We meet new books the same way we meet people. Accidentally. On a tangent. Listening to a song on the radio, commenting how beautiful it is, a friend says it’s from a movie. You decide to watch the movie. As the movie is downloading, a generous soul shares some books with you and you see a book by the same name as the movie. A few minutes of Googling later, you are reading the book – forgetting all about the data wasting on the movie download.
That, basically, is how I read “2 States: The Story of My Marriage”.
Since then, I have read 5/7 books authored by Chetan Bhagat. And I see something common in them all: they read like a Bollywood movie – i.e. unrealistic to the point of hilarity but engaging nonetheless, there is absolutely no unique characteristics in the narrators’ voices, the language is trash – but grammatically accurate, and most importantly, they all have this seed of a brilliant idea that gets so abused in the hands of this author that it is tear inducing.
I see why the man is such a hit though. While I have deliberately avoided reading about his personal life and press so that this would be a post based purely on his books, it is apparent why all his books come with the “best seller” tag. The man knows how to turn a movie to a book, giving the bare essentials to keep one engaged. He cares zilch for literary techniques or descriptions or the beauty of language that paints tapestries with each stroke of the pen and invites the reader to immerse him/herself in the wonders of the world created in the mind of a man not unlike the reader. Simple language. Stark humour. Sex scenes that are not really necessary to drive the plot. Usual love story conundrum. We have a best seller.
My main issue with this writer was simple. The reader in me identified seeds of greatness; snippets of ideas that would have made the books ever so interesting and purposeful; a little adjustment in focus that could have made these movies into Aamir Khan escapades instead of Shah Rukh Khan melodramatics. (But we are talking about the Indian market here. SRK sells more. I get it.) So, here’s a list of the books I’ve read and what I feel they could have picked up on.
I liked this book. There was nothing to improve on, in this, to be honest. I loved how there are parallels between the neighbours in terms of inter-cultural marriage. I enjoyed the humour. The plot actually told a story.
It was a tad unrealistic how the conflict was resolved. Speaking through experience, a parent of such nature would not do what they did overnight for the reasons they said they would. That sort of miracles happen only in Bollywood – and unfortunately, life is not like that.
One Night @ the Call Center
Okay. What. There was a beautiful story at the core of this, of the life of people struggling to meet ends by working their life off at call centers; labour exploitation; unfair distribution of wealth; how one has to struggle to make their way in a country that pulsates with talent. Instead, we have a poorly developed love story wrapped in a thin roti of self-depreciation and conformation to stereotyping.
And God. Who not only calls the main characters in the middle of a crisis, but appears in a train carriage that is empty except for CB, and demands that he writes the story. I am sorry, but if CB is who God chose to tell the story, no wonder we are a dying species.
Five point Someone
I had high hopes for this. After watching “3 idiots” and sobbing my heart out, I was nothing short of elated to find out that this is the book that masterpiece of a movie was based on. Book is always better than the movie, right? Well, paint me painstakingly mistaken because the movie was a hundred times better than the book in this case.
Apparently, this was based on CB’s own experiences. I do see the passion, and for a debut novel, it shows potential (which seems to have evapourated over the course of 5 books, sadly). If I had not watched the move first, I might have actually liked this book – for it is the most realistic of the lot. However, I expected the book to talk about the education system that does anything but educate; the illogical pressure on the young minds to dredge through a course that eats away their life and turns them into anti-social creatures who may be book-smart but definitely not street-smart; the deep rooted desire in us to be accepted and respected and the cost of this. Instead, I was lured into thinking this is all that, only to be turned away at the door towards three students who for all the complaints they made, meekly accepted the system and adapted to it. And they do not even regret it. Realistic in the conclusion. Disappointing in that I fail to see the point of this story.
The 3 Mistakes of My Life
Cricket. Politics. Racism. Brilliant seed of a plot, which would have thrived in the hands of another writer. Unrealistic conclusion as usual – very Bollywood-like. This book dangles a carrot of thought and introspection in front of you, and snatches it away to focus on the self-inflicted personal wounds of a character that attempts at being an anti-hero.
If you name a book after something in the book, at least make sure it is the focus of the plot. Once again, a lot of potential – there was room to focus on corruption, attempts to fix the system and the extremely realistic struggle between doing what is right and doing what is beneficial. Instead, we have a poorly developed love triangle with a protagonist who tries too hard to be the villainous hero. I expected this to discuss how having family support/wealth allows one to fight the system but those who have been without would willingly turn a blind eye towards the injustice because they want a better life. I expected it to be a true inspection of the struggles of being human – a portrayal of Achebe’s though in “A Man of the People” – that in countries like ours, people have been out in the rain for too long that those who have found a shelter are not willing to share or come out of it to help those getting wet; that until those in the shelter forget what it was to be cold, this injustice would continue.
Instead, it’s romance. The kind of romance that makes a hero out of a douche, who would loudly proclaim “I am a bad person”, all the while yearning for someone of value (such as Chetan Bhagat, apparently) to tell him he is in fact a nice person. At least, this part was realistic – the need for validation.
I am one of those people who refuse to criticize a book without reading. I kept on reading Bhagat under the hope that there would be salvation. Or he would for once, develop the promising seeds. Oh well.
Dear Mr. Bhagat,
You do not have to write yourself into the epilogue and prologue of every book. We understand that these are work of fiction. Your presence in the books adds nothing to the content. See, it is pretty difficult for an author to write themselves into their own book – the only acceptable and profound use of this I have seen is in Stephen King’s Dark Tower books. The amazing brilliant writer that he is, he still wrote himself with truly humble characteristics that aided the story. Your inclusion in your books sounds like a ploy to convince the reader how amazing you, your books, your IIT degree and your MBA from IIM are. It. Doesn’t. Matter. The universe doesn’t revolve around you, and you really should not feel the need to write up a false explanation on how you got your hands on the story. Let us read. Let us judge.
And IIT is not everything. Your audience is much larger than you imagine. If you look at your protagonists, you’d see that whoever that “made it” did so only after IIT; all your books expound on the necessity of entering one of those top colleges – Gopal, who dared to do otherwise, you made miserable to the point of suicide. It would be nice if you keep in your mind that you have the ability to influence a large number of people. Give them hope. Being from a country where competitive examinations are thought of as the make or break, I know that it is not so. Your country offers many opportunities. Let at least one of your protagonists who did not make it to an engineering college succeed in being “someone”. For the sake of your future generations.