Since so much is routinely said about Chetan Bhagat and his work, it is unlikely that I will be able to add anything new. Yet the lure of making a comment on the one bonafide publishing phenomenon in India is at times too much, especially on the eve of yet another novel coming out.
The new one is called One Indian Girl and an opening chapter is available on Amazon. The narrator here is one Radhika Mehta, an investment banker about to have an arranged marriage. She makes good money, has an opinion on everything, and has had a couple of boyfriends — she thinks that being a woman, these things make her less likeable to men.
The Indian novelist Amit Chaudhuri made an interesting point in writing about Bhagat’s work in a website called Antiserious, something to the following effect — while Literature remains an imponderable, Bhagat’s contribution in India has been to delineate what it is definitely not. In other words, Bhagat’s work is, if not the quintessence of what may be called Un-Literature, definitely closer to its heart.
Yet there is one thing that Bhagat’s work definitely is, and which is symptomatic, even emblematic, of what could be called aspirational India. True, it doesn’t take any high talent to capture the zeitgeist in broad strokes, but Bhagat has made his job to do that consistently. The titles of his non-fiction books — What Young India Wants, Making India Awesome — tell us, respectively, about his claims to know our desires today, and the road to be taken to fulfill them spectacularly.
One could also argue that the broad strokes in which Bhagat functions are the broad strokes of the zeitgeist. His Radhika in One Indian Girl had an opinion on everything, but not on the fact that her story is titled as it is and not One Indian Woman instead. In this particular novel, where Bhagat’s desire seems to be to softly tackle aspects of feminism, to basically talk about what it is to be an independent woman in India while facing classic questions of matrimony, etc, even in this novel it probably did not enter Bhagat’s mind once that ‘Woman’ was a more appropriate word than ‘Girl’. Yet, it is difficult to be sure if Bhagat is absent-minded here or is marketing mandated he use ‘Girl’ instead of ‘Woman’. Conversely, if a future novel of his is about a man, it is difficult to imagine it being titled ‘One Indian Boy’ instead of ‘One Indian Man’. Bhagat gives us what we take absent-mindedly, and thus Bhagat’s tiny political mishaps are, the argument goes, the mishaps of the zeitgeist.
But considering the marketing force that he is, one fears if the loop is being closed. Are Bhagat’s mistakes and misappropriations feeding back to the culture? The man writes opinion pieces in big newspapers. Is Bhagat still a symptom any more, or is he part of the ailment itself?
(The writer’s first novel ‘Neon Noon’ is now available)