This man has widely been hailed the Lalit Modi of Indian literature, and a brilliantly exploitative marketing genius. However, comparing him to a millionaire pseudo-exiled from his own country is hardly a fair comparison, in my mind. I would rather call him the Dabanng of Indian literature. He provides affordable entertainment to an often overlooked segment of the market. He caters to the Lowest Common Denominator, and is explicitly committed to accepting the people’s verdict over critical judgment. Not unlike a lot of corrupt politicians we all know, in that sense. Most definitely, he is responsible for spawning off the reading habit among many of the nation.
Let me be clear about one thing at the very outset. I am no fan of his work. But this is not a post written to bash up an individual who knows exactly what anyone who has read more than ten books in their life will say about him.
It is just an attempt at understanding what makes him work in some circles, and not in others. Because honestly, I have not the faintest idea how he managed to capture the zeitgeist of middle-class India. He literally took it by storm, didn’t he? And who on earth made him eligible to represent me and my kind?
He is said to have opened up the market for a whole generation of non-readers in a country where English is the second language. How? By pricing his book at Rs. 95.
To the best of my memory, I believe it was Anurag Mathur’s infinitely funnier, more insightful and better written “The Inscrutable Americans” that released in ’91, that opened the market.
At the Jaipur Literature Festival he said, (I read somewhere on the internet), that critics do not understand his literature, and who he writes for. He said that many people didn’t understand that his books are read by government-school kids, for whom English was a second language. He claims that he provides that segment an entry point into the world of literature.
Now, English is a second language for most people in our country. Professors and peons alike. Yet, and I know this from personal experience, English textbooks carry simplified, abridged pieces by renowned literary greats, from Tagore to Blyton to Kipling. Even in Marathi. Who then, does he talk of?
He fools himself if he truly believes he is doing the general public a great service by his style of writing. All this talk of him being responsive to the literary needs of the masses is all bull in my opinion. Because with that statement comes the implicit suggestion that had we been a society of developed readers, he would have written literature of a higher order. That never fails to amuse me.
Bhagat is a man who has managed to spin his own mediocrity into a virtue. He is extremely unpretentious about the stuff he spins out. A brilliant, inverse-snobbish marketing strategy I bet he picked up in management school. All this talk about ‘catering to the masses’? (We all agree he is the best at that, don’t we.) His genius lies in catering to the people who don’t know enough about books to recognize a quality product if it hit them in the head, sell it at the price of coconuts and woah, next thing you know, you’ve written a ‘bestseller’. He caters to people who never read a book review, and if they ever do, shun it for the ‘big words’.
I checked his Facebook page before I wrote this, (look at the tremendous level of dedication), and discovered his 12 principles of writing. All it talks about is how to best commercialize creativity, rather than writing itself.
I know what makes him work. He writes about issues that have captured popular imagination, but are not mainstream. The mediocre lives of students in an elite engineering college. The lives of call centre employees. Inter-caste marriage. Throw in some premarital s-e-x to make it ‘cool’.
He attests to the fact that he is primarily an entertainment writer. Agreed. Entertain, he does. In the same way Munni Badnaam Hui and Sheila Ki Jawani entertain.
Let him remain that. That’s all I’m pleading for.
(I hope the critics ignore him completely, but I don’t expect they will. They enjoy coming with a pre-conceived mindset and filling up good column space with satire and wit.)
Let him not sit at TOI organised “Aman ki Aasha” literary sessions aimed at fuelling a positive India-Pak situation. What he did last year and was downright stupid to say the least, if you’re in the know. He created a completely us-versus-them scenario with brilliant Pakistani author Mohammed Hanif. His comments were reminiscent of the ill-considered, badly-timed stupidity of India’s many chest-thumping, lassi-drinking rednecks.
His recent off-colour tweet on Father’s Day, some nonsense about coins and vending machines only reminded me of V.S.Naipul’s recent outrageous statement on literature written by women. Maybe Mr. Naipul must take a sharper look at the bullshit people he shares similar genitalia with are writing, before commenting on sentimentality.
Now he is standing up for the youth by protesting the new drinking law on Twitter. Yes, that will help, Mr.Bhagat. Twitter will save the youth. Unless of course, you can use Twitter the way the people in Libya and Yemen did, which I am very sure it won’t.
His attempt at representing the youth, their wants, desires, likes, dislikes, rights and opinions is just a way for bumbling Mr. B to legitimize his work. I am convinced of the fact that his ‘saviour of the masses’ persona is the only way he can align himself to popular sentiment, stay relevant and sell, sell, sell.
Please. I beg. I plead.
More than anything, I REFUSE to accept Chetan Bhagat as a representative of the youth.