SpiceJet’s Magazine: A Study in Plagiarism

The August 2009 issue of SpiceRoute, SpiceJet airline’s inflight magazine carries a two page, 938 word article titled “What’s in Your Khomcha?” by Hirak Gautam, on pages 42 & 43. Without further ado, I present to you the entire text of the article, along with excerpts from previous posts on this blog, and commentary. Scanned images of the original pages are available here and here. Enjoy 🙂

It has been 10 minutes on the treadmill and I am already regretting my last seven days of rampage. The whirlwind visit to Delhi’s Khomchawalas with my cousin, who is an aspiring chef, was a real eye opener.

One muggy afternoon we headed straight to the Walled City for what turned out to be a complete gastronomic delight. As I walked weaving through the crowd and dingy streets, it made me understand that Delhi is a potpourri of people, and many of them sell food for a living.

As we eagerly track our friend Hirak in his journey across Delhi’s gastronomic delights, we will follow the convention of quoting him in olive green, with excerpts from the EOiD blog figuring in a navy blue. Don’t ask me why.

Our first stop was the famous Kallu’s Nihari take-out in Jama Masjid, but the shop itself was drowned in a sea of customers. After a waiting period of exactly 10 minutes, what came into view was a small tiled area serving as a place to sit on the floor and eat. Its close proximity to the tandoor forced the people to spread themselves around the shop; be it the doorstep of a neighbouring house, the parapet of a broken wall, or the seats of a parked scooter. The heat and taste had driven both of us in a tizzy and we hardly remember the act of eating the nihari. But what I do remember is the sight of two shiny plates after having mopped spotless with soft, piping hot khameeri rotis. The usual helpings of nihari are for Rs 15, but you can order the larger size for Rs 25. Rotis are for Rs 2 each.

If you happen to do a Google search for “Kallu nihari”, it so happens that the EOiD blog post I wrote on September 2, 2007 comes up as the top hit. I would hazard this is how Hirak first chanced upon our little blog. Here are some relevant excerpts from that post:

… even before we could see the shop itself, a reassuring throng of customers came into view. I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but Kallu’s shop is even more modest than Haji Noora’s in Bara Hindu Rao, with just a small tiled area serving as a place to sit on the floor and eat. Its proximity to the tandoor means that in this weather, sitting inside the shop makes Dante’s Inferno sound like a nursery rhyme. Consequently, most people prefer to find a spot outside, be it the doorstep of a neighbouring house, the window ledge on an unsuspecting wall, or the seats of a parked scooter… Despite my induced gustatory amnesia of the whole event, I am certain the nihari must have been good, because in minutes both Vinayan and I had used the soft, piping hot khameeri rotis to mop up our extra-large plates of nihari to the point of sparkling… Price: The usual helpings of nihari are for Rs. 15, but you can order the larger size for Rs. 25. Rotis are Rs. 2 each.

Apart from the similarity of the text, it is sad that the readers of SpiceRoute will be misled by Hirak’s article on at least two counts: (a) they’d think Kallu’s nihari can be had on a “muggy afternoon”, whereas it’s never actually served before 5pm or so; (b) they would expect prices to be the same as what existed in 2007, when I originally wrote my post.

Be that as it may, let us follow Hirak as he discovers the EOiD post on Daulat ki Chaat, published online by me in October 2006.

Post our nihari tasting session, we moved towards a hidden gem of Delhi street food – Daulat ki chaat. As we both passed by an inconspicuous vendor swarmed with flies and the local cognoscenti, both hovering around a demure white platter perched on a three-legged contraption. I knew better than letting this one pass by. (And before you hygiene freaks turn up your snooty little noses, the platter was well covered with a muslin cloth, so only the cognoscenti and not the flies actually got a taste of the goods.)

The grand preparations begin at 2a.m every day and they insist that their only contribution is to churn some creamy milk and whip up its froth. This whipped froth of milk is set in a large brass pan, and some khoya and finely sliced pista are sprinkled on top. A big spoonful simply vanishes in the mouth, and has a very sophisticated, understated sweet taste to it. Any reasonable person would demand a princely sum for such an ethereal treat. Yet in the by-lanes of Shahjahanabad, a dona of Daulat ki Chaat makes you lighter exactly by 10 bucks.

