Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Chetan Bhagat, Baba Ramdev And Pancham

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.

17 comments:

Rajesh said...

And Chetan Bhagat has proved he is not a one book wonder.

You and Chetan Bhagat have the power of simplicity. Going by the reviews, I am sure Chai, Chai would serve as a reference point for many contemporary books.

Bhanu Reddy said...

Incidentally, I was thinking and comparing your blog to Chetan's book yesterday. Chetan is indeed a new age writer. A writer whom the techies want to read.

For obvious reasons, he cannot write a lot about sex in his book. That is the big difference.

oh yeah! R.D's first movie is indeed Chotte Nawab. I heard him saying that on tape.

Soumya said...

I have read & liked CB's 'Five-point someone' (infact, a friend who borrowed my book, returned it with a newspaper cutting of the then photogenic CB :)). All the reviews of his later books have not been very flattering, so I haven't really read any other.But, I'd recommend 5.someone - a very likeable book.

Anonymous said...

"You and Chetan Bhagat have the..."
BG readers are not going to like this statement :-)
Management guru..one has to be, to know the nerve of the people and economics of the book..

Yet to sip my share of tea...
Regards
-vandy.

Anonymous said...

The difference between you and chetan bhagat is that you he writes from his brain and you write from your heart. He writes for the heart but you write for the soul.

Deepika said...

I do not read Chetan Bhagat - I could not get past the first few pages. But then I cannot listen to the new brood of radio stations either, I prefer Vividbahrti, so what do I know! I guess it is a matter of populist taste. It has recently come to light that BBC rejected Enid Blyton's work and would not air her work for 30 years as the powers that be at BBC felt her work had no calibre, whereas it was the staple fare for every child who has begun education in an english medium school all over the world. There are too many factors that shape one's preferences and there is no "one size fits all" method of ascertaining the merits or demerits of any work whether literature, art, films or what have you. There are those that loved Onkara and there are those that found the profanity unacceptable. So in the end - One man's meat is another man's poison!!

janani sampath said...

I read his 'three mistakes of my life' and thot it was the worst book that can be. He is just an ideator and a hopeless writer, buddy....

Well that is only my opinion and I don't expect any endorsement.

Nandini said...

I have read Chetham Bhagath's all books, and I dont think I read only stories. I also read history, economics, political books, and serious authors like Graham Greene / Garcia Marquez. Chethan Bhagat has carved his own niche. He is certainly not Women's era standard as you have compared his writing in your blog. His language is simple at the same time the narration has the depth only people like him can provide. I hope he writes many more books. I dont agree with your view 100%. He is not a writer with superficial understandng of society / life in general. In otherwords, he is not a writer for the masses only. Even people with class can read his books.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely right Sowmya, I couldn't agree more. 5 point someone was the only book worth reading! In my opinion, I think he got carried way with the success of his first book. By the way Bishu, you are a seasoned writer and are no comparison to Chetan Bhagat. Write as usual from your heart with the Bishu trademark honesty and grin as your bank balances gets heavier with each book. On everybody's behalf I wish you all the very best in life.

Anonymous said...

Please.... who gave you the right to be so patronizing towards another writer? Five point someone is a really good book - match that and then pontificate. As Dale Carnegie said,"Any fool can critisize, condemn and complain - and most fools do."

janani sampath said...

oh, please, everyone has he right to express their views. Voicing your opinion is not pontification, dude Get your facts right.....
Going by your logic, what are your credentials to slam someone? Except that you don't even have the courage or the maturity to leave your name, while making such contemptuous statements...

laxman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Laxman,have you looked deep inside you? There seems to be a Chetan Bhagat hidden inside. Because both of you seem to create stories out of nothing ;)

Joseph said...

Have never heard of you, or your book. If your book is halfway as good as your thoughts in this post, I'm in for a good read.

Everything you've said about his book, is what I've thought about it too. I just lack the word-put-together-ability to put the words together.

Just ordered Chai, Chai on flipkart.com, and they suggested that I buy 2 States, too! For 65 bucks! Steal!

Praveen said...

Hi,
I thought you might be interested in this.
Pancham Unmixed – Documentary on R D Burman gets direct to DVD release

vj said...

I'm sorry but i cannot be jealous of someone who throws in sex and IIT/IIM in his book and act like he can write!!

Anubhuti said...

Mr Ghosh, at least the youth started to read. The everyday setting, the price everything contributed to it.
Call me the mass if you will but I quite enjoyed 2 states, it made me laugh till my eyes watered, maybe cause I had once imagined myself in a similar situation.