The sensible boy
Chetan Bhagat has retained his down-to-earth attitude even as he has shot to the top of the bestseller charts. His latest book is in its 16th reprint within a week of its launch and has had a print run of lakhs. Roopinder Singh interviews the author. Excerpts:
Why did you set the story in Gujarat?
I have lived in Ahmedabad and Gujaratis are simple people. There are many vegetarians and people are not communal. Suddenly the state was in the news for all the wrong reasons. I have received mails from many Gujaratis who said: “We have all suffered, we were not involved, but people suffered, and you have told our story.” I strongly feel that India will not develop unless we tackle such violence. This generation has the best chance, if they say let us make money (much like Govind), I don’t think it is bad, in fact, greedy for money is far better than this violence.
What do you feel is the strength of the book?
I have a better story this time. The first one was of experiences of college, the second one was the story of one night, but this is the real events and the story has come together.
You have a strong message in the book…
I wanted to communicate. There are many young people who are not aware of Godra, the build-up to the violence—even if they have a hazy idea, they are not aware of the details. If there is an academic book on sectarian violence, maybe 500 intellectuals will read it. You need something in the mass format. It is not about Chetan becoming great and receiving accolades for his writing, it is the message. Chetan will take a few knocks from the critics, as long as young readers get to feel how what happened is wrong. They don’t want to discuss politics, and many don’t care. We can’t judge our readers’ taste, we have to serve our readers.
How many drafts did the manuscript go through before you finalised it?
It was a lot of hard work. it is a tough subject for my kind of writing. I wrote six drafts. I am getting better! (Five Point Someone was reportedly written 11 times).
How have the readers responded?
A lot of my readership is coming from smaller cities. Now that I am in India, it is easier to meet my readers. Many people ask me: “Did you meet that girl in the train?” or “Did you get a call from God?” They behave as if my characters are real—they want to know what became of Rayan or Priyanka. They like the passion of my characters and want to become like them. It is the young people who are recommending the books to their peers. They have responded to my books in a tremendous way, they mob me at the launches, kiss my hands…(embarrassed giggle). They like the person, and they read his books. I can feel their love. It seems that they don’t have role models, when we were young, even if we met an uncle who we are impressed with, he had could change our lives.
What next for Chetan?
I will take some time off and spend time with my children. I am sure that I will come up with something next.
Tale of friends and follies
The 3 Mistakes of my Life
by Chetan Bhagat. Rupa. Pages 258. Rs 95
I got a mail from a mother in Pune. “When I read about your third book, I became happy …and sad, because my 16-year-old daughter and I used to read your books together and laugh together a lot. But I have lost her last year. She would have been so happy to be there….to meet you.”
Chetan Bhagat got this mail on Sunday, and no, it is not the beginning of a new book, but the response to his latest book that has hit the stands and is set to make publishing history in terms of the print run.
The book is about three best friends. These boys, Govind, Ishan and Omi, are as inseparable as they are distinctive. Govind dreams of becoming a businessman, Ish is focused on cricket, and Omi just wants to hang around.
Cricket, friends and religion—three factors that figure significantly in any Indian’s life, do so in this story as well.
The three Ahmedabad-based buddies become partners and open a Team India Cricket Shop, which later diversifies into a stationary shop. Govind is the most brilliant of the three, and also the poorest. He takes math tuitions and nurtures his fledging business operation.
New factors change dynamics of their relationship. Ish comes across Ali, a very talented cricketer who he takes on as a prot`E9g`E9. Ali is very weak in studies, and Govind is made to volunteer free maths tuition. Govind also starts teaching Ish’s sister, Vidya, gradually starts thinking more and more about her.
Set in Gujarat, the story has the Bhuj earthquake, the Ram Janama Bhoomi build-up, the Godhra train burning and Gujarat riots in the backdrop. Like millions of others, the lives of the protagonists are affected by these events. Chetan doesn’t discuss these issues in detail. However, in his bringing them to the fore, he does engage the younger generation in addressing the issue of communalism and sectarian politics.
Ali’s father, a Zoology professor and political activist comments, “The problem in India Hindu-Muslim rivalry is not that one is right and the other wrong. It is…”
“That there is no reconciliatory mechanism,” completes Ish.
Chetan Bhagat draws in the reader with his story, even as it takes some improbable turns, like a small town doctor diagnosing Ali’s hyper-reflex condition through an MRI scan; youngsters managing to meet and make an Australian “check out” the young Ali—and then making their way Down Under (on what grounds did all of them get their visas?); but the journey is engaging and this reviewer read the book in one sitting.
Chetan has a keen eye for detail and is definitely someone who is in touch with the way the younger generation thinks. Following the success of Five Point Someone, a story about three friends in IIT, Delhi, he notched another hit with One Night @ the Call Center. Now with The 3 Mistakes of my Life, he has much to celebrate with the success of the book. — R.S.
This interview and the review were published in The Tribune