Full nonsense – Half Girlfriend

half-girlfriend-review-chetan-bhagat

“My school needing toilet as nobody able to toileting when toilet time coming”

If you thought this was one of the latest Santa-Banta jokes doing the rounds on watsapp, think again. This  instead is a line spoken by Madhav, the hero of Chetan Bhagat’s latest work “Half Girlfriend” as he tries to prepare a speech for, hold your breath, none other than Bill Gates. And this is the state of his spoken English after having graduated from, yes hold your breath again, St Stephen’s college.

For a long time I’ve wondered how Chetan Bhagat managed to become the bestselling author in India. Then recently somewhere I read about him wanting to “make India read” and it all made sense. His books, by his own admission, are not for the classes but for the masses. And in our country if you can produce something- a good, a service, a movie or a book – that caters to the masses, you’ve got a winner on your hands. Who can beat the collective power of the teeming millions? And a book that costs less than a pizza, is written in the manner of spoken English, complete with the Bihari/Bhojpuri touch to it, gives you a glimpse into the hallowed portals of St Stephen’s College (or as pointed in the book “English types call it- Steven’s”) and takes you through a hurried trip of Manhattan, it is bound to be a winner- at least sales number wise.

Before I attract the wrath of the all the torchbearers of “Hindi our mother tongue” bandwagon, let me clarify that I have nothing against Hindi. In fact, this whole mentality of equating English speaking with well educated and cultured as opposed to Hindi speaking with the lower class and uneducated reeks of a colonial mindset just like equating fair skinned with beautiful. Neither am I making a case for High art that caters to the elite as opposed to pop art for the commoner. In today’s world of fusion, this line stands blurred.

My problem with Half Girlfriend, quite to the contrary is that it does nothing to break these stereotypes. Instead, it reinforces them. The protagonist “Myself Madhav Jha”, despite his relentless pursuit of Riya, the rich English speaking Marwari babe fails to convince us of his “love” for her. All that one sees is a boy from the backwaters of Bihar besotted by a girl who seems straight out of a Bollywood movie. Despite Riya making it very clear that she is not interested in Madhav in “that way”, that a no means a no, just does not sink into him. In fact, that he cannot speak English has nothing at all to do with her refusal. She just does not feel that way for him and one can see Riya’s point of view. Instead of a rapid English speaking course that the book contains for free, what Mr Bhagat could have tried to teach the Madhav Jha’s of our country is to learn to accept a girl’s no as a no. Bursting into crass vulgar Hindi when an English-speaking girl refuses to go to bed with you isn’t exactly the best way to bridge the gap between the “English speaking monsters” and those who still introduce themselves as “Myself so and so”.

For all his championing of women’s causes and telling men to respect women, Chetan Bhagat’s protagonist fails to show the same respect towards the heroine. The book rambles on, with all the predictable twists and turns of a Bollywood movie to reach a Karan Johar type denouement in the bars of New York. Only if all “love stories” could start from Dumraon and end in Manhattan! And only if Chetan Bhagat could, for once, have broken the clichés instead of reinforcing them. That however is not to be. As for the whole “English bashing” in the book, all I can say is by way of a quote from the book itself – that English is a “global language” rather than a “foreign language”. It is all very well to be proud of and know your mother tongue. But to do so by belittling the English language or its speakers reeks more of a colonial mindset than learning the language that suits your needs and carrying on.

 

 

Right Here Right Now- Nikita Singh

Right here “Can you find yourself when you don’t remember who you were?” “Can she have a peaceful present and future, without a past? Can she just live in the here and now?” These lines on the back of the book “Right Here Right Now” are what made me pick up the book. A blank mind, tabula rasa; living in the present moment; starting your life afresh with no past to bind you down; a second chance at life- what immense possibilities! Sadly, I realised that the problem is not the book but my expectations from it. I had never heard of the writer and had no idea what to expect. Today when you pick up a Chetan Bhagat book, you are not looking for any literary masterpiece but a just about readable story that for some reason goes onto become a best seller and have a movie based on it. Had I known about the author, I would have had a better idea about what to expect- a teenage love story, which is what it seems the author is best known for. No profound tabula rasas and clean slates please!! The best way to describe it is as a Karan Johar candyfloss romance, say Student of the Year, in print. There is no Barbie land kind of school full of latest brands and styles but yes, there is the cool coterie that is pretty close to the Student of the Year’s richie rich crowd. The protagonist, 17 year old Kalindi Mishra, in fact is a part of this snobbish group that looks down on everyone else, wears colour coordinated cool clothes, has boyfriends/girlfriends- basically the hep ones that consider it below their dignity to even acknowledge others especially the “nerds”. That, however, was before her accident. Post the accident, about which we are given no answers, she is a different person altogether, trying to find her place among old friends, with whom she can no longer identify and the new ones, whom she had looked down upon until her accident. Incidentally, is this “no answers to obvious questions” the latest trend in fiction? A Bad Chararcter (read my review here)too left a lot of whys unanswered. The story is rather clichéd and predictable in its portrayal of the cool vs nerd school gangs; the spoilt teenage brat who is an enigma to her family and even the personality change that Kalindi goes through. Where it could have brought in novelty is in the exploration of the nightmares that haunt Kalindi, delving into her subconscious and by giving a little more information about her accident. However, these are left untouched or at best touched very cursorily. The style is conversational- nothing original or striking here either. A Bad Character, on the other hand, had something to offer by way of style and presentation. Overall, it’s probably a good enough read for teenagers and the college going crowd. Others can easily give it a miss..No losses here! If you just want to kill time, you could instead watch Student of the Year.

