Did Chetan Bhagat Teach India to Read?

chetan-bhagat.jpg

It’s now a truism. How many times did you come across the statement that Chetan Bhagat made India read books? In my experience, I’ve never come away from a conversation about Bhagat without hearing that sentence at least once.

Usually I nod and let it pass, but over the last week, I’ve heard it four times – from a writer friend, from a lady whom I met over the weekend, from a blog reader, and from my wife. None of the four are fans of Bhagat’s work. In fact, I could answer for at least three of the four and say they dislike his work. And yet they grudgingly accept that Bhagat has made India read.

You can see where the impetus for this post came from.

It’s a charming narrative. That India was full of movie-watching barbarians. That until Bhagat came wielding his books we didn’t know what they looked like. That he showed us the pleasures of reading. That he has done us all – authors and readers – a service. That all of us should be happy because from among his readers, a percentage of them will move on to ‘better’ books.

Why I don’t agree with it

It’s like saying Karan Johar has done the art of film making a service because some of his viewers will go on to watch Satyajit Ray or Shyam Benegal. But will they? In more ‘economic’ terms, the target markets for Karan Johar and Shyam Benegal do not overlap. People who watch and like Karan Johar’s movies will seek out other movies of that kind. Maybe they will settle for Yash Chopra. Maybe some of them will go for Rohit Shetty.

The same thing goes for literature as well. A person who reads and likes Chetan Bhagat will look for other books that are similar. It’s not a coincidence that Bhagat’s rise in the industry has coincided with the rise of the ‘campus novel’. Will these people move on to ‘better’ books? They won’t, because these books are satisfying their needs in ways a ‘better’ book may not be able to. It’s just like how a Karan Johar movie fan will not be able to appreciate the movies of Satyajit Ray, and vice versa. The markets are different. They don’t overlap.

Does that mean Bhagat is a bad writer?

Well, who is to say who is bad? Everyone has a right to tell stories the way they want. It’s a free country, after all, and as long as there are people buying his books, he can – and should – continue to write. What I do have an issue with is this story that he has done something as noble as ‘teaching India to read’. He has done no such thing.

It is my personal opinion that his work is bad. I’ve read bits and pieces of all his novels, and I’m yet to find even a passage in his books that I like. I find his plots superficial, his style sloppy, and his characters derivative. Bhagat fans often jump on his critics and call them jealous or snooty. I’m neither. I just don’t like his work. If it’s a democracy in which Bhagat is free to ply his trade, it’s also a democracy in which I have a right to voice my opinion of it.

I defend your right to write your story as you wish. But I reserve my right to trash it, publicly and privately. Simple enough, right?

The other side of the free market argument

On Facebook the other day, my wife’s friend posted a status saying that Bhagat is justified in writing the books he does because there is a market for them. She said that we should perhaps hold off on criticizing him because all he’s doing is ‘giving people what they want’.

While that is an excellent economist’s argument, there are also holes in it. Here are a few examples.

  • First, how far can you take this ‘there is a market for it’ reason? There is a huge market for pornography. There are many directors of pornography that make more money than do directors of ‘regular’ movies. A movie like Udaan, for example, must have made less business than a bestselling porn title. Does that mean the director of the latter is as good as the former?
  • There is a huge market for drugs. Is a drug peddler justified in saying: ‘There are kids who want these drugs. I just give them what they want’
  • What about cigarettes? An addictive product that has been known to cause lung cancer is the foundation on which multi-billion corporations are built.
  • The 2008 economic crisis was caused because banks gave people ‘what they want’: free money.

Along with free markets, therefore, there are certain intangibles that product creators need to stand by: we can call them ethics, perhaps? Or social responsibility? Or values?

How does this relate to Chetan Bhagat?

You may think that the examples I gave in the section before are extreme. Chetan Bhagat and Karan Johar are not evil drug smugglers, you say. And you’re right. They’re not. But are they not causing harm by the kind of art they produce? Not physical harm, perhaps, but what about psychological harm?

  • Karan Johar’s movies sell you the idea of happiness wrapped in two things: a fake form of love, and excessive material wealth. If you’ve come away from one of his movies feeling discontented and strangely empty, it’s because he designs them that way. He wants you to feel discontented with your life, with your relationships, with the amount of wealth that you have. ‘Look at these people,’ he says, pointing to his characters. ‘Look at how rich they are, how beautiful, how perfect their relationships, how much happier they are than you.’
  • Chetan Bhagat’s novels are similarly aspirational to the youth from small towns. The ideas of love, sex, college life in the big city, girlfriends, doing dope – all of these are images that titillate, woo and seduce. There is very little realism in his books or characters; their main motivation is to appeal to your baser senses and make you aspire to a fake world and life.