Allow me to reproduce excerpts from the original EOiD post:

On our expedition for a breakfast of nihari yesterday, Abhik and I chanced upon one of the true hidden gems of Delhi’s street food — Daulat ki chaat.

I’d already been tipped off about this by a Rahul Verma column from some time back, so when Abhik and I passed by an inconspicuous vendor with flies and the local cognoscenti buzzing around a demure white platter perched on a three-legged contraption, I knew better than not to screech to a halt.

(and before you hygiene freaks turn up your snotty little noses, the platter was well covered with a muslin cloth, so only the cognoscenti and not the flies actually got a taste of the goods.)

They start making it at about 2 o’clock at night, and insist that their only contribution is to churn some creamy milk and whip up its froth — the rest is the magic of the winter dew. This whipped froth of milk is set in a large brass pan, and some khoya and finely sliced pista are sprinkled on top. … A spoonful of it just vanishes in the mouth, and has a very sophisticated, understated sweet taste to it.

Any reasonable person would demand a princely sum for such an ethereal treat. Yet in the by-lanes of Shahjahanabad, a dona of Daulat ki Chaat sets you back by exactly 10 bucks!

Again, not only does Hirak copy and paste directly from my blog post, he also significantly misleads his readers in two respects: (a) his chronology makes the reader imagine that it is possible to get Daulat ki Chaat in old Delhi after a nihari-eating session on a “muggy afternoon”, whereas in reality Daulat ki Chaat is available only in the winters, and generally only uptil about noon; (b) the price of Rs. 10 actually dates from 2006, and I am happy to know that the chaat vendors have managed to raise their prices in these last three years in step with overall inflation.

Hirak now goes to his “favourite chaatwaala”, Hira Lal, whom I just happened to have written about in this blog in February 2008:

While chaat was still on the menu, we didn’t want to ignore my favourite chaatwaala in Chawri Bazaar, who always managed to serve us something special.

At night, once the paper traders of Chawri Bazaar have downed their shutters and the throb of commerce has quietened to a murmur, Hira Lal Chaat Waala’s shop stands out with pride. For four generations, people have come here for their choice of snacks – alu chaat, fruit chaat, alu tikkis, and even pao bhaaji.

But hiding amongst the goodies is a charming nugget that is hard to find outside these parts: kulle, or kuliya, as they are fondly called, are made by scooping out one of several vegetables into cup shapes, which are then filled with chick peas, pomegranate seeds, various tangy spices and a dash of lemon.

Here are parts of the original EOiD blog post:

… That’s when he’d dragged us to his favourite chaatwaala in Chawri Bazaar to show us something quite special.

In the night, once the paper traders of Chawri Bazaar have downed their shutters and the throb of commerce has quietened to a murmur, Hira Lal Chaat Waale’s shop stands out like a beacon by a darkening sea. … For four generations, people have come here for their choice snack — alu chaat, fruit chaat, alu tikkis, and even pao bhaaji.

But hiding amongst the goodies is a charming nugget that is hard to find outside these parts: kulle, or kuliya, as they are often fondly called, are made by scooping out one of several vegetables into cup shapes, which are then filled with chick peas, pomegranate seeds, various tangy spices and a dash of lemon.

The next paragraph Harik can proudly claim as his original:

On our way back, we wondered at the wide diversity of cuisine, Delhi streets have to offer. The latest craze of the town, steamed momos, vegetarian and non-vegetarian (it can carry anything) and the accompanying hot red chutney, can beat even the Moroccan harisa. You can find it anywhere and everywhere, turning all ambitious Tibetans into entrepreneurs.

He isn’t quite done yet, because his “Bengali sweet tooth” has led him directly to the recent EOiD post on Kuremal’s Kulfis:

Though we manage to abstain from the street version of the original dim-sums, the Bengali sweet tooth led us to a place called Kuremal’s Kulfi.

And the novel discovery I made there happened purely by chance. ‘Stuffed Kulfi’’ – a variation that comes in the fruity flavours of orange and mango. The stuffed mango kulfi is made by taking out the mango stone and most of the flesh and fillling it with rabri, or plain kulfi mix. When frozen, the skin is peeled away and the ice sliced to give a fabulous combination of rabri and frozen mango flesh.

