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Creative Nonfiction

My name is Sayani, and I am not original.

But guess what? Neither are you.

I had a vehement reaction to a bug bite last year, “The Instagram bug”. I loved going to aesthetic places, taking aesthetic pictures, buying expensive home decor to get 100 extra likes on my posts, visiting expensive coffee shops even though I hate coffee. At one point it got so severe that I started looking at places, exploring their beauty and worth before even going there, which took away the fun of exploring because nothing about the places surprised me anymore.

I had done a similar thing before taking a trip to Japan, during Christmas last year. I know that Japan is not the best place to celebrate your Christmas in, nor is that the best time to visit Japan, but I am not the best on timings .

So once, I was scrolling down the profile of a digital content creator and photographer on Instagram, who had recently visited Japan and I came across this one place that was not an usual tourist spot. It was a lovely picture of an alley in the back of the Shinjuku Station in Tokyo called Omoide Yokocho, formerly known as the “piss-alley”. I realized that this place would be a great addition to my Instagram wall.

While I was there, I took multiple shots of that place from various angles, of people sitting on benches outside shops and eating, small alleys barely allowing two people to walk side by side, smoke from all the Yakitori being grilled, fake red leaves hanging from bare trees, lights brightening up the place and people getting drunk on the local wine, Sake. It was concentrated over a very small area, the entry so narrow that it can be easily missed, but it was a whole different world from the big towers, pricey upscale hotels, advanced technology in every corner of the city.

Upon coming back, I uploaded those shots on Instagram. Most of my friends loved them, some told me it reminded them of anime and manga, many commented on them and one also got featured in a photography page with great outreach. It was a pleasant day for me for I had gained a few followers thanks to the feature until I got a DM (direct message), saying “bitch you stole my picture” .

As it turns out, the best picture of mine had a stark similarity to one of the pictures on her wall. Heck, who was I kidding. It was exactly the same except for the filters used by her.

It was not something I had done intentionally, and in all fairness I had seen multiple pictures of the same place before visiting, so maybe I had a particular angle in my subconscious mind based on what I saw previously. She posted a story of my picture, siding it with hers, calling me out for plagiarism. It wasn’t an enormous deal, but it got me thinking.

Can art or even technology for that fact really be patented?

There is a paradox called “Ship of Theseus”. Long story short, it asks a very significant question. There was a famous ship whose wooden parts began to rot, so its rotten parts were replaced with new ones, and over time, every part of that ship was replaced by a new one. So the question arises if restored ship still the same original one or should it be considered as a new object?

On similar lines, I recently came across a Ted talk by Kirby Ferguson where he talks about how new art is nothing but a remix or modification of existing art. He gave examples of songs of Bob Dylan and some other famous bands and singers and compared the tunes,melodies and lyrics to some previously created song by some famous or low-key band or person. Upon asking them about it, they said “maybe I had heard that song in the past, and the tune got stuck in my head which gave me the inspiration”, so on and so forth.

Another example in the same Ted talk was that of Apple patenting features like multi-touch or screen swiping, the idea for which existed previously, they just gave the idea a platform and then patented it.

These examples bring me to my question, “Are we original?”

Everyone values uniqueness. Bosses keep pressurizing their employees to come up with original ideas, content creators on digital platforms are under immense pressure to create new and out of box content to gain popularity and views.

But the question remains, “Is anything truly original?”

If we search for anything on YouTube, be it the recipe to prepare a particular dish or how to fix a broken pipe, you will get multiple suggestions on the same content. Some have the same theme, some have similar content. But does that mean they plagiarize them all from one another just because it’s not original ?

If millions and millions of people go to the same tourist spot every day, would it really be surprising if every single one of them had the same picture somewhere in their possession calling it their own art?

Think of us humans. How often have we heard people say things like ,

“She is so fake.”

“She has no personality.”

“She is such a copycat.”

I myself am guilty of having used these sentences on multiple occasions. But is it really faking? Is it really copying off someone?

In my opinion, we are not new. Whoever we are, whatever we are, our personality is an outcome of the things we have seen, people we’ve met, experiences we have been through that has shaped us to be the people we are today.

It is not necessary that we will always pick up some aspect of an experience or some nature of a person, but we will realize the existence of such an experience or such a nature among people . 

Many times we base the characters or plots that we create in our stories on someone we have seen in our life or something we had felt being around someone or some incident. Even if we are writing off characters from a recent movie or book, it is very much possible that the scriptwriter or author has based them off someone they have a memory of in their lives. It’s a never-ending chain.

If we take a further look in our personality, we will see bits and pieces of people or things that have been a part of our lives, in however slight amount may it be. You can find yourself as compassionate as your mother, or as tough as your father, a gender-stereotypical person like I accidentally was in the last two examples, anxious like your best friend, judgemental like your parents. You can suffer from stage fright based on one incident triggered by people around you, the same incident can also make you the cause of someone else’s stage fright. Do you see the chain of events?

As it was rightfully said in the same Ted talk, we all are okay with “copying off” art, calling it inspiration while we are not okay if someone else is modifying our idea and calling it their own. I mean, isn’t that why not being an “original” person feels so offensive or calling people “fake” sounds hurtful?

My question is, why is it so hard to admit the fact that we as human beings are not original, well at least most of us. We draw, sing, write, act, invent things based on what we see, what we hear, what we feel. It shouldn’t be surprising if more than one person experiences the same feeling. Isn’t that the whole definition of soul mates? Someone whose ideas, views, opinions are like you? Someone who has experienced similar things as you?

And you know the funny part? The idea of this story is not original either. The “inspiration” of this story came from an Instagram post of someone that said,

“If we take a bit from the people we meet in our lives, bit by bit, at what point do we convert from a singular identity to an amalgamation of our environment.”

May 30, 2020 22:11

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1 comment

Ken Coomes
18:11 Jul 03, 2020

I loved this story, Sayani. As one passage in the Bible says, "There is nothing new under the sun." And yet, as you point out, there is newness to be discovered. Maybe if more of us thought "we are not original" there would be more acceptance and less hate. Looking forward to more from you.


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