That’s what aspirational art does, isn’t it? It makes us long for an ideal world – generally related to love or wealth – and in doing so, sows seeds of discontent in our hearts. We run and run and run to bring those images alive in our real worlds. But are they ever the same? Are we not always disappointed that our real world is not as happy as our Bollywood world?

Where does that leave us?

I don’t know. You tell me. On one side we have the free market argument, that everyone is at liberty to create whichever kind of art they want. On the other there is the caveat inserted by factors such as ethics and responsibility. Where do you stand on this? Do you think movies and books that are purely ‘aspirational’ are also harming our minds in subtle ways?

Image Courtesy: India Forums

Comments

  1. Hi Sharath,
    Awesome read. And agree with all your arguments. As a researcher and policy maker, I would have liked the backing of some stats to make the POV rock solid like the great wall of China. May be even just get the book sales numbers of two cities and compare how they did pre and post Chetan Bhagat? If you can get authentic figures my friend, I promise to promote the post and be your voice shutting everyone up that spoke of him as a messiah born to teach us to READ… 🙂
    Cheers n tc.
    Usha

    Like

    • Hi Usha,

      Unfortunately it’s hard to design such a study. Even if book sales in general are higher post-Bhagat than pre-Bhagat, do we know for sure that he is one who caused the hike? As they say in stats, correlation doesn’t imply causation. We also have to take into account other factors – one fact that in 2002-2003, publishing, like all other industries in India, was going through a boom.

      So unless we find a way to control for certain variables, finding data to make this point may be a little difficult. And I didn’t want to produce data just to make a point. I am more interested in asking the question itself and see what people think.

      Opinions and debate are more important than the question of who is right and who is wrong. What do you think?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I read Chetan Bhagat’s ‘Five Point Someone’ before some 8 years and remember liking it. Those days, my schedule was tight and I was frequently going out of station. I think I got one free weekend with 3 days leave or something, and I read this book. I remember the story being narrated in such a simple way and it actually made me smile at places.

    Reflecting on it now, I think I actually wanted happiness and relief from my tiring work schedule, and it came in the form of a book! But a movie or music could have done the same – these things gave only short excitement bursts, unlike a book which can hold you for a long time!

    At the same time, I also remember reading Arundathi Roy’s ‘The God of Small Things’. I liked the book and the imagery she created through her words, but frankly, I didn’t understand 30% of the words in every page. There were a number of times I came close to dropping the book, but continued reading anyway. It was difficult, but I liked it. I guess I’ll be able to appreciate a book like that today, than back then. I am, in fact, reading difficult-to-read-classics nowadays. And I have patience – I read more non-fiction than fiction.

    I think, each person mentioned above has a different readership, that’s all. Sometimes, we ourselves might like each book over the other, at different stages of our lives. I don’t like the concept of categorizing authors (or any other artist, for that matter) into “classes”. Each person provides value to the audience, in their own ways.

    Destination Infinity

    Liked by 1 person

    • A very democratic answer, Rajesh. Thank you 🙂

      But I will ask a question, just for the sake of stimulating thought. Is there a line that divides entertainment and art. I’m sure entertainment has artistic elements and art has entertainment elements, but is it possible, you think, to classify a book as ‘entertainment’ or ‘art’?

      For instance, would you call an Ekta Kapoor serial art? Would you call a Satyajit Ray movie entertainment?

      If the answer is yes, then there are some intangible standards by which we define art. If the answer is no, then everything is art and everything is entertainment. That includes pornography, both the kind that appeals to the genitals and the kind that appeals to the minds.

      You don’t have to answer this, of course. I’m just throwing it out there as a thought experiment.

      Like

  3. Interesting read Sharath… the worst part is Chetan bahgat is becoming Durjoy datta by every passing day. #halfgirlfriend

    Liked by 1 person

    • Durjoy is writing a Sci Fi/Fantasy novel next. A story in footsteps of the great Harry Potter. God save that genre! it’s like seeing your granny do pole dance, and you’re going to hate it for the rest of your life. Even the girls at Crazy Horse.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Some interesting arguments and observations. But don’t really agree with KJo observations. It shows you have possibly haven’t watched the recent movies he has been associated with and like many, believe his K3G and Kal Ho na Ho days are not over yet. I think he has grown as a film maker, as a producer and within commercial realms, he is far ahead of other contemporaries. Obviously, his non reluctance to openly accept his sexual orientation make him a bone of jokes.