Pamela Timms, an EOiD member and avid foodie, writes a wonderful blog of her own. She originally wrote a piece on Kuremal’s for her blog in April this year, but since several of her foodie adventures are with the EOiD gang, she is kind enough to allow me to republish some articles on this blog. Here are the matching excerpts from her post, which we published on April 26, 2009:

I’ve recently discovered the ‘Stuffed Kulfi’ — the orange and mango are particularly delicious. The stuffed mango kulfi is made by taking out the mango stone and most of the flesh and filling it with rabri, or plain kulfi mix. When frozen, the skin is peeled away and the ice sliced to give a fabulous combination of rabri and frozen mango flesh.

Meanwhile, Hirak bravely soldiers on:

After exploring almost all the lanes and bylanes of the Walled City, we headed to relax in an al fresco lounge. Sitting and watching people dunk pieces of pita into hummus and babaghanoush had me immediately thinking of characteristically bland chickpeas, the main ingredient in hummus. And of the earthy flavour that our streets infuse in those very same grains of of gram, turning them into deliciously delightful Choley Bhaturey.

Indeed. What disturbs me most is that a few hours in front of the computer screen reading the EOiD blog can give Hirak the heady feeling of having “explored almost all the lanes and bylanes of the Walled City”, when after three years of tramping those parts, I am acutely aware of having seen only a fraction of that labyrinthian wonderland.

Nonetheless, his writing makes for tantalizing reading – an “al fresco lounge” with hummus and babaghanoush is mentioned, but never named. On my first read, I had credited this para to Hirak’s own creativity, until I carefully read another post by Pamela on our blog. Some of the introductory lines of her post on Sitaram Dewan Chand’s Chhole Bhature go like this:

… chick peas? Synonymous with hairy hippies in bedsits and tubs of slimy supermarket hummous? Then came Chana Bhatura and I discovered I could actively crave something involving chick peas.

Aha! There you go — Hummus! And to wit, no mention of a place to eat it!

Having set the stage Hirak now delves whole-heartedly into Chhole Bhaturey:

The next morning, still hung over from our previous day’s food cocktail, we decided to see the other parts of Delhi. We also decided to visit the most popular joints of all time like the Evergreen in Green Park and Nathu in Bengali Market with their maginificent balloon-sized puffed-up bhatura. In my early days the accompanying chana was just a sloppy, sludge-coloured distraction. I used to dip the bread but I’m ashamed to admit the chick peas often went back to the kitchen barely touched, however, not any more. Eateries like Sita Ram Dewan Chand in Paharganj offers ‘unlimited chana’ and can be termed as one of Delhi’s finest street food joints.

And here is what Pamela had written in that post on Sitaram Dewan Chand:

… I admit what first attracted me to this dish, in places like Evergreen in Green Park and Nathus in Bengali Market, were the magnificent balloon-sized puffed-up bhatura. In the early days the accompanying chana was just a sloppy, sludge-coloured distraction. I used to dip the bread but I’m ashamed to admit the chick peas often went back to the kitchen barely touched… I’m now more likely to eat at the kind of joint that offers ‘unlimited chana’. Like Sita Ram Dewan Chand in Paharganj, where Hemanshu and I headed last week in the latest leg of our mission to persuade Delhi’s finest street food joints to part with their secret family recipes.

Hirak now conscientiously writes his own conclusion to the article:

The journey went on to find those nooks and corner of our very own Dilli and now I am 40minutes up on the treadmill, already waiting for another such gastronomic journey soon.

Bravo! I must admit this blog has been languishing for I have been far too busy with other work. The image of Hirak, waiting impatiently for material for his next virtual “gastronomic journey”, is just what I needed to get back to writing. For that Hirak, and for being such a sincere flatterer, I thank you.

