In defence of Chetan Bhagat

Photograph of Chetan Bhagat, Novelist, while h...

Chetan Bhagat-Image via Wikipedia

So the man isn’t really a good writer, all right? I mean, he can string sentences together in a perfectly competent manner, but you would never read a passage from his books and think it came from Rushdie or Roy, for instance. But nonetheless, it rings throughout with- and I hate using this word, but for once I mean it- authenticity. Now, there currently exists in the front sections of most Indian bookstores rows of perfectly authentic (Indian) writing that also happens, alas, to be unreadable excrescence in many cases (I would have said most, but I couldn’t bring myself to try out a larger sample size, and saying most would be intellectually dishonest.) But Chetan Bhagat manages to pull off authenticity and still not grate, which is a rarer achievement than you would expect. Of course the fact that most conversations are in fairly colloquial “Indian English” means there’s at least one thing “wrong” in most paragraphs, but you only have to tune out your pedantic inner self a little, not stuff red-hot pokers up every possible orifice until it finally stops screaming.

Authenticity, however, isn’t even the main thing that makes him worth defending. The reason he is unambiguously a “good thing” to happen to this country is that he is a reasonable man, in the most obvious sense of the word, who also happens to be enormously popular. I’m not really familiar with his political positions in any detail but his books- books that literally millions of Indians who have read practically nothing else of a similar length in the English language- pushes mostly secular, liberal, universalist views on a populace that cannot by and large be described using those words[1]. I have no idea how much of an impact he’s having, if at all- I do know that the man sees himself as more than just a writer, perhaps as an activist of some sort, and I remember articles mocking him for his “pretensions” when what he does, essentially, (at least according to that reviewer) is sell pulp- but every bit counts, right?

[1] Do I sound like a tool here? I’ll admit that it sounds classist to paint such vast swathes of his readership with the same brush, but I’m pretty sure it’s applicable to a good portion of them.