    Like

    • Hi Amit,

      I’ve watched movies of Karan Johar that people don’t even know exist. I watched his piece for ‘Bombay Talkies’ with pleasant surprise. I know he can make good movies. But we’re not talking about his capabilities here, just about what he made his money on. Student of the Year was his latest mainstream movie. I came away from it thinking that it’s just mind-porn, directed at the young people of India. Let’s not say it’s harmless. Showing fake aspirational images to young, impressionable minds is harmful, whether we accept it or not.

      And I have no problem with his sexual orientation, or whether he has ‘come out’ or not. I’m talking purely of his movies here.

      Like

  5. Hi Sharath,
    Thanks for the prompt reply. I agree with your argument with the barriers in research. If you agree to help with data collection, I can come up with a questionnaire and together we can take this argument some where… and may be even to its rightful destination – trash can (I must admit, it is not going to be an easy job) or may give it a logical conclusion. I am more a problem solver than a question raiser as a person and hence my take and comment.
    Cheers n tc.
    Usha

    Like

  6. Good one, Sharat.

    Like

  7. Sharath, my personal opinion tends to veer more towards the ‘free market argument’ which states that as long as a demand exists (or can be created by clever marketing techniques) the supply will exist. The reality today is that youngsters are probably more interested in reading the Chetan Bhagat type novels which don’t have too much stuff and substance and are all full of fluff and sugary sweet things which are essentially harmful. But, that being said, the fact remains that at least a small proportion of youngsters are reading these books. And my view is that this proportion is better than nobody reading 🙂

    While I personally am not a fan of his books or even worse his articles and speaking assignments all over the place, I cannot overlook the impact he has on youngsters, whether they have read his books or not. While it is more of a statement on the mindsets and tastes of the youngsters nowadays, I wouldn’t blame Bhagat for all of it, as end of day, he is just milking the situation and making the most of it I guess.

    Is he that bad of an influence on youngsters when it comes to reading, I don’t know. I am somewhat optimistic that a miniscule proportion of the already small proportion of Bhagat readers graduate to better books, and that in turn might just end up encouraging good writers to churn out good books. That remains my only hope.

    Like

    • Hi Jai,

      The rationalist in me also sides with the ‘free market’ argument. There have been times when I’ve said to people quite sincerely that if you’re a number crunching machine, Chetan Bhagat is the best writer in India.

      But that also makes Karan Johar (or Rohit Shetty) the best director, ITC the best company, and so on. The whole ‘there is a demand, I am only fulfilling it’ argument falls flat in every profession. Let me give you an example:

      My father is an eye-specialist. There is a huge demand among patients for ‘headache glasses’. People come to doctors in town every day and ask them prescribe them glasses. For a doctor, glasses are ‘high margin’, because the chemist in the premises makes more money off them than off regular medicines. And glasses don’t cause any ‘harm’. So is it right for doctors to prescribe ‘headache glasses’ to everyone who asked? After all, there is a market. All the doctor is doing is serve it.

      There are some doctors, though, who take the pains to educate the patients that they do not need glasses, that they’re better off taking medicines or tablets instead. What is pushing such doctors to behave that way? The ‘other’ kind of doctors have bigger cars, more buildings, more fame. By all tangible standards, they’re ‘better’.

      I can only say the ‘educating’ doctors are standing by such old-fashioned things as values, honesty, professional ethics.

      Why shouldn’t we hold our artists up to the same standard?

      While the free market argument is great, I do think it breaks down when we look at it this way. Because if we’re true ‘free marketers’, let’s legalize everything: gambling, prostitution, drugs, everything. Are we prepared to send our children to schools where weed is sold over the counter? I don’t think so. Not yet, anyway.

      Like

  8. “India was full of movie-watching barbarians. That until Bhagat came wielding his books we didn’t know what they looked like.”
    Hahahaha, I could almost see your expression while writing this line.
    Another problem that I have with most characters in his book is that they seem kinda one dimensional. If a character cannot get along with a family member that means, in Chetan Bhagat’s world, that they’ll NEVER talk, never agree to anything at all. (Except maybe at the end of the book, when everything is hunky dory).
    For him to claim that he writes about the ‘Indian youth’ and then give me short-story depth of characters in a 250-page novel, I somehow feel cheated.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I may have told you this before, Nishtha, but Dibakar Banerjee once said about themes: ‘When you strive to be something to everybody, you end up not being anything to anybody’ or something like that.