61 Replies to “SpiceJet’s Magazine: A Study in Plagiarism”

  1. I actually read this two days on a flight from Mumbai to Bangalore. This is the first thing that occurred to me as well. Its just so much easier to do just do a paraphrase rather than write form the original. It is a shame … if nothing else, these guys should have at least cited eoid as place to get not just the opinion of another author, but also of readers who have tried the place out …

  2. I have emailed Spice Jet and demanded an apology on your behalf. The magazine, though, is produced by Live Ink or Ink Live… they should be alerted as well.

    Poor Hirak Gautam is about to get busted…

  3. Hemanshu, both Hirak and I are in agreement, you are a terrific writer. I hope this does bring on more writing from you.

    BTW, stay turned for a entry on my blog about where to get amazing kulche in Prashant Vihar…

  4. Absolutely shameless…there is so much plagiarism going on now, it’s difficult to catch it. But this is obnoxious.Tough luck Hirak…your game is up;get your own style mate.
    On another note…I love your style of writing Himanshu. Fun and expressive!

  5. “The grand preparations begin at 2 a.m. everyday”.
    According to Hirak Gautam, 2 a.m. occurs during daytime. No wonder he claims to have eaten Daulat ki Chaat after having Kallu’s nihari!
    Seriously, this is a new low in the world of plagiarism. EOiD blogs have been plagiarised before, but here is someone trying to appropriate several years of hard work by our members, and forget an acknowledgement, he does not even bother to go and check out these places once. Or for that matter, even take some time and read the EOiD blog posts carefully – after all how dumb one must be, so as to read the blog, copy paste from it, and still continue to believe that he can have daulat ki chaat after kallu’s nihari?

  6. We just received our first response from the author himself. Hirak Gautam has set up a brand new twitter account (HirakG), and sent this conciliatory tweet:

    “@hemanshukumar Hey! Didn’t mean to plagiarize. Ws rning on a ddline n jst usd ur blg as a bkgrnd rscrch material. Sry if I offended u.Peace!”

    Wait. I really need to check the dictionary for “background research material”.

    This is truly priceless.

  7. Journalists work on a TRUST. This guy broke the very trust. He is some chef in a Delhi hotel and free lances for magazines. I guess, he should say goodbye to any more work for magazines.

  8. It seems Mr.Harik thought since the mag is meant to be read up in the sky, earthly laws and ethics don’t count.

    On a serious note, I hope you are doing something about it, this specie of shameless unethical people shouldn’t be allowed to breed, send them a legal notice take a stern action. The blogger’s community is here in your support.

  9. I’ve loved this blog for, well, forever, and I hope that you get at least an apology from the publisher. This was really shameless, and the apology, well, simply hilarious. The silliest thing is that he plagiarises so many entries – he’s too lazy to do hands on work and he’s too lazy to even scam from different sources! Priceless really.

  10. Dear All,
    This has reference to the article on ‘What’s in my Khomcha’(Spiceroute, August 2009) . Thank you for bringing the matter to our notice. I offer our sincere apologies to all who we have offended inadvertently.
    The article was contributed by a freelance writer, who is a chef with a hotel in Delhi. We are in touch with him and we assure you that strict action will be taken on this issue. If you have any queries please write to me at prakash@maxposure.in (Publisher Maxposure Media Group). SpiceJet does not control editorial content in Spiceroute magazine and Maxposure Media Group is the publisher.
    Regards
    Prakash Johari

  11. Ramesh Shah’s post takes the cake – “I agree, It may be irresponsible to blame the airline or the magazine for a bad journalist’s work.” This is amazing that you concede that some guy is a crook. who without necessary credentials was picked to do a job, and those who are responsible for outcome have no responsibility. For the first time I am hearing that it is ‘irresponsible’ to blame a publisher for the content of what they have published!

  12. Appreciate Prakash’s candour in his post – full marks for that. I guess trust is the norm when it comes to handling writers and when you are dealing with a chef from a senior hotel, you’d expect him to get his food fundas right!
    I’ve flown SpiceJet often and read their magazine and I do think this is a one-off. Benefit of doubt is merited certainly, but I’d really like to follow through and figure what ‘strict action’ Maxposure took.

