where I volunteered. He told that he was managing the organization’s website. That he wants someone to take it over.
I am not a Millennial. I learned technology as and when I needed it. Heck, I started using emails in 2004. For both my websites, I followed WordPress directions, common sense, and a lot of experimentation. So, I raised my hand to manage the organization’s website.
I spend close to thirty hours cleaning, revamping, and updating the website. My redesign was not fancy, but it was a big upgrade. It was a big thrill of achievement.
During a volunteer meeting at the local Panera Bread, the volunteer-in-charge sat next to me, opened his old dusty laptop, elbowed the volunteer on his other side, pointed at the laptop screen displaying the redesigned website and said, “See, I did this . . . isn’t this great.” I was so aghast that I missed to correct him. And within seconds the moment had passed. And anything afterward would have sounded petty. I fumed for weeks. My husband insisted that I let it go.
It was a year since that incident, but I got an emotional rash whenever I interacted with the volunteer-in-charge. Two months back, he informed that he needed help on his personal website. I was surprised that this IT guy, who managed the organization’s website needed my, a non-IT person’s help.
He emailed his problem. I found that he didn’t even know how to add his profile picture. After giving him the solution, I had a roaring laugh. I added him to the ‘liar-idiot’ category and moved on with my life.
Days ago, I mistakenly typed the incomplete URL of the website. The second result displays the liar-idiot’s name, in the LinkedIn site where he mentions that he “*Manage, edit, & publish the Board website www . . .”
I was pissed. My husband questioned why I cared. When I vented to my other volunteer friends, they repeatedly said that they don’t care if they received any credit for their work.
Today I know that for telling the truth, I can’t be fired. And even if I am, it is volunteer work, not a paid position. I am not afraid that someone will throw me out of America if I unveiled a cheater. Worst is that he is not an Indian, so I can’t blame it on the Indian race. I don’t want to confront him because I don’t want a mud-fight.
But I am angry. And I have analyzed myself. It is not that I want to walk in the organization and beat my chest and announce that I have redesigned the website. I don’t want others accolades. I don’t want to earn my living as a website designer. I don’t even want the liar-idiot to acknowledge his plagiarism. Because then I will have to deal with him. I am just surprised that a grown up man with the accomplished body of work, is so insecure in his skills that he needs to take false credit for something as mundane as managing a small volunteer organization’s website.