      If you look at the very successful books or movies in India today, you will see that the message is banal. Love your parents. Love unconditionally. Follow your passion. Live life.

      Those movies which examine the reasons why we don’t sometimes follow these tenets sink to the bottom. Because it’s too much depth. Just a regular reinforcing of the message is deep enough, because that reaches the maximum number of people. The deeper you dig, with each inch you go, you alienate a certain group of people. So ironically, the deeper you go into examining an issue, the less people will pay attention.

      Which is why Chetan Bhagat doesn’t want depth in his characters. If he wrote deeper and more rounded characters, he wouldn’t be read by as many people 🙂

      Like

  9. I’m not one of those people who reads all Chetan Bhagat books and then criticize them. I mean, if a person dislikes his books, why read all of them?
    I read FPS and liked it quite a bit, for the simple reason it was the first where I identified with the characters. Until that point most Indian fiction I felt was ‘exotic’, catering to western readers. Inspired by the first, I read One Night @ the Call Center, and that put me off his books for life.
    I doubt he can be given credit for creating readers, though it looks like his books have probably encouraged more people to read English books than before. Now the quality of English books they read and like is in question, because most books of his and similar to his seem to ignore basic grammar. That’s my only disappointment.

    Like

    • Hi Gargi,

      Yes, I know some people who read all his books just to pick out mistakes and make fun of it. It’s not unlike the movie reviewer who sees all crap movies to then write a sarcastic piece on it. In one word, I think we love to hate him 🙂

      Your guess is as good as mine, and I don’t have any scientific backing for this, but we’ve been reading more in English ever since the internet boom came to India. Most of the internet is in English, so we’ve had to begin reading in English. Bhagat, I think, may have tapped into the neo-English-reader market which has not read any literature in the past.

      Also, such readers tend to look for more books similar to what Bhagat writes. There are many in the market now. Again, no scientific basis here, but just extrapolating from my general knowledge of economics.

      Like

  10. As someone who has worked in the film industry, I am always amazed why people talk only about Karan Johar. Why don’t they talk about Rajkumar Hirani, who has blended the commercial cinema with a meaningful message? Why do they forget Ashutosh Gowariker, Farhan Akhtar and Zoya Akhtar (Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara is a classic, if anybody has seen it).
    Coming back to Chetan Bhagat, I’ve read Five Point Someone which appealed to me because I too had gone through the grind of an engineering college. I didn’t like One Night @ the Call Center which took rather too many liberties with the real atmosphere of a call center. However, Two States is my favourite.
    And I’ll tell you why – I now live in the UAE and the time I spent there opened my eyes to a glaring fact which nobody in India realises, or if they do, then they are guilty of fostering enmity within Indians. I’ve shared apartments with some people of a particular North Indian state, as well as a couple of people from South Indian states. And I found out, rather the hard way, that India is NOT AT ALL united. Each Indian is part of a closed society, broadly classified into North, South, East and West. But going closer, I found that Keralites hate Tamilians, Tamilians hate Punjabis, Punjabis give a damn for Biharis and the entire mainland totally oblivious of Assam, Mizoram, Manipur and Tripura (look, i myself forgot Nagaland). To go into more detail, I’ve seen a clear divide between the attitudes of people from Punjab-Haryana, Kerala-Tamil Nadu and Gujarat-Maharashtra. Ask any one of these people to accept somebody from another region as fellow-citizens, and you’ll find yourself in the midst of a cold war.
    I’ve seen north indians hating anyone who serves them rice. I’ve seen south indians refusing to sublet rooms/apartments to north indians. If the two sides work in a single organisation, they play dirty politics to harm the career chances of someone from another state, while outside of office, they won’t even acknowledge the others’ presence.
    In this situation, the idea of a Punjabi boy falling madly in love with a Tamil girl and the extents to which he goes to win her family’s love and stays steadfastly in love with her despite insults, threats and embarassments from his as well as her communities, is definitely worth admiring. If there is anything that India needs today, it is acceptance of the various peoples’ as your own. Sadly, I don’t see that happening, because no social, political or cultural leader in India is doing ANYTHING to foster brotherhood. India is a mini-Europe sans the advantages of educational maturity and technological assets. It wouldn’t surprise me if, in the future, instead of dividing states, we get divided into 28 nations, then even split into 56 – we are so hateful of the people living across the river.
    I don’t say that CB is a great writer or that he has taught India to read, but I feel like thanking him for penning down Two States. I am no literary genius to comment on his language and style, but I find his books easy to read.
    I don’t understand why it is necessary to continuously heap criticims upon criticims on CB. I think he has a right to write whatever he wants, and we have the right not to read him. If someone likes CB, it is his/her personal opinion and if we cannot respect that, the least we can do is to accept that the person has a different POV from ours.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree with all your arguments. However, I have one question… Do you think a reader will move on to better books after reading one or two bad ones? If yes, I will shut up and go back to doing what I do. If your reply is no, then we do have a problem.
      I always like to look at larger scheme of things before taking a stand. And his (and many others could be added to the list) books are a problem.. As it corrupts young minds with absolute garbage. and the stink is contagious.. (believe me I am an epidemiologist he he eh) And that is a bigger concern for me rather than who is reading what and when… Cheers n tc.
      Usha