  13. Wow…. just to vilify one’s character, give him a pink slip, make an attack at journalism etc… because he took it as a “background research material 😉 “… I am not supporting Hirak… but did Himanshu credit the pan wallahs , chai wallahs, chat wallahs etc… who helped create the name for Himanshu… If they were not authentic, there would be no such article and if there was no such article, there would be no Himanshus or Hiraks… the list is never ending

    and just spiritually, philosophically speaking, call me crazy, the real credit goes, not to Himanshus and Hiraks, but to the creator of this world, for everything that has been bestowed on us…

  14. @Sriram: Apparently you’re not a regular reader or else you’ll know that Hemanshu (with an E) and Pamela name the places they’re eating at. Usually in a food review, that’s considered credit, isn’t it?

    p.s. I also suggest you take your proselytising elsewhere.

  15. Oh I missed this tweet from Hirak Gautam:

    “@hemanshukumar D similarity in article has nothng to do wd spice jet. Am a freelancer for Maxposure. So apologies!”

    Looks like Maxposure found MaxPoseur! 😀

  16. @Hemanshu Looks like he’s being pressurised to absolve SpiceJet of any responsibility. Even Prakash Johari’s reply here seems to indicate that’s what’s happening.

    I’m assuming by trying to shift the blame to the writer, they’re trying to absolve themselves of any responsibility in the matter.

    If SpiceJet has no editorial control over the mag, why does the CEO write the Editorial on the first page?

    I’d say responsibility lies with Hirak for plagiarising, with Maxposure for having shit editors that don’t seem to check on their writers well enough and with SpiceJet for hiring Maxposure.

  17. I agree with Ashwan – it is very much a responsibility of SpiceJet to see what is going in that article! not just maxposure- exposure publisher. How can a publishing company let a stolen article get in! Mind you, airline mags pay a much higher price than mere tabloids.

    All 3 parties – spice jet, publishing company and Hirak G are party to this offence and definitely should bear the brunt together.

  18. You know what, knowing this airline and atleast some of its friendly staff, I feel sorry that the miserable Hirak has earned so much bad rep for them.

    I’ve worked as an editor too and genuine content is the bane of every publication with a deadline!! The system works entirely on trust and the rep of the writer. A faux paus like this is bound to happen in such a scenario, especially with part time writers.

    Wonder if the IT savvy folks on this blog have a tool for editors to run a plag check on articles submitted. I’ve heard that such tools are employed in universities overseas for checking theses.

  19. What blatant plagiarism! I half expected the TOI group to be behind this…
    Good that you brought it to everyone’s notice for obviously Hirak didn’t really think he would be found out. Deadline-excuse?! He is quite shameless! But, he didn’t mean to offend…

  20. @Shreya: A mark of a good editor is the ability to notice 3 shifts in writing styles. That should immediately raise a red flag.

    As for tools, the moment you have this red flag up (or even if you don’t) Google is your friend! Just try searching for 4-5 phrases from across the article on Google (or Yahoo! or Bing if you prefer) and any plagiarism is bound to rise to the top.

  21. Shreya, I’m afraid in this day and age, I cannot condone an editor who is unwilling to do basic Google searches. Forget turn of phrase or style or sentence, my blog is the top hit on Google for everything from “Kallu nihari” to “Daulat ki Chaat” to “kulle chawri bazaar”. There is no reason even the slightest effort at checking this piece for authenticity should not have uncovered Hirak’s plagiarism.

    Allow me also to be very blunt and express my disappointment at your own willingness to search google; I hope it does not reflect on your thoroughness as an editor. You ask here about online tools to help detect plagiarism, yet a basic google search for “plagiarism tool” yields tens of results, including “turnitin.com”, which is what my university back in the States used to use.

  22. Spice Jet is legally responsible for distribution of material that violated copyright, so obviously they cannot be absolved of their responsibility. Doing so would imply that, say, vendors of pirated softwares at Nehru Place or pirated DVDs at Palika Bazar are also not guilty, since they did not produce the material that violated copyrights. If these vendors are routinely rounded up, the law cannot take a different course for Spice Jet!

  23. “and just spiritually, philosophically speaking, call me crazy, the real credit goes, not to Himanshus and Hiraks, but to the creator of this world, for everything that has been bestowed on us…”

    I agree. And whenever I get paid for my writing, I throw it all up towards the Heavens. Whatever god wants, he keeps.

