No Country for Women; at least in Chetan Bhagat’s world

by Neha Yadav on March 7, 2014

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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).

download 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)

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For more critical commentary on Bhagat’s misogyny, please visit http://www.sparkthemagazine.com/?p=5381

Written by Neha Yadav

Self-avowed Brontesauras, cinephile and bookworm. Drinks more coffee and browses more internet than is healthy for anyone

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

shilpi dutta March 7, 2014 at 10:36 AM

To an extent yes I agree that his books are male oriented..But there are authors far worse than him who describe women as objects and selfish creatures.I am sure you must have read Sidney Sheldon. He writes on female protagonists and their struggle/bold side/motives. However, the action packed novels look like a sex book describing women as sex objects and a toy to play with.

Bhagat has described the various circumstances of female employees working in BPO and I could connect to it. Anusha of “2 states” was a bold and confident lady from IIM, more energetic,positive and intelligent than the male protagonist. All female characters are not bad.

Its all about the author’s mindset and preferences about what he/she writes. Else the world can argue over J.KRowling’s harry potter too, that why did she not switch characters of Harry and Haermoinee!

One should enjoy fiction as a fiction, not a documentary. I smell too much of feminism from your post. Take it easy girl 🙂

Cheers!

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Mugdha March 10, 2014 at 8:21 AM

Hmmm… interesting. I think you’ve brought up some interesting aspects of his books.

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Dhanush Gopinath March 7, 2014 at 11:18 AM

IMHO, reading Chetan Bhagat is a waste of time. I stopped reading him after Three Mistakes of Life. On the other hand read Manu Joseph, Oparna from Serious Men and Ouseph’s wife (dont remember the name) would not disappoint you.

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Dhanush Gopinath March 7, 2014 at 11:19 AM

Ouseph’s wife in The Illicit Happiness of Other People

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Mugdha March 10, 2014 at 8:20 AM

I’ve been meaning to read Serious Men; it’s lying on my bookshelf for almost a year.

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Seeta March 7, 2014 at 11:54 AM

I do my best to avoid his books. He is a man who equated Shakespeare the Ekta Kapoor of his times (http://www.firstpost.com/black-money-india/video/comedy-show-jay-hind-ekta-kapoor-chetan-bhagat-and-shakespeare-hilarious-video/GVvGYA2CalA316936A11.html) that goes to show how bad his understanding of English Literature is…. Well as far as his treatment of female characters go… it might (as some readers point in the comments) reflect the actual state of affairs but at the end of the day we need to remind ourselves that CB doesn’t write books, he writes the screenplays for potential bolywood movies and honestly that is what sells in Bollywood 😐 Well written piece!

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Mugdha March 10, 2014 at 8:19 AM

So true, the line about him writing Bollywood scripts in the guise of novels. One must give him a certain amount of credit for knowing exactly what sort of low-brow writing will appeal to the masses, though.

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Tnahsin Garg March 7, 2014 at 5:09 PM

Well said! But I guess one shouldn’t take CB too seriously. The fact that he is a famous youth icon tells less about him and more about us.

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Mugdha March 10, 2014 at 8:19 AM

Very true… very astute observation.

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Itisha Niranjan Baxi March 9, 2014 at 2:25 PM

Extremely well written! He is someone with no literary quality. The biggest problem is that people have made him a youth icon and now all teenagers read his books and get the feeling that this how life is supposed to be and this is what how they are to act.

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Mugdha March 10, 2014 at 8:17 AM

Which is a serious problem. Even though his books are meant for entertainment and not enlightenment, he reinforces the male chauvinistic attitude and makes it seem funny, cool and ultimately, acceptable. Which it really is NOT.

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Alia Sinha March 9, 2014 at 8:07 PM

“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.” Magnificent. Sharp as nails and twice as funny. Killed it with fire yo.

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Mugdha March 10, 2014 at 8:22 AM

I liked that line by Neha too… 😉

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Developing Mind April 6, 2014 at 2:05 PM

Hi Neha!

I have only read the first three of his five books you mention. Let us see what kind of a person Chetan Bhagat is : He is probably one of those second or third generation Indians who succeeded in materialistic and professional terms. He even worked at Goldman Sachs and rubbed shoulders with high profile non-Indians. Such people, some of them, usually feel like they are the chosen ones and feel an inexplicable urge to patronize their less fortunate brethren. He writes from that perspective in my opinion. No harm, No malice.

You can hold your opinion on how he projects women in his books. But my understanding as a man is a little different. He doesn’t get some things that are specific to women. This is is understandable because in Sanskrit there is a saying by great sages that even gods can’t figure out what exactly is a woman’s nature. If you read the books carefully he makes this pretty clear and even successfully uses humor to convey his point. I found it funny enough to evoke a smile. His men do come across as nerdy types, so it is understandable that women in his imagination are like how you describe above. I personally do not relate to his women because they go ahead and have sex with the guy. You can think of geeks here to understand my point, lonely and reticent men would also do. This part of his writing is cheesy in my opinion. I can understand your point that he writes as though the men take the women for granted. The sense of entitlement and so on. You have to understand he is writing about how men were in his college days. These men were fighting their own inner battles: Tradition vs Modernity. If you take these into consideration I think he did okay with the books that I read. Please note that I am not endorsing these male characters in his book.

Coming to your own article above, you say you like hyperbole. Okay. What about this:

“… crafted from gossamer strands culled from every tedious nightmare that feminists have ever had.”

You will probably pat yourself on the back for the above phrase. But Bhagat’s male character will get exasperated. Bhagat himself will get exasperated. Of course you already know he does not write like this or may be he can’t write like this either.

Give him a break. May be in the future, he will turn into India’s David Brooks. He does look him a little if you ask me.

PS: I personally don’t even like Chetan Bhagat, because he publicly humiliated Baba Ramdev at the India Today thingy where pretentious elite with superior airs and zero intellect come to eat, drink and have fun at the expense of some of the guests. I call it suity desis doing some mazaa looting. Full points to Ramdev for showing the power of Yoga – He did not lose his cool and showed great composure. All the fools who laughed at him including Bhagat should be forgiven according to Christ, because they know not what they are doing. Is this hyperbole?

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