      Like

      • Usha, I feel this is all an exercise in futility. Why do we want all celebrities to be social reformers? If people are not reading good books, why should Chetan Bhagat be hanged? And what’s more, why are so many people hell-bent on running him down as if by strangling Chetan Bhagat’s voice, Indian people will find utopia overnight? Are CB books the only source for corruption of young minds? Pardon me for being blunt, but you mentioned you are willing to research and collect data to prove that CB’s writing is bad for Indian readers. By all means, you have the freedom to do so but what are you going to achieve? Will that make CB introspect and turn him into a good writer, make him eligible for the Sahitya Akademi or the Nobel for literature? If not, then I think it’s all going to be a waste of time.
        My larger view of life is, let’s all do something that will make a positive difference to ourselves and to those who surround us. By criticising Chetan Bhagat, we are not going to achieve anything.
        In fact, this very moment, we are increasing his popularity by discussing him so much.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hmm. I think in any debate, the most value exists for people who are on the fence. People who already love Bhagat won’t be swayed by my post. People who already dislike him will enthusiastically agree with me. But I think those who are on the fence, who are undecided, who don’t know yet which side to jump, I think for them, debates of this kind will help make up their minds.

        That is why I think people should voice their opinions (calmly backed by reason, if possible). Not in order to sway those who are already on the other side, not to get Chetan Bhagat to introspect and change, but to let the people on the fence know that there is indeed another side.

        So I think that’s why things such as these need to be said.

        I’m sure Usha will come back with a reply, but this is mine 🙂

        Ooh, and the whole awards thing is another topic altogether. I will write about it soon!

        Liked by 1 person

      • I want NO ONE, I mean NO ONE to be reformers …Because we are not born to do that… However, I expect them to be human at least if not anything else.. IMHO, as a soul living on earth, we can keep the situation at status quo to say the least if one cannot or is disinterested in changing it for the better.. All I am asking for is – KINDLY, DO NOT add to the existing hell hole that we are living it.. I know you as well me are incapable of making a heaven…At least don’t make hell worse that life becomes difficult for everyone.. You have kids and I am sure you know what I am talking about. And I am against it in all fields.. not only writing… I hope I made myself clear.. And believe me I am happy that someone changed something in the area of books.. and I am all for that (it is a different iffus whether the change is good or bad). Lastly, I don’t care if CB introspects or not. I am happy if even one of his readers does it though… Enough said.
        Cheers n tc.
        Usha

        Like

    • Hi Neelesh,

      I’ve lived in New Zealand for ten years of my life. I’m married to a woman who is not from my state, who speaks a different language. Both her parents and my parents converse in Hindi/English when they meet, because our mother tongues are different. There is a plan for us to learn each other’s language, but it’s still in the works 🙂

      So I have personal experience in both the things you speak of: regional differences and interstate marriage.

      I’ve read a bit of Two States, watched the movie as well. Once again I found the ‘message’ – that we should all be united – a little banal. We all know that we should be united. The question is how we achieve unity in spite of our large diversity. As an analogy, the ‘message’ in K3G was that we should all love our family members. Well, everyone knows that. In spite of that families break up, brothers fight, elderly parents end up being abandoned. What we need is an examination into why these things happen, not just a reinforcing of the message.

      But that’s my opinion. If you thought 2 States was great, excellent. I will not say that you’re wrong and I’m right. You have a right not only to have that opinion but also to voice it, as vociferously as you wish.

      By the same token, people who don’t like Chetan Bhagat need to have the same right. You said you didn’t understand why people heap criticism over criticism on Bhagat. My question to that is: why shouldn’t we? If someone thinks Chetan Bhagat’s writing is bad, then they should have the freedom to voice it publicly. (I agree here that personal attacks are not okay.)

