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.

 

 

The Unbearable Itch of Reading Chetan Bhagat

                     “Yeh ishq ishq hai, ishq, ishq” …so goes a famous qawwali from an old Hindi movie (Barsaat Ki Raat) that discusses love ,ishq, in great detail. When I was a child and had an unrelenting urge to just keep on fiddling with something that did not benefit me or even intrigue me in any way, my dad had his own rendition of this age old classic for me –“Yeh itch itch hai, itch itch” – not itch as in scratching but itch as in a longing restlessness to do something. This habit has not died down even now as I discovered much to my cost.

                         I happened to read Mr Chetan Bhagat’s five tips to women on Women’s Day and could not resist but post my reflections on. All would be fine if it ended there but no. I had to dig up and read many of his old blog posts- WHY?I ask myself. I don’t even like his writings or his sermons and advices. “Yeh itch itch hai, itch itch”…. thats all that I could come up by way of an answer.

                        What I have realised is that Mr Bhagat is obsessed with numbers. Look at the title of his books – “Five point someone”; “One night @ the call centre”; “The 3 mistakes of my life”; “2 states”; “Revolution 2020”. Even his blog posts are loaded with numbers.“Five things women need to change about themselves” being a case point and the other post that compelled me to write today- “Open Letter to The Indian Change Seekers” – too has a lot of numerical juggling in it. Maybe it’s the background in investment banking talking. And yes, he’s very fond of “open letters”. But more on that another day.

                           To be fair, I haven’t read most of his works. “Five point someone” I just about managed to run through; “One night @the call centre” made me panic that the night I had picked it up would be the end of me and as for “3 mistakes of my life”, all I knew was that picking up that book was one definitive mistake of my life. And thereafter regardless of the lucrative price tag his books carry, I never ventured to buy another one. Only that I chanced to come across his blog and the irresistible itch to read them took over.

           After  reading the advise he gave to women on the auspicious occasion of Women’s Day, I came across his “Open letter to the Indian Change Seeker(http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/The-underage-optimist/entry/open-letter-to-the-indian-change-seekers)  inspired by the aftermath of the Delhi gang rape that saw unprecedented protests. Bad news for the protesters, who in any case, have long since gone back to their humdrum lives- Mr Bhagat doesn’t approve of the way they had gone about their protests. In order to make his point clear he goes on to “explain” India.  Move over A.L. Basham,  Bipan Chandra. Mr Bhagat is here to do the honours!

                   What follows is a mind boggling jugglery of numbers wherein he divides the Indian population into 4 categories and in this whole “Threes” and “Fours” game pretty much lost me. The point I think he was trying to make was that the “Threes”, i.e. the upper middle class, the likes of him and you and me, are using our new found power for self serving purposes just like the “Ones” (our political masters) and the “Twos” ( Industrialists and Capitalists) have been doing all along. The “Three” need to include, take along and also fight for the cause of the “Four”, the vast majority of our country who live in abysmal conditions. To make any change happen, the “Threes” should fight for the causes of the “Four” also- “only then is when true change will happen” he proclaims.

        No doubt there is some merit in his arguments. A modern sensibility has to include and at the same  time make concessions for traditional and conservative attitudes. Any change or revolution from the grass root level alone can work. To that extent we all would agree with him though there is nothing new that he is saying. However what intrigued me in the entire piece is a “holier than thou” attitude. He talks of the “Threes” misusing their media power for their ends. Who doesn’t? Writing, publication, success are today more about being media savvy than actual merit. He ought to know that better than anyone else. The one true test of any great literature is the test of time. How his works fare there is yet to be seen and well, anyone’s guess.

        What has he, whom Time magazine called “one of the 100 most influential people in the world” done for the “Fours”? It is one thing to be speaking on National Development in air conditioned halls of various conclaves and entirely another to be actually contributing towards the welfare of mankind, number tags being irrelevant.

                Media is what made him into a youth icon as it did many others. Isn’t it a tragedy of our times than none of these icons are willing to accomplish anything beyond pay token lip service? He himself says that he is a “Three”. How about preaching by doing? Why not set an example for us lesser mortals by accomplishing something for the masses?

