It’s fashionable these days to dismiss Chetan Bhagat, as a writer, and a human being.
Screenshots from his latest book ‘One Indian Girl’ (page 56 to be specific) have gone viral, not for good reasons. As my Facebook Timeline informs me, he has been branded as a misogynist for certain portions of the book, he has been pulled up for one line in particular, mind you, he is writing in the first person this time, as a girl. The line goes “This is how we girls are. At times we want to be wanted, even when we deny it.”
Of course, this line hasn’t yet acquired the status of ‘Deti hai toh de, varna kat le’ from ‘Half Girlfriend’ and I suspect it never will, being somewhat lacking in shock value.
I guess this is the part that I let out that I kind of like Chetan Bhagat.
And yes, I loved ‘5 point someone’.
|"Buy the book, watch the movie, see the TV show."|
If you follow his articles in Times of India, (for the moment leave aside the content, let’s just talk about his style) you’ll probably agree that he is to the point, expresses his thoughts clearly, displays a greater vocabulary range and sophistication than what you’ll find in his novels, and arguably – the content is devoid of misogynistic ideas.
Love him or hate him, you definitely can’t ignore Mr. Chetan Bhagat.
As mentioned in the back-cover of his books, he is ‘the biggest – selling English-language novelist in India’s history.’
Take that Arundhati Roy, Arvind Adiga, Amitav Ghosh, Salman Rushdie, Vikram Sheth, and yes, Shobha De, Durjoy Dutta, you too.
So what makes Chetan Bhagat surpass the people listed above? His work definitely lacks the literary merit of the above-listed writers (barring two).
The target audience, for one.
Our friend CB knows what works, and what doesn’t.
He also knows that he can’t be a Vikram Sheth, no matter how much he tries.
But why would he try to be Vikram Sheth in the first place?
He plays to his strengths, and caters to the masses, and yes, he knows What Young India Wants.
Make no mistake, he isn’t entirely lacking in talent or sensibilities, ignore the badly written sex scenes [Again, Page No. 56 from One Indian Girl] or the stalker-type-lead-character in most of his novels.
There are two factors to be considered here.
Firstly, it’s fiction, goddamnit! When a character in his novel expresses his/her disgust for South Indians, or exhibits behaviour that is borderline psychopathic, it isn’t Chetan Bhagat letting off steam, it’s a character in a book. Deal with it.
How ridiculous is it when we play Sigmund Freud and attribute these character traits to him? I can imagine CB (when he is not partying with Bollywood stars, judging reality shows, or for that matter – writing) reading articles and comments disparaging him and shaking his head and thinking to himself: ‘Stephen King doesn’t have to deal with this shit.’
If we judge Chetan Bhagat for the way characters in his books talk and behave, we should also judge Mario Puzo, Martin Scorsese or Quentin Tarantino, right?
Secondly, what Chetan Bhagat writes, probably touches a chord somewhere. He identifies and talks about things people identify with, popular issues - be it with respect to college life, call centre culture, or a desi munda having trouble pataoing a dilliwali.
‘Midnight’s Children’ may be a fine, critically acclaimed book, but all I know is that I couldn’t go past page ten, my head hurt from the author’s obsession in describing a man’s nose.
I remember reading ‘Five Point Someone’ in the first year of my college, and I identified with a lot of the portions, the ragging, the GPA references, some of the other bits.
As far as my views were concerned, it was a funny, contemporary take on campus life penned by an insider, someone who had gone through the struggles, and managed to write an immensely readable book about it.
Mind you, contrary to popular perception about his readers, I was not a beginner to reading English novels at that point of time.
Think about it, with all of us busy dissing him and his writing, who are the ones reading his work?
For that matter, how are we able to criticise his novels without reading them in the first place?
I suspect it’s not just the tier II, tier III townies who are reading CB books, and I am pretty much sure that the appeal of his books is not restricted to people who are just ‘graduating’ from vernacular languages to English.
Well if not you in particular, your son/daughter/ neighbour/neighbour’s wife who’s secretly having an affair with your son, etc.
I call it the Twilight effect.
Everyone you know seems to despise it, yet millions of copies have been sold and the movie series has made billions.
Chetan Bhagat is unashamedly masala. He is the roadside paanipuri wala (for example’s sake). You have doubts about the hygiene, but you visit him nevertheless, albeit slyly.
People are reading Chetan Bhagat books, watching movies based on them, and they will continue to do so, there’s a market for it, and that market is growing, because there are INDEED people from Tier II/ Tier III cities as well who are reading his work, and of course those who are graduating to angrezi books.
And as stats show, they are loving him.
Cringe, when you read an article about Chetan Bhagat waxing his legs as a part of his research on the female psyche.
Cringe, when you read lines like ‘This is how we girls are. At times we want to be wanted, even when we deny it’.
But, at the end of it all, padhna hai toh padh, nahin toh kat le.
Image from here.