      At the moment, what I see is a reluctance among people to say anything against ‘widely followed’ or ‘widely read’ personalities. Why? Because the supporters go up in arms and say: ‘You’re just jealous of his fame/wealth/godliness’.

      Well, no. As I said in my post, I’m not jealous of Bhagat or Johar. And I’m not snooty. I’m just exercising my right to say what I feel about their work. That’s the long and short of it.

      You said we should learn to be tolerant of people different from our own. If we cannot bring ourselves to calmly listen to someone who disagrees with us, what hope have we got to be ‘brotherly’ with those who live entirely different ideologies?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sharath, even I have friends and acquaintances who have crossed religious and cultural borders and married each other. I don’t claim that they even read 2 States. I don’t for a moment doubt that you might have had different experiences about Indians in NZ. I voiced my opposition to CB-bashing exactly because you asked me to comment, otherwise I wouldn’t have. Just as 2 States will not exactly result in a united India, I am sure that criticising CB is not going to lead to CB working on his weaknesses and turning into an Akademi Award winning writer; or shut up his ardent followers.
        By saying that, I am not trying to gag your views – you want to criticise CB, go on and go ahead. Personally, I don’t think that much about CB and don’t want to because I have better things to do. I’m a fan of Sharath Komarraju and I would anyday prefer Sharath to write 2-3 more books of his own which will give me scope for churning my grey cells; rather than waste time in running down someone who is destined to win (or knows how to fix, if you like to see it that way) the popularity contest.
        Now consider this:
        In 1975, Indira Gandhi enforced the Emergency and persecuted Indians much like the Russian politburo. In 1977 the people of India voted her out, trusting the Janata Party to give better governance.
        In 1979, the Janata Party broke up due to infighting and Indian people brought back Indira Gandhi.
        In 1984 Indians voted for Rajiv Gandhi on the ‘mamta’ wave because he had lost his mother. In 1989 he was voted out for his involvement in Bofors and other corruption issues.
        All this happened in spite of the fact that in every election, politicians cutting across parties and ideologies freely used money and muscle power.
        The above is a sample of the maturity of Indian people – you can fool them for some time, but not for all the time.
        Point is, I believe in the overall intelligence of the Indian people. If people have bought Chetan Bhagat books, definitely there is SOMETHING in them that makes them buy those. And if a group of people believe that CB is trash, they must have found trash in it. Unfortunately, the first group outnumbers the second and my question is – who is reacting adversely to disagreement? The first group or the second?

        Like

      • Hmm, you make some valid points, Neelesh. You’re making me think. For the record, I don’t think Chetan Bhagat is fooling the Indian public. I don’t think people who like Chetan Bhagat are ‘fools’ or anything of the sort. I just think that sometimes, overly famous personalities become immune to criticism just because they’re famous.

        The same thing happens with the likes of Dan Brown, J.K.Rowling, E.L.James…the first thing their supporters bring out is an accusation that the critic is coming from a position of envy. From then on, the debate just goes downhill.

        I don’t spend much time thinking about Chetan Bhagat. Even this post is more of a contemplation on popular art in general and not just Bhagat in particular. I have nothing against him, but I do sense a certain defensiveness in him as well against criticism. Very early on in his career he came out blasting all of his critics saying that they’re jealous and snooty and elitist and so on.

        It’s that defensiveness I’m trying to point out too. As creative people who put their work out willingly in public, I think we should embrace criticism (as long as it’s not personal) with the same sense of balance that we welcome praise.

        Ooh, and also thanks for the compliments you gave me inside the comment. Whether or not I think about Bhagat, I will not stop writing as long as I live. That much I can promise. I can’t promise I will always write good stuff, but I will always write ‘stuff’. Then you tell me if it’s good or bad 🙂

        At the end of the day, we live in a democracy. The majority is right. I will never say that the majority are fools. But the other big characteristic of a democracy is debate, an exchange of views, a tolerance to other points of view etc. Too often I think the majority shouts down the minority just because it’s the majority.

        Not saying you’ve done it. I’m saying it happens more often than it should. And I’m hoping that it happens less. That’s all.

        Thanks for the discussion. It was good. Thought-provoking 🙂

        Like

  11. Seriously, there are so many comments I wonder why am I even commenting. I am no Bhagat fanboy. But then the way people take my skepticism for Modi as AAP fan characteristic, I am ready to be called Bhagat fan for being anti-Bhagat-haters.

