What is it about Chetan Bhagat?
Like an itch inside your pants during a Team Meeting, why is he always there in the media, the news, the internet?
As if the brouhaha over his latest book (I was tempted to review it, but dropped the idea due to the sheer mediocrity in it) breaking new records wasn’t enough, he also commented on the Salman Rushdie issue. “We shouldn’t make controversial authors into heroes,” says Mr. Bhagat, the IIT-IIM passout panacea for every problem in the world. Really?
Coming from the second most annoying person on television (after Suhel Seth), someone who is always in the middle of some controversy or the other, the statement seems laughably hypocritical. Here’s why:
Chetan Bhagat is what he is, simply because of the hero-worshipping that he attributes to Rushdie. Rushdie didn’t publish tweets saying he wanted to attend it. He was invited to the Festival, on the basis of his writing. Chetan Bhagat, meanwhile, has a say on every issue, provides Idea-3G like solution to the the most complex problems of the country, and has created an aura of a messiah around himself, whereas at best, his books are pulp fiction. Something you pick for a train journey, and then pass it on.
Before I face brickbats, let me make it clear I am not undermining his worth. He has changed the game in Indian publishing, selling millions, and spawning a set of young authors, who write about the terribly fascinating subjects of campus, romance, love triangles, and friendship. He has brought down the price of books, and many would argue, the standards of writing in English as well.
For now, you don’t need writing skills to write a book. What you need is a love story, a campus, a little sex added to the plot, and stir it up with a colourful book cover, and sell it at 100 rupees. Ho gaya!
Which again, I have no problems against. I am no one to decide how someone should write, and what someone else should read. If his books have been selling like hotcakes, there surely would be something in it that people can relate to. What I have a problem with, is his messiah-like image that he has carefully built around himself.
Look at some of his articles on The Times of India.
In an article, supposedly to help women deal with stress, he writes,
“Can you imagine life without the ladies?”
“There would be body odour, socks on the floor and nothing in the fridge to eat. The entertainment industry would die. Who wants to watch movies without actresses? Kids would be neglected and turn into drug addicts or psychopaths by age 10. Soon, all-male world leaders would lose their tempers at the slightest provocation, and bomb the guts out of each other’s countries. ”
Really, dude? And the Times of India accepts that kind of trash?? May be they asked him what Hrithik Roshan’s pet name was, and then selected the story.
He ends the article with this remarkable line, “Now smile, before your mother-in-law shouts at you for wasting your time reading the newspaper.”
The article advices women to stand up for themselves, not to cook four dishes a day, and to tell their bosses that their work is not being appreciated. There is no mention of how men could help out women at home, stop suffering from vertical squint (the biological condition wherein a man’s eyes are squinted downwards, giving the impression that he is talking to the woman’s boobs), or just treat women as equals.
Or his solution to corruption – this one-sentence stroke of genius – “Punishment is must for all scams.” Wow! My eyes were opened on that day, and I still find it difficult to sleep at nights, they refuse to shut.
The fact is, Chetan Bhagat, thanks to his tweets, his speeches, and his articles, has been made into exactly that – a controversial author made into a superstar. Then what does he have against Rushdie?
Now, let’s talk about the issue of censorship.
Chetan Bhagat will never face censorship of any kind, because his books hardly have the density or depth that require any censoring, in spite of lines like “I want to milk that woman.” In such a case, it is easy for him to talk about controversial authors being made into heroes.
As an author, if I were to begin writing by thinking within a certain periphery of what I am about to write about, what is the whole point?
I don’t want to get into the religious repercussions of Rushdie’s writings. I understand that his book has ruffled feathers worldwide, but does that mean we won’t let him enter the country and attend a literary festival? Who are we, the Taliban??
The government made up facts about underworld dons threatening to kill him, and Rushdie was kept out of the event. And then, our Mr. Chetan Bugger says that what happened was right, and we as a country, should not make controversial authors into heroes. Which is scary because he has made himself into some sort of model for youth, and his words impact a million youngsters in the country. Isn’t he propagating intolerance? He should be talking about people being liberal, accommodating, and mature.
Censorship in books has been an issue over the last few years, and taking a look at the list of books that have been banned in the last few years will tell you that there is no set yardstick for banning a book. A few protests here and there could ban a book, that’s how simple it is. Some of the books are:
The Polyester Prince – The Rise of Dhirubhai Ambani. The book speaks about the rise of the Reliance empire, and apparently had some objectionable content about him. Now, tell me, do you think that a particular set of people, belonging to a certain caste, community, or race would have protested against the book? It clearly didn’t go down well with a corporate house, and without any explanation, the book was downright banned.
Nehru: A political biography: No explanation needed about what the book consists of. But, unfortunately some of the people in our country didn’t like the book, and so it was banned.
Shivaji – Hindu king in Islamic India: The biography didn’t go down well with politicians in Maharashtra, and after attacks on the publisher’s offices and a library, the book was banned. When the Supreme Court lifted the ban last year, here’s what Raj Thackeray had to say: “”If anyone tries to sell the book, then they will face the music in MNS style. We will burn each and every copy of the book.”
If this goes on, what is the future of writing in our country? Do authors get to write only nice things about people? Do all authors have to write about campus love stories, books titled ‘Three Morons’, ‘Four Buffoons of my Life’, and ‘I love Sixty Nine’?? If I want to write about a personality, and there is something that might not be pleasant to read, do I need to shut up and keep it to myself? Is this the new, shiny India that Mr. Bhagat envisages for us, when he sits down to write those inspirational Chicken Soup for the Country’s Soul articles in the ToI every Sunday?
Allow me to choose my heroes, Mr. Bhagat. I would rather have a controversial author as my hero, than a mediocre one.