Chetan Bhagat on why he became a girl for his new bookDipti Nair
After having recycled his bestselling theme of the trials and tribulations of the young, frustrated, male engineering graduates in his books, writer Chetan Bhagat, in his own words, “has taken a big risk” with his new book, One Indian Girl.
His protagonist, Radhika Mehta, is single, successful, and sexually active -- the 3s that burden women like her with a pariah status in Indian society. Talking about his new book on the first day of the Bangalore Literature Festival, 2016, with writer Sudha Murthy in a session titled, ‘Having it all: The new Indian girl’, Bhagat said the new Indian woman still does not have it all.
“We tell our daughters and sisters to go and get it all in life -- fame, success, and money -- and when they do, we do not know what to do with them,”
he said. Women now, like any other time, have to choose between career and home (love implied), but the choice is never theirs. “Men still want a simple and homely girl. The moment they come to know that the woman earns more than them, they say yeh to nahi ho payega (this will not do),” he added addressing the men in the room.
Bhagat, who is often trolled for his simplistic views on raging issues, and of course, his brand of writing, which he says riles people because it is not “sophisticated enough,” has courted controversy with all his books, and his new one is no different.
Social media was on fire after a reader tweeted with a screenshot of Page 57 when the book was released in October this year. Though that page alone could make Bhagat a contender for the ‘Bad Sex Award’ (established in 1993 by ‘Literary Review’ to “draw attention to poorly written, perfunctory or redundant passages of sexual description in modern fiction”), the fact that he put it out there in his book is telling.
Sudha Murthy, who was moderating the session, began by asking Bhagat why he felt the need to go graphic and not leave room for any imagination while describing the ‘love’ scenes in the book? “I showed this passage to many women to get their views. The younger girls thought it was perfectly fine and did not have any objections,” Bhagat answered, adding that the new Indian woman is aware of her sexuality and does not shy away from expressing it in the bedroom.
To write this book, Bhagat took refuge in Hong Kong so that he could be away from family.
“I usually shut myself away from everyone when I am writing my books. I have to experience the character that I am writing about. This time, I had to become a woman. I had to think like her and feel her pain,”
Bhagat told the responsive audience.
While it is noteworthy that Bhagat has taken up the cause of women in his new book, critics and reviews have not been kind saying that it is but a populist marketing ploy. “That it never set off to be a feminist book in the first place.”
(Photos by R Raja)