Chetan Bhagat, a graduate from IIT/IIM, catapulted to spectacular fame with his debut novel “Five Point Someone” in 2004. Bhagat was then a rank outsider to the literary establishmentariat working as he was as an investment banker in Hong Kong. The book, path breaking in devising a new genre of Indian English writing, was semi-autobiographical and superbly portrayed the lives of the stultified students caught in the conventional academic trap with humor and sarcasm. The book was undoubtedly a literary phenomenon as it dramatically altered the landscape of desi-literary scene by expanding the readership for English books beyond the minuscule, metropolitan highfalutin super elite. It reached out to the aspirational, unassuming, mofussil middle India. Bhagat brilliantly tapped in to market for entertainment literature with his intelligent understanding of shared cultural norms, imagination and vocabulary of urban youth. He mounted a remarkable challenge to elitist view of literature – a view that has resonance only within charmed circle of literary establishment.
Since his astounding literary debut, undeterred by scathing criticism that he has abandoned literary idealism by catering to the crude demands of the market, Bhagat has published four novels and has blazed a glorious trial by selling 2.5m copies in the last five years. The plot of all his books has been based on real aspirations of real people. Nothing surreal, nothing philosophical and absolutely no preaching. While Bhagat has achieved dizzying popularity and his undoubted literary accomplishments has won him legions of fans, he has been a subject of derision from conceited elite urbanistas, mostly of left-liberal persuasion, who keep pejoratively referring to what they see as Chetan Bhagification of Indian literature. Some of his virulent critics no wonder have been failed writer whose books have probably sold 75 copies despite marketing blitzkrieg and managing to get a blurb or 2 by famous literary figures.
Judging Bhagat’s writing or comparing it with other immortal literary works will be a foolish inconsequential exercise and i will not delve into it as i consider myself not nuanced enough to do that. Somerset Maugham once commented on the dimensions of what reader a seeks when he wafts in the pool of words , and this seems to be a global statement .
“Some people read for instruction, which is praiseworthy, and some for pleasure, which is innocent, but not a few read from habit, and I suppose that is neither innocent nor praiseworthy. Of that lamentable company am I”
Among the myriad genres of books, what we hold certainly shapes us and divulges a lot about our character. To think that all literature is goal oriented and aligns to some philosophy would be absurd. On an average, youth in India hailing from rural and suburban areas are alien to books other than the pedantic text books imposed on them as part of academic curriculum. Nowhere our education system impresses upon the benefits of reading for a child so that the child opens up to embrace creativity. I have been of the opinion that a book should serve to break the ice within but that is a personal goal.
Moreover when television became a family member reading habits were lost in anonymity. Due to the rat race triggered by shortages in education economy (thanks to Nehruvian economics), hardworking and the ambitious youth to go through a through test of endurance and patience before they settle in for a 9-5 monotony which gives them a dignity to live human like lives. Rarely does it strike to these young minds the luxurious aspects of a profession where you have liberties to experiment and invent. When they meet similar systemically strangulated protagonist in Bhagat’s book they feel related as well as relaxed with the fact that their thoughts and lives are on paper. This is just one aspect when the youth started seeing their alter ego in his books and here started the exponential increase in the sale of his books.
Chetan Bhagat haters are spread across all sections. For elites CB is like a bad odour polluting their well groomed aesthetics. The urban elites back in the 80′s had access to the huge reading halls and the expensive paperback books hence some started considering reading as a copyright of the intellectuals while the middle class was complacent with the available pulp fiction. Intrusion of masses into this ballooned self proclaimed intellectual domain of elites where reading is their sole copyright (they have arrogated to themselves the right to access and stamp any literature as trash mediocre or avante garde stuff) has elicited a vicious counter attack – they have started hating the writer than the writing. Or sometime there can be reason wherein I have observed some Bhagat haters simply feel that while reading you should sweat profusely and get much exhausted in the viciousness of the book. It is the wrapper which is important not the chocolate. So until the person has consulted dictionary a thousand times on a single page the piece of writing stays despicable. Hence rhetoric wins for them in any case .
The West has always embraced the worst of our literary works and this works much in the favor of our intellectual knights, most of them who have assiduously cultivated a thinking that Indian vernacular writings have no global appeal, hence despise it. The local appeal and enthusiasm is their eyes are useless until it first appeals the west. Contrarily the west continues to empower the writers of mass appeal in their lands like for eg. JK Rowling who has been criticized many times of a wordy prose and unconnected magical creatures in a loose plot. Her book suffices the primary purpose of enthralling the reader. Remember the cult slangs and the colloquial narrative of the controversial book Catcher in the Rye which was even taught as a text book in US.
Most of the political left and Delhi and Nehruvian elite hate him for a plethora of reasons- his participation in Anna movement, his caustic remarks in twitter on the venal governance, his criticism of dynastic ruling dispensation and qualified praise for an impressive political leader who is a persona non granta for the elite. While what he says are largely unexceptionable and reverberates across the country but when they are spoken by another once upon a time commoner on a elevated platform(he has good presence in op-eds of large selling newspapers), privileged feels offended and a bit envious about his transcend.
Animosity towards a person is one aspect and rejecting his writing as a work of mediocrity is another. We have confused between the two. Just like we have the right to pick a book we should have the wisdom to ignore a book if it endorses banalities -one of the major complaint against Bhagat. So if you are the one who has rejected anything mediocre including the megalomaniac cinema of our termite infested Bollywood or made no brouhaha over the shirt throwing Khan, or rejected the mediocre prodigal sons of our politicians(which you never do) then my friend you are a classy man but that still does not discredit Bhagat from the fact that he got the marginalized habit of reading back into mainstream .
If you took a flight from the likes of Sidney Sheldon in your teens to radically idolizing Dostoevesky’s Checkohv’s et al you have evolved within and in case you missed it never mind you are still human .
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