Tuesday, December 13, 2011

On Why Chetan Bhagat is not so bad.

It’s almost funny that in life, there are so many things we want to do but refrain from doing them  for the fear of being judged. Ever since I knew Chetan Bhagat’s new novel was based in Varanasi and Kota, I had wanted to read it. But for a long time, I didn’t for no apparent reason. Or maybe, just because I was too shy of being seen with a lowly piece of literature as Bhagat’s. Finally, though, I did borrow it from a friend and read it. And I must say, it definitely wasn’t half as bad as reviewers with twice as worse a sense of prose than Bhagat, had made it out to be. I was appalled at how loosely verdicts like shabby sentence construction and clumsy grammar had flown around in reviews whose whole purpose, as it seems now, were to denigrate the book. Surely, the prose wasn’t as flowingly fluidic as Marquez’s or sparsely seductive like Kafka’s but then it was nice and tight and definitely served its purpose.

 Well, that brings us to a critical question of the purpose of any kind of writing. And here, I believe, it is important to acknowledge and appreciate the fact that the purpose is essentially very author-specific in a way which is uniquely special to every author. Jim Morrison’s alcohol induced rhapsodic ramblings and Tagore’s lyrical verses cannot be viewed in the same light but that does not, or rather, cannot take away the fact that both  were works of brilliant unadulterated poetry- in their distinctive styles, of course. Chetan Bhagat’s purpose, self admittedly, is not to write great literature but to put across ideas that he believes will make a difference in an entertaining manner.  He is unabashed when he says that his books are meant for commoners, people who want to read simple English without having to refer to a dictionary every two minutes.  As for all the cynics who believe an engineer turned wannabe author will be the last person to bring about a revolution fed on the knowledge of a language, he’s at least honest about what he thinks and as far as I know, revolutions nursed on honesty go further than ones on snooty elitist rhetoric.

Bhagat’s latest has a ridiculously simple story line, which he spices up with the trademark predictable dose of IIT –JEE and some subtle sex. But then, he does it in a manner that is unpretentious. His portrayal of Varanasi is authentic and stems from a genuine affection for the city. Somewhere, in the middle of the narrative, Bhagat takes his lead character to Kota- the portion that had, in the first place, taken me to the book. The Kota sojourn has been done soulfully. For someone who’s been through the grind and can feel the pain of a debacle you could not have done much about, I could connect to the character’s emotions of helpless doom when the fatality of failure in the JEE dawns upon him. At some level, Bhagat, without sounding preachy (to his credit) does toss a few venomous jibes at the Indian Education System and the madness of mindless mugging that the IIT Coaching industry has been reduced to. Again, Bhagat must be given credit for the treatment of the subject- he lets the reader decide what s/he wants to take in from the very honest and matter of factly description of  the coaching industry in Kota. I’ve personally suffered from the two horrific years I had spent at Kota but I also know people who’ve come out of it happy and content. 

Chetan Bhagat, as I’ve pointed out before, is a man with a mission. Yes, he wants his books to sell and make money but he obviously has a greater motive of giving something back to the society and throwing brickbats at him because of that is, well, simply very unfair. On closer inspections, CB’s colossal claims of rejuvenating the art of reading in the Indian context are not so absurd at all. Much as we hate accepting it, a London born highbrow authoress’s expatriate experiences of the Indian Diaspora, however poignant they may be, will never appeal to a first time reader in small town India. S/He would rather read about a life that S/He could at least aspire to have and that is where CB’s purpose is more than achieved.

I know I’m writing this at the risk of being accused of trivializing the beautifully enchanting world of literature, but I do not intend to that. I understand that the way Poe lights up a fire every time I read The Raven, CB does not and, probably, never will. But it’s not about me, it’s way beyond that. It’s about letting a man do what he wants to. It’s about letting the man enjoy his trip. And most importantly, it’s about keeping life simple and finding joy in the simple pleasures of life.

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