  24. God! Hemanshu (With a E) (a spelling mistake in a writer’s name) you really have a lot wella time…….I started reading this blog that it may be interesting but it seems the main agenda is commercial and not expression. Shitty Blog………

  25. Wow! Guys, can we please not encourage such profit driven activities. Blogs are for free expressions and not to be used for commericial reasons or personal for that matter. People should come directly to a blog instead of mass-emails. That now becomes for-profit. Not cool guys. I hope that all the comments are not in-house generated (few guys sitting in same room and writing comments). GREAT JOB HEMANSHU.

  26. @Himanshu Sharma, Rohit Sharma – A quick look at the blog would show absence of any advertising, so it certainly isnt as blatantly commercial as you suggest. A quick search on EOID would throw some light on the group and its members, along with Hemanshu’s profession where he certainly doesnt ’employ’ people. Above all, unlike you guys, many of those have posted their comments leave a link to their blogs/profiles and you wouldn’t need much effort to realise they come from various professions and different countries – Hemanshu would need to be owning a mutlination giant to have such a diversity – well, then why will he need some cheap blog publicity ?:-)

  27. 1. A website needs certain hits to get advertising at the first place.
    2. To increase hits, you mass-email (Spamming) to get people to visit.
    3. You may think these people are from all over the world but may be sitting in some creepy place where HEMANSHU lives or has little office in.

    You seem to know a lot about Hemanshu, are you the same person with a different name or an employee with similar targets

  28. Roshini figured your master plan, Hemanshu! Step 1: Start an eating group and a blog in 2006. Step 2: Wait three years for some jerk to come and steal your content. Step 3: Profit!

  29. It might be of interest to those who are following this thread that “Roshini Vadera”, “Himanshu Sharma”, “Rohit Sharma” and “Shekhar Virmani” are all posting from the exact same IP address: 122.162.114.183.

    Please ignore trolls. This thread will [continue to] be moderated for trolling.

  30. Update:

    I have heard from Prakash Johari of Maxposure, the company that has been printing and publishing SpiceJet’s magazine starting with the current August 2009 issue.

    I got four tweets yesterday:

    “@hemanshukumar V hv ensured dt d writer wl nt wrt 4 Maxposure agn n hv infmrd odr vulnerable publications as wl.”

    “@hemanshukumar V hv also tkn action2 scan al artcls 4 spam usng anti plagiarism software.”

    “@hemanshukumar V also sympathize with parties involved as d frayed tempers were natural, given d sensitivity of d issue”

    “@hemanshukumar As a lesson learnt, we appreciate your support and look forward to further suggestions and recommendations.”

    Since these were from a newly created twitter account (prakashjohari), I wasn’t sure they were actually his. So I emailed him, and I got this response:

    “Dear Himanshu

    They are sent from me to address the current situation. We condemn plagiarism as much as you do and thanks for identifying this. It really helped us else we would have been paying a lot of money to a unethical chef from a five star for work which is not his own.

    Appreciate it.

    Anyway, drop by our office, when you are around in CP, we are always looking for contributors on food in one or the other magazines of the group.

    Regards

    Prakash”

  31. Hi Ashwan, HEmanshu :),

    This blog was a pretty interesting read… I am not a foodie (if there is such a word), but it was very interesting. It took 3 days, back and forth on this blog. Nice work guys, hopefully you get compensated (however, I would still like to say not to rely on credits and compensation since it can generate opinions about this work)
    But, please remove my previous comments as I feel they were out of place….

    Thanks.
    Have a great day !
    Sriram

  32. Dont worry Sir,it means u are the best coz copy best ki hi karte hain nd aftr sum time us NIKAMME ki jagah aap ke articale print homge.U hav really done a vry gud job.wish u awl the best

  33. Dear Himanshu,

    I am with you on this — it’s an issue that needs to be taken on headlong. I have faced this for years. People have taken my columns and sometimes not even bothered to rehash them, but just plagiarised the lot. I don’t mind sharing information — I like it, in fact — but one has to give due credit to the author. So lagge raho! By the way, I have managed to revive my blog. So keep an eye on it.

    Cheers,

    Rahul

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