There is one Indian author whom I have been following very closely for anything except his writing. The man is not confined to writing bestsellers alone- he is a reputed columnist who writes very insightful articles on any niche,a screenplay writer for some of the highest box-office-grossing movies in Bollywood ( Hollywood,you have missed out a great talent…) whom The New York Times identified as ” the biggest selling English language novelist in India’s history” in 2008. Perhaps,that might be true – but are his works really noteworthy? If you are not familiar with Indian writing,I ‘ll tell it straight-Chetan Bhagat.
First Point Someone was really good for a debut novel-the narrative style, the rib-tickling wry humor (courtesy Ryan) were instant hit with the audience ( particularly the youth) and Chetan Bhagat became a voice of the youth and most importantly, for the youth .Most importantly,it portrayed the failings in the Indian Education System that was prevalent even in the premier institutes of the nation like IIT. Being an alumnus of one such institutions,the narrative voiced the disappointment which he probably felt during his Under Grad years and he did it in a very entertaining way with his prime characters-Alok Gupta and Hari Kumar when Hari says “ So, we’re not just five-point somethings anymore, we are five point somebodies. ” when they manage to get a job finally.
So,when 2 States came out,this time Chetan Bhagat’s strategy became very apparent. I should say that he is a man who should know very well that ” Successful people do not necessarily do extraordinary things-they do ordinary things in an extraordinary way”. When you tell a regular campus love story with all drama in Bollywood style with all the drama thrown in with a happily-ever-after ending, the masala factor became the crowd puller rather than the writing. Yeah, it was a fun read again only for his tongue-in-cheek narrative and humor. But, I had learnt to not expect much and had designated Chetan’s books for a light read during 6 hour train journeys.
When a picked up my last Chetan Bhagat novel, I remember thinking about The Three Mistakes Of my Life after finishing it
- Picking up a Chetan Bhagat book again
- Sitting through a plot-line that does not resonate with the political climate ( set in Gujarat during the earthquake and later communal riots in 2002 ). If at all anything,I was mentally making note of n number things that went wrong that were too jarring.Let’s say I became a better reader and ever better at picking up books
- Still giving a place for Chetan Bhagat’s books in my bookshelf- Five Point Someone can stay.The others are going to the second hand book-dealer very soon.
He became a pioneer of a new kind of storytelling. Several other motivated Indian youth joined the bandwagon of this breed of storytellers who believed that stories need everything else-the masala factor, very creative and intriguing names like this one( Of course I love you..!Till I Find SomeOne Better, Now That You’re Rich Lets Fall in Love– this guy can give starters tips on how he comes up with such titles that gets the reader hooked even before he/she take a read at the plot summary) , a narrative that borders more on the type of fantasy genre with the most improbable locations and situations) .
When finally One Indian Girl came out,Chetan Bhagat marketed it aggressively on social media.But,when the book became epic disaster( finally, the average Indian had learnt to choose better as Chetan Bhagat was touted to be the one who made them read English books…Duh!! ). Have a look as the Indian twitterati trolled him and its too spot on and hilarious to miss out. Click on this link- Just for laughs
When people become staunch advocates for these writers saying that they made the average Indian to pick up English books,I have only one thing to say to them-
Indians’ contribution to the English literature did not start with Chetan Bhagat or the others. It started way back during the independence struggle only with Rabindranath Tagore, R.K.Narayan. For a better idea, have a look at this Wikipedia article. I am planning to check out one or two myself.
I should say that Chetan Bhagat was working all the while for making his entry into Bollywood as a screenplay writer. I can say whole-heartedly that he fits the bill for a screenplay writer better.If his books were dishing out only What Young India Wants ,the movie adaptations of each of his books tapped into that talent more. And his works do not count as any contribution to English literature.These books can be seen as some recent contributions to the English literature
A Train To Pakistan-Khushwant Singh(I know this is not a recent one but I loved this book )
The God Of Small Things-Arundhathi Roy
The White Tiger-Arvind Adiga
Ibis trilogy-Amitav Ghosh
The Inheritance of Loss-Kiran Desai
Midnight’s Children-Salman Rushdie(still in my TBR list)
So,that brings up another question -if the book is not in English, does it’s literary value diminish? Will that book not gain widespread recognition that generally comes with English? The answer is a straight NO. Have a look at the list below –
The Millennium trilogy(Swedish) – Stieg Larsson
The Alchemist (and every other title by the same author in Portuguese) – Paulo Coelho
The Dinner (Dutch) – Herman Koch.
For more click here.The more I google,the more number of whole new lists keep coming up.
When it comes to India, there are several languages and only very few epic works have got the privilege of reaching a wider audience (especially the regional works capturing the society and the political scenario in the background during the independence movements) . Sometimes, translation would prove to be a lesser substitute as the dialect of the regional language which gives the distinct style cannot be captured in a foreign language. For Indian readers check out this link for some must-read translations.
When I was reading Michael’s post, the words “A scorpion’s gotta sting, a writer’s gotta write.” brought Chetan Bhagat instantly to my mind and this post.Thanks Michael for giving me a title for the post. If I might add, write something worthwhile first . Probably he should have a paper with these words pasted just above his writing desk. He might be an alumnus of IIM-A but now you are a writer, you should know better that all the marketing gimmicks would not help if your story relies heavily on everything else except a good plot-line. He had done it previously and gotten away with it but this time, his marketing backfired in an epic way.
Lastly, to quote the man himself –“ I think half the trees in the world are felled to make up the IIT entrance exam guides. Most of them are crap ” Just substitute IIT entrance exam guides for Chetan’s books. Just can’t resist taking a parting shot 🙂