    I know you would not count yourself as a hater, but let’s leave that for later, and let’s talk the points you have been talking about.

    1. I agree Chetan Bhagat did not made India read. There were people reading before, and though there has been an increase since, he cannot be credited with such a sentence.
    2. Coincidence is not even the word here. Chetan Bhagat started the trend of campus novels. Coincidence is ‘a remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances without apparent causal connection’ while here he simply is the cause for campus novel trend.
    3. While you have rightly discredited him for many things, you haven’t credited him for quite a few important things. He, according to me, is the reason for a whole new market, and quite a share of market today. Subsequently, and more importantly, it’s become easier for anyone to become an author as not only publishers think anyone can be an author but also many people believe they can write. One may opine that it would reduce the quality of the books produced, but end of the day 15 good books out of 100 published in an year is better to me than 9 good out of just 10, even if the former would publish 85 crap books.

    The only bad thing, he’s been bad for trees in India. There must have been so many pulped because of him.

    Like

    • Hi Harshit,

      Points 1 and 2, no argument there.

      But point 3, there may be a different side to it. Bhagat’s rise happened in 2003-2008, with three books coming out in that time, I think. That is the time when internet became ubiquitous in India. English reading material became available in every home via their computer screens. So the boom in the English reading habit, and therefore of publishing, could be attributed – at least partly – to the rise of the internet.

      I think Bhagat gave rise to the campus novel. Yes. Did he give rise to the publishing boom? I’m very skeptical. I think the boom in publishing happened as a natural consequence of the IT boom. Almost every industry in India boomed over the last fifteen years. Fashion, hotel management, real estate, content writing…why should publishing be different?

      As an aside, it was when I read Five Point Someone that I made my first conscious decision to be a writer. I owe him one for that 🙂

      Like

  12. “Chetan Bhagat did not teach India how to read”.

    Well do we really know or are we making qualitative assumptions? Maybe it’s a very valid statement. Maybe it’s a fact, but how do we justify it? For every non-quantitative argument made, there is a superior or at least an equivalent counter argument.

    A much logical and comprehensive approach would make one argue over several points like these:

    – Has anyone calculated the yearly standard novel sales across India during pre-Chetan Bhagat era and compared it with the post era?
    – Has anyone calculated the increase in the number of new writers each year since CB’s 5 point someone and compared it with the stats before that?
    – Do we have any comparative data in the number of downloads, purchases or piracy since FPS?

    Well, if we do have such quantitative figures and more, to suggest that there is a humongous jump in the figures since Chetan Bhagat’s debut novel, then this topic becomes heated and highly arguable. It also weighs down more towards the people who believe that indeed Chetan has contributed in at least creating a wide awareness among the readers.

    As per the quality of his novels, I find the examples given here, a tad off-mark. I would keep it subtle and give you the example of genres of English ‘Music’:

    – When Rock n’ Roll became a craze with Elvis, the classic music lovers discarded it as being cheap and non-appealing. But he (Elvis) and the genre went on to become one of the most successful genres ever.
    – When gangster RAP became a rage, the classic Rock, pop, country and all other genres gave it a thumbs down saying it’s the worst kind of music ever and shouldn’t even be allowed, as it propagates violence. But two and half decades later it stands as one of the most successful and appreciated genres of music till this date.
    – Heavy metal and violence aren’t appreciated either.

    There are still people who dislike these above genres, but one simply cannot deny the revolution each of these genres have brought to the music industry. And as far as an art form is concerned, one has to have the liberty to express themselves however they want to.

    My point is, it’s a debatable topic!
    And the only way we can reach at a conclusion is, if we have some stats indicating revolutionary CB impact in the Indian market or against it, to support our arguments. Else the whole debate will have a no-stop to it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agree with everything you say, Ashwin. Even today, the country versus rap debate rages on. And yes, who knows? Maybe in twenty years’ time, Bhagat’s books will be hard bound in nice leather jackets with the words ‘Classic’ printed on them.

      That doesn’t mean, though, that those of us who dislike Bhagat are not allowed to say so, or that if we say so, it’s only because we’re envious of his wealth and fame.

      While I agree that numbers will add support to this, I don’t think we have nothing to go on either. As I said in response to Harshit’s comment, almost every industry in India has boomed over the last fifteen years, thanks to liberalization. You name an industry, and it has boomed. So is it more likely that publishing has also boomed driven by the same social forces? Or is it more likely that it has been caused by one man writing campus novels? I find it more reasonable to accept that publishing, just like all other industries in the last fifteen years, boomed because of the rising middle class and affluence in India.

