It’s been a weekend of horrors in the world of literature and books in India. Championed by no less than Chetan Bhagat and Shobhaa De. India’s do anmol ratan.
First to Chetan Bhagat, who on Friday, released the video trailer of his new book. Yes, nowadays we need to sell books by making videos of them. It’s all so cool, it just blows my mind. Now Bhagat, who keeps telling us he is “India's biggest selling English language novelist”, has been threatening to unleash his new book for a while now. Thanks to his warning, the shock factor has been lower than otherwise.
That Bhagat is no literary great, is known. And neither has he ever claimed to be. What he is, is highly popular. To prove this point, his new book called One Indian Girl, broke all pre-order records on Amazon, beating out even Harry Potter’s Cursed Child’s record – that too within two hours of orders going live on the site. No mean feat.
Now to the book. Bhagat has been tweeting about how this is revolutionary stuff for him, because he’s written in first person as a woman. Which isn’t to be scoffed at. Before Bhagat, Virginia Woolf had written a beautiful biography called Flush as Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s cocker spaniel. Who knows, maybe One Indian Girl would break similar ground.
Helping us delve into the deep thought that has gone into this book, Bhagat has been quoted as writing that the book is about an “Indian girl who is intelligent and successful, because of which she finds it difficult to get love….It (book) hopes to question society, which judges women achievers. It asks why when it comes to love, being intelligent and too successful is almost a drawback for women”. To give Bhagat his due, the thought is actually not too bad. Maybe he had something here. Maybe this could be A Suitable Boy for the millennium. Who knows?
But once you see the trailer, you realise you can’t teach an old Bhagat new tricks. If you thought that Half Girlfriend displayed very odd opinions of what Bhagat considers a romance and why he feels women are supposed to be obligated to love anyone who professes love to them, or be called elitist and snooty if they don’t – One Indian Girl seems to have helped Bhagat achieve new milestones.
Bhagat has also been quoted as saying, “I felt it would be interesting to get in their head. I wrote on feminism because it isn't an equal world for women, and most don't realise it. As a writer, I want to highlight issues in society that affect a lot of people. Feminism affects us all.” He makes feminism sound like the common cold or constipation.
The feminist one-minute long teaser trailer of the book is pictorial and has text written on it. See it here:
It almost sounds like a description of Chetan Bhagat as a woman. But jokes aside, is this really Bhagat’s opinion of how women who are investment bankers and therefore not living in rural or even small-town India are perceived? That they are not likable because they make a lot of money and have opinions and have had premarital sex? I cannot believe that this is a sarcastic or ironic or satirical take on working, independent women – purely because I have never seen a glimmer of sarcasm or irony in anything that Bhagat has written or said till date.
His teaser also seems to imply that being successful, opinionated and not a virgin is an aberration, therefore making Radhika’s story “crazy”. It’s like he’s feeding the misogynist monster, either knowingly or unknowingly.
To think that impressionable young minds – after all Bhagat is the king of the “campus novel” - will be reading this, is honestly worrying. That a grown man who has travelled the world and met people from all walks of life and has worked across industries, seriously believes such a regressive perception of a woman is close to reality even in 2016 is concerning, to say the least. Bhagat really needs to get out more.
It’s not that there isn’t a kernel of truth in what he’s described. But, speaking as an actual bona fide woman who matches every quality of Radhika Mehta’s – other than that I’m not an investment banker - things have changed a lot since the Nineties. And most of us women couldn't care less about the bunch of people out there who don't like independent, non-virginal women. Really, we have far more important things to worry ourselves over.
Maybe Bhagat should have written in the voice of his pet dog a la Woolf. It may have been safer – for us the readers.
But this weekend was not just Bhagat’s to own. Another of our bestselling authors and socio-political commentators, Shobhaa De showed us why she cannot be ignored. However hard we try.
De has been trying very hard to right her ill-informed tweet about athletes taking selfies in Rio, by writing many tweets and articles about our useless IOA officials, and also in praise of our athletes. Her latest, Rio Ki Teen Deviyan is about PV Sindhu, Sakshi Malik and Dipa Karmakar and appeared on August 20, 2016 in Mumbai Mirror.
The article itself is balanced and sensible. But its last sentence is a lesson in the fact that just because you’re an author, it doesn’t mean you understand the books you claim to have read. De writes, “Remember the book, ‘Breakfast of Champions’? India is ready to take a big bite...”
Now, I do remember the book. It’s by Kurt Vonnegut and quite trippy. Sadly for De, the book is not about athletes or champions. It is about two old men, one of whom is deranged, and the book deals with delusions, mortality and madness. I would strongly recommend someone send the cliff notes of Breakfast Of Champions to De. Unless of course, De thinks Dipa Karmakar and Sakshi Malik are old men, or are about to go on a murderous rampage. Who knows?
This is why one should read a book or at least its synopsis, before quoting or referring to it. It’s like thinking Gone With The Wind is about a typhoon, or To Kill A Mockingbird is about shooting birds. Of course, all blame can’t be placed on De. Because what was her editor thinking? Or not thinking, in this case.
Between De and Bhagat’s intellectual utterings, you can’t help but weep into your pillow at night, thinking that these are two of India’s best-selling authors and most published commentators. My only suggestion to their readers is – don’t believe everything you read.