Complexion Complex

dark is btiful

Complexion Complex”- I think this is the only sensible phrase I have read in the by and large asinine works of Chetan Bhagat, in this case the work being “2 States”. As the hapless Krish tries to placate and at the same time argue with his Punjabi mother regarding his girlfriend Ananya, this is the phrase that comes out- a complex that the mother alleges Ananya has and is thus trying to entrap her Punjabi son. Though the hapless Krish points out that Ananya is fairer than him, it doesn’t cut any ice with the louder than a wedding band Punjabi lady.

This, I think, is the basic problem with us in the entire obsessed with fair skin scenario- we have a “complexion complex” that defies all logic. Anyone fair is assumed to have certain attributes- primarily physical as in is considered beautiful and thus desirable, but certain other attributes as well- well educated, fluent in English and most likely from a well to do background. To me this looks like yet another manifestation of colonial mindset. Thanks to centuries of British rule and the insecurity of being an outsider in your own country, owning a house is the ultimate aim and objective of every middle class Indian, an obsession brought out so poignantly in Naipaul’s “A House for Mr Biswas”. Quite in a similar vein, we are obsessed with “gori chamdi” perhaps because those with one ruled us for years. So anybody who has a fair complexion is automatically elevated to a superior status. While the men folk may still be spared from this “Fair and Lovely” cliché, the “tall, dark and handsome” cliché coming in here, women just have to be fair to be beautiful. But with the latest trend of male whitening creams, I’m not so sure about that anymore.

I am MAC NC 40, which is somewhere in the middle of the spectrum (I think!). Now I have had a love- hate relationship with my skin. I was never one of those blessed with a clear skin but my pet peeve when it comes to my skin was never its colour but all the acne marks and such trivialities. Fairness creams made me laugh though an even skin tone is something I still hanker after. Whenever one of these on line skin diagnostic quizzes ask me about the colour of my skin, I really get confused- Fair? Medium? Wheatish? Dark? Every time I wonder, what exactly is fair and what is dark? Can the same standard be applied while asking this question across a broad spectrum of people? If not, why have such generalised questionnaires? Probably because I fall somewhere in the middle of this fair vs dark extremities, I never faced any complex regarding the colour of my skin. Neither was I subjected to any kind of discriminatory remarks regarding the same. But then, I do realise that I am one of the blessed ones- India sadly is a country of bewildering varieties and contradictions. From worshipping the Goddess Kali to female foeticide and seeking only a fair bahu/wife- it is mind boggling indeed.

When I see the advertisements for fairness creams and lotions, I often wonder whether people are silly enough to not only fall enough for these claims but also wish to be a few shades lighter in a few days. Never mind what others think but when did our self worth get tied to the colour of our skin?Regardless of the crass potential Punjabi mother in law, when and how did we women start equating our beauty with fairness? Does advertising have such a powerful affect on us that it has completely brainwashed us?

Yes, advertising has a powerful impact and such unfair advertisements should stop but the fight is not against campaigns alone but against the archaic mind set and like all such battles, it is a long, difficult one. My grandmother often says- “Angrez chale gaye par apni angrezi chod gaye “(The British have gone but have left behind the mind set). Advertisements will stop eventually, but how does one change the mindset? How does one make women (and now men too it seems) believe in their beauty and self worth that is not tied to the colour of their skin? Not an easy task I assure you, living as we do in a culture that places a high premium on physical attributes. Every worthwhile change has to begin from within. How about all of us believing in ourselves and loving ourselves regardless of the colour of our skin, the size of our thighs or the balance in our bank? How about just “Being Human”? I’m no fan of Salman Khan but I think these two words sum up what we need today- being human. Just be human, kind to self and others- rest will follow. And as you do so, be what you are – dark or fair – and be lovely!