       Why have I zeroed down on him and no one else? No it’s not simply my “itch” to do so but because he,unlike others, is one of the “most influential 100s” worldwide. And because I feel upset when people, who excel in one particular field ,assume that they are the know all and be all of everything else as well. Apparently he was a successful investment banker and thereafter became the best seller author though, to my mind, with mediocre novels. Does that also make him an authority on every matter and every ill  that plagues an individual or class or society? Even if so, why not preach by example? And why not, for a change, think out of the box? Churning out platitudes in different phrases doesn’t take much. Following them through does.Or maybe he doesn’t really mean anything? Maybe writing these posts is as much an “itch” for him as reading them has become for me. And this “itch” is a very dangerous thing-“yeh itch itch hai, itch, itch.”

              

 

                      

 

 

 

                 

 

 

 

             

Reflections on Mr Chetan Bhagat’s “Five things women need to change about themselves”

                           I’m disappointed. Writers, those who attain a particular stature at least, would, to my mind, think out of the box. There isn’t much point in serving old wine in new bottle is there? And that is pretty much what I found in Mr Chetan Bhagat’s post on Women’s day..platitudes, clichés and still some more of those. What was there in his post that we haven’t heard before? Male egos, male bashing, women’s rights and all that women should stand up against. Really now! We already have enough of the Bra burners  doing pretty much the same and in the process harming their cause. Do we need more people, men and women alike, to join them?

                        The first of these five things that women need to change about themselves as per Mr Bhagat is “the constant desire to judge other women”. Are we to believe only women do that? Don’t men judge each other? May be the parameters are different but yes we all judge, irrespective of sex. What he seems to be saying is that in a male dominated world, women should stand by each other. How about saying that in a world rapidly losing its sense of right and wrong, let us all stand by what is right. A woman who misuses her sexual or legal power deserves to face the consequences just as any man who misuses his power.

                       Second , “faking needs to end”.  What – the fake orgasms or the fake feminism? Carrying the same argument ahead, it would seem it’s okay for men to lead fake lives. Or is he implying that women fake more? Has he not seen men trying to impress women?  

                           Third, he says , women should stand up for their property rights. So should we all- for all rights forget property rights. But the other side of the same coin is “responsibility”. Are we human beings up to shouldering the responsibility that comes with demanding rights? Yes it is every woman’s right to be respected at home and work as it is of every man, of every child. Anyone who violates it, needs to be made answerable.

                         Fourth – dream bigger, be more ambitious. And who is he or any outsider to define what ambition means to any one? Does ambition lie merely in breaking the glass ceiling? What is wrong in wanting to be “just” a mother or a wife? Bottom line- don’t define ambition for women. Let each woman and man decide what he wants from life and then go and get it.

                            Fifth- “don’t be trapped in drama of relationships”. What is he trying to say here? That the relationship with the self is important for women alone? Relationship with the self need to go beyond narcissism.. let us all develop that and without trampling on others.

                    Life cannot be quantified- neither its mistakes ( 3 Mistakes of My Life) nor its achievements ( Five Point Someone). It needs to be lived and seen from a very humane perspective, not male or female perspective. It’s so convenient to become a champion of women’s cause because that is the latest trend. What about the rights of men? Or in today’s emotionally charged pro -women society, they don’t have any ?How about a new take on this whole “Liberate Women- Empower Women” phenomena? Why are we promoting this man vs woman dichotomy? Is it a battle in which one side has to lose? If we see it thus, there is something basically wrong with us. And as long as we continue to see it so, there is no end to this see saw fight for power.

          How refreshing it would have been if Mr Bhagat had urged all mankind to be just human instead of churning 5 or 6 or 10 platitudes for women and women alone? How about addressing all mankind, irrespective of caste, creed, sex or nationality ? We as women today love to bash up men. How about refraining from such blanket judgements and statements? And how about valuing every human being in your life be it a man or a woman?

                    E M Forster put it all very succinctly with two words- “Only Connect”. If we would only connect our heart with our brain and connect with each other ! Neither would there be any need for 5 things that women need to change nor any need to quantify the mistakes we’ve made in our life.

           

    

         

 

 

The changes that Mr bhagat advocates are not specific to women..those are the changes we need to bring about in all human beings. Don’t we run down each other, judge each other all the time? Is that something endemic to women?