      And not because of Chetan Bhagat. We don’t need numbers for everything.

      Like

    • I’d actually disagree on the comparison to new genres of music. The comparison suggests that what CB is doing is brand new or groundbreaking, whereas that’s not really the case.
      Agree on the rest, though. We don’t have enough data to support either argument, and even if we did it may not lead us to a solid conclusion.

      Like

  13. If, like in FB I could ‘like’ it, I would have liked every word of it :)). Loved it and I read it like a Rajini fan watching a Rajini movie :).

    Like

    • Hey Guha! Welcome to the blog. I’m glad you liked the post. Interesting how many people found this post ‘resonating’.

      If you read it like a Rajni fan, you must have whistled too. Can you do the Tapori-style whistle? I’ve not met a Tamilian who cannot 🙂

      Like

  14. Hey Sharath,
    I am pleased, though this post was not written to please me, but I am.. 😉
    I am gonna forward this piece to all “Bhagatiets”. Its simple, yet people treat him like “Lord knows what”..!!

    You repetitively compared him with Karan Johar. In my opinion he is Ekta Kapoor of Novel Business.
    😉 😛

    Peace
    Arpit Khandelwal

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Arpit,

      Thanks for your comment! Good to know that I pleased you. I must clarify, though, that I did not mean any malice towards Chetan Bhagat when I compared him to Karan Johar. I just think they make similar kinds of art. And yes, you’re right, in conversations I also compare him to Ekta Kapoor.

      Like

  15. Sanjay Casula says:

    Dear Komarraju,
    First write a book that sells atleast 1/100 of the number of copies that he sells than i will agree with you capability to critique him . you know i have been through the muck about this ‘dumbing” down. he is IIT/IIM(Ahmedabad) the elite of Elites. What is your qualification Engineering in Stanford and Business Administration IN Harvard Business School .First write a book that sells atleast 1000 copies.OR else this is nothing than Author Envy…

    Like

    • Hi Sanjay,

      Thanks for your comment. I’m not sure why I must write a book and sell 1000 copies of it to be able to critique an author. After all, by the very act of putting his stuff out onto the public domain, an author is saying he’s ready to be judged.

      As it turns out, though, I HAVE written three books (you will see them on the sidebar), and every one of them has sold more than 1000 copies. My fourth novel is due to come out in a couple of weeks, which I’m sure will again sell more than 1000 copies. So in your eyes, have I earned the right to critique him?

      And if you really must know, I did my engineering in a college that is internationally ranked much above IIT. I don’t gloat about this. I don’t even think of it as something that I should derive status from. But since it seemed somehow important to you, and since you asked the question, it’s only fair that I answer.

      So, what now? What have you added to the debate by asking me about my ‘credentials’?

      Liked by 1 person

    • gaanatalks says:

      Mr Sanjay,
      Seems like your are an hardcore fan of Mr Bhagat. Your comment well explains two things: one, that you love Karan Johar’s movie and two, you love reading what Mr Bhagat writes. Good going – feel proud of it.

      Like

  16. I don’t know how I missed reading this earlier. Just saw it and read it. I completely agree with you Sharath – “There is very little realism in his books or characters; their main motivation is to appeal to your baser senses and make you aspire to a fake world and life.”

    Like

  17. gaanatalks says:

    Hi Sharath, I do not know how I missed reading this post. Just saw this, while I was looking to read your emails (like I used to do during some Mondays). I didn’t see any new emails, so I thought of exploring your personal blog and started reading this post. Yes, I completely agree with you – “There is very little realism in his books or characters; their main motivation is to appeal to your baser senses and make you aspire to a fake world and life.”

    Like

  18. Hy Sharath,
    I don’t know why you wrote these against Bhagat but there are more who loves his books. He really writes for a change. after reading Half girlfriend, Biharies are treated well almost. He is a good writer and writes what young India wants. Not everyone likes to read motivational and all. Love story is quite good for learning as well as entertaining.

    Like

    • Hi Atul. Of course. Though I have a personal dislike for Chetan Bhagat’s work, I have no right to say anything against the people who like him. The main point of the post is that I find the claim that ‘Bhagat made India read’ to be a tall one. I don’t think any writer, no matter how great, can make such a claim, because in saying that, the writer is implying that he is somehow larger than the craft. I find it absurd. A bit like a doctor saying that he taught people to fall sick.

      I have nothing against Chetan or his readers. Hope this clarifies 🙂

      Like

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: