When a Delhi audience listened last week to Shah Rukh Khan describing how he had risen above poverty and hardship, few realised he was borrowing his lines from someone just as famous: Harry Potter author JK Rowling.
Bangalore-based social media consultant Agratha Dinakaran has reported in her blog (mercurialpurple.blogspot.com) that parts of SRK’s speech seem lifted from Rowling’s 2008 address at Harvard — and it’s set off a buzz.
In her address, ‘The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination’, Rowling had said, “I quite agree with them (her parents) that it (poverty) is not an ennobling experience. Poverty entails fear, and stress, and sometimes depression; it means a thousand petty humiliations and hardships.”
In his speech at the National Management Convention organised by the All India Management Association (Aima), SRK said, “Let me tell you, poverty is not an ennobling experience at all. Poverty entails fear and stress and sometimes, depression. I've seen my parents go through it many times — it means a thousand petty humiliations and hardships.”
Interestingly, SRK had delivered a similar speech at Yale in April 2012.
Khan denied plagiarising the speech. He said he’d given an identical address to the Young Presidents Organisation (YPO) “six years ago” and that he had intended to “recycle” it for the Aima audience. His personal copy of the speech contained references to Rowling that “are not there in the TV speech", Khan claimed, adding: “The lines are so famous, it would be silly to think they are not known really.”
Rowling's original speech was given five years ago — a year after Khan said he had first quoted it and it is not clear how the actor could have made a speech to the YPO crediting her for lines she had not yet uttered.
AIMA did not comment. We sent a mail to Rowling’s agent but did not get a reply.
Our reporter, who was present at the Aima convention and has a recording of the 11-minute speech, informs us that at the beginning of his speech, SRK said: “Let me warn you, it is a recycled speech. Whenever I am called to speak at YPO and such organisations, I use this speech. It is simple. It is generic.”
In her address, Rowling had also said, “Happiness lies in knowing that life is not a check-list of acquisition or achievement. Your qualifications, your CV, are not your life, though you will meet many people of my age and older who confuse the two. Life is difficult, and complicated, and beyond anyone’s total control, and the humility to know that will enable you to survive its vicissitudes.”
SRK’s lines: “But I’d like to tell you all that life is not just a checklist of acquisitions, attainments and fulfilments. Your qualifications and CVs don’t matter, your jobs don’t matter. Instead, life is difficult and complicated and beyond your control, and to know that with humility, respecting your failures will help you survive its vicissitudes.”
When we asked Dinakaran, 24, how she stumbled upon the similarities, she told us, “A lot of people on my Facebook friend list shared this (SRK’s) speech, and while I was reading it, I felt it was really nice, but towards the second page I felt it had a vague similarity to something I had read before. When I came to the third page and read the line, ‘the humility to know that will enable you to survive its vicissitudes…’, I knew it was taken from Rowling’s speech because vicissitudes is a very Rowling thing to say.”
Her grudge is less with the using of Rowling’s phrases and more with the lack of attribution. “We quote people in speeches all the time. Why couldn’t he have attributed it to Rowling?” she said.