For a few years now, I have been aware that there is a certain person called Chetan Bhagat who writes books that sell well. I always thought he was some kind of a new-age management guru who told youngsters how to shape their lives and careers: these are the sort of books that usually fly off the shelves. How popular he is -- I realised only after my own book was published.
For a couple of weeks after Chai, Chai hit the hands, I got into this habit of running a Google-search for the book. You can't blame me, of course: it's very human to do so. In the process, I found Chetan Bhagat's new book, 2 States, overshadowing every other new release. Couldn't he have finished the book a couple of months before or, preferably, after? On the brighter side, though, his book will always serve as a reference point for my debut book: "My first book? (That's me at the age of 70) Well, I don't recall the exact year it came out, but it was released almost the same time as Chetan Bhagat's 2 States. Please calculate."
But till last Sunday, I presumed -- please don't ask me why -- that 2 States is about the relationship between India and the United States, in which Chetan Bhagat gives some gyaan to the Indian government how to maintain the relationship between the two democratic states. Last Sunday, we went shopping in Spencer Plaza. While I went to Music World, wife went to Landmark. Back home, we showed each other what we had bought. While I gave her a stack of 15 music CDs, she handed me three books. One of them happened to be 2 States. She said she bought the book on the recommendation of her sister, who had read it and loved it. Wife went to the study to try out the CDs, so I was left alone in the bedroom to look at 2 States.
I made two horrifying discoveries. One, the book is actually a novel, which tells the story of a Punjabi boy falling in love -- and eventually marrying -- a Tamilian girl. In other words, Chetan Bhagat is actually a 'story-teller' and not a management guru as I had imagined him to be. Two, the price of the book: just Rs 95! The ridiculously low price, obviously, shows on the quality of the paper and the printing: while reading any page, you can also read alongside the preceding or the succeeding page. Well, that's a choice you have to make: should you feel bad that your book, when you hold it in your hands, feels and looks like one of the crudely-printed pornographic novels that you bought on the sly during your adolescence, or feel immensely proud that it has reached almost every English-speaking or English-understanding household in India?
I am sure Chetan Bhagat is basking in the glory of the latter -- and why not? If whatever he writes is crap, why should people be buying his books? For every 10 intellectually-inclined Indians who get turned on by the complicatedness of a book, there are a 100 others who would love to embrace Chetan Bhagat for telling a story in a style that is the hallmark of magazines like Women's Era.
The bottomline is that Chetan Bhagat sells . He is the Baba Ramdev of literature. It was Baba Ramdev (also known as Swami Ramdev) who demystified powerful yogic kriyas such as the kapalabhaati on television. Till Ramdev came along, yoga was a serious matter: you could master it either in one of the far-flung ashrams or under the tutelage of one of the reclusive gurus. But Ramdev took yoga to the lay housewife: in between rolling out rotis for her family, she would be practising the kapalabhaati kriya while watching TV.
Chetan Bhagat, as I can see, has the same effect on the masses. If his popularity pricks you, it is only because you are jealous of him. Nobody has ever prevented you from reaching out to the masses. But since you are terribly snooty, you fail miserably, whereas Chetan Bhagat wins hands down. As R.D. Burman said in an interview, just months before he died, "Success is the true yardstick. Nothing else matters." Going by Pancham's logic, Chetan Bhagat is already a rock star. So let's give him a big hand, ladies and gentlemen.