There are books that rattle nations and force them to confront their prejudices and hypocrisies. There are books that evoke a sense of loss for a past we’ve never really known. There are books that predict disaster, death and dystopias and tell us where we are going. There are books that tell us hard truths about ourselves. There are books that haunt, delight, educate, entertain, move, arouse, breathe, play, and sing.
And then there are books by Chetan Bhagat.
According to World Culture Score Index, India is among the top nations when it comes to hours spent reading per week. Chetan Bhagat is the biggest selling English language novelist in India’s history and Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World. And I’m here to tell you, like a modern day Cassandra, why that foretells doom for Indian women. (I’m also very fond of hyperbole.)
All five published novels by him, Five Point Someone, One Night @ the Call Centre, The 3 Mistakes of my Life, 2 States and Revolution 2020, are, unambiguously and unapologetically, stories of men. These men have dreams and goals. They forge bonds of friendship or rivalry with other men. They make mistakes, overcome obstacles and they have fun. What about the women? Mr Bhagat’s female characters seem to have been painstakingly, even lovingly, crafted from gossamer strands culled from every tedious nightmare that feminists have ever had.
These women are invariably pretty because god forbid one of the movie-ready, clichéd male creations of these fictional worlds settle for any less. These women are also always defined in terms of their relationships with men- wives, mothers, girlfriends, girl-who-refuses-to-be-more-than-friends. Neha Cherian of Five Point Someone exists solely in her capacity as the protagonist’s (an IITian, surprise surprise) girlfriend in a narrative that is all about male-bonding and male aspirations. Vidya of The 3 Mistakes of my Life similarly serves the function of the forbidden and, therefore, all the more desirable romance, seeing as she is the best friend’s sister. What is this book about? Male friendship and male aspirations. One Night @ the Call Centre and 2 States are also narratives of men out to achieve/consolidate, in Bhagat’s words, their “naukri and chokri” (job and girl).
Most infuriating of them all is Revolution 2020. A movie-script full of bad stereotypes, insipid platitudes, commonplace critique of contemporary society and the vaguest plan for a revolution aside, the most alarming feature is the book’s whole-hearted acceptance and propagation of the ‘friendzone’ concept. Friendzoning, every victimised innocent man in Bhagat’s world will tell you, is when a devious female refuses to sleep with her ‘nice-guy’ friend despite leading him on (by doing all the things that ordinary friends do.) Gopal in Revolution 2020 spends three quarters of the book sulking about his platonic relationship with his childhood friend Aarti who, incidentally, is in a relationship with their common friend. This easy assumption that a woman owes you sex for doing for her what every decent friend in the world does is a patriarchal concept that will only grow stronger if writers and readers continue to share in it.
Bhagat’s women characters are pathetic spectres, forever circumscribed within their gender and sexuality, less than human in their one-dimensional personalities, and trophies to be awarded to the central male figure. Here are a few choice quotes so the gentle reader can judge for herself/himself:
“Why should any guy want to be only friends with a girl? It’s like agreeing to be near a chocolate cake and never eat it. It’s like sitting in a racing car but not driving it.” (2 States: The Story of My Marriage)
“Pretty girls behave best when you ignore them. Of course, they have to know you are ignoring them, for otherwise they may not even know you exist.” (2 States: The Story of My Marriage)
For more critical commentary on Bhagat’s misogyny, please visit http://www.sparkthemagazine.com/?p=5381