Wednesday, August 4, 2010

An open letter to Chetan Bhagat

Dear Chetan,
I’m writing to you to say that I’m not one of your biggest fans. Heck, I wouldn’t call myself a fan at all. I read your novel “The Three Mistakes of My Life” and let me tell you I was deeply disappointed with what I read. From the viewpoint of an author, I believe that after one finishes the book, the story, the passages and the characters should remain vividly in the reader's mind. It should inspire and intrigue him long after he has finished reading. He should be able to appreciate the subtle metaphors and symbolism in the book. The author must be in the same vein as the director who makes such a thought provoking film that the stunning visuals, the witty dialogues and probably the cliff hanger at the end should have captured the hearts and minds of the audience. I’m referring to films like “Inception” and “Memoirs of a Geisha”.
For instance, I read your novel in my third year of undergraduate at VIT University, while I was recovering from a chest infection. A junior of mine thought it was the perfect get-well-soon gift and had dropped it off. I finished the book in a week (a lot longer than it usually takes me) and I returned it to my friend. Nearly two years have passed and I can’t remember the name of your protagonist or even the plot. I remember vaguely that the protagonist had amazingly beaten the odds of statistics and had joined the national cricket team (or something to that effect), there was a communal riot and that the obese (or not) lovable bloke of the bunch was killed in an alcohol fueled rage. And finally the hero, after having his stomach pumped, writes to you and you break the fourth-wall to visit him and offer soothing words. And also to help him sign over his story rights to you before he bites the big one. I’m kidding you, Chetan. That’s pretty much the gist right? Not good from where I’m standing. Let’s take another example. “The God of Small Things” by Arundhati Roy. I read her novel back in my first year at VIT as a homesick lad. A friend of mine from Kerala had lent me the book after he was done with it. I finished the dog-eared book in four days. To this day I still cannot forget the details of that novel. The forbidden love between Ammu and Velutha, the tragic drowning of Sophie Mol, the unspeakable guilt behind Estha’s false testimonial and the implications of their decisions that changed them forever. I remember reading the last few pages on the Kovai express on the way back home to Chennai on a Friday evening. So powerful was the content of that book, that nearly four years after reading it, I still vividly remember so many details of the book. That is the power of writing; to hold sway of an audience’s attention, to draw them into your world and immerse them in your subconscious.
Another peeve that I have is the language. It hardly challenges the reader. It reads way too simply and often feels too casual. Some examples to back up my point. From your short story “The Cut-off”- “Anjali, the dude scored ninety two per cent in commerce!”, “I had snucked it out early morning so mom and dad wouldn’t see it”. Snucked?!

Touché, Chetan. Touché.

Compare this to Roy’s : “Men's subliminal urge to destroy what he could neither subdue nor deify”. You can argue that you "deal with important issues that concern students”. Yes, I can do that too. In fact that is the easiest way for any author to write a book and make a fast buck. Teenage angst, the pitfalls of a one-sided love, poor grades, not meeting expectations and a poor self-image mixed with a shot-glasses full of alcohol and cigarette smoke make for a ready-made microwave prepared novel. But your overly simplistic story telling is seriously hurting your chance of becoming a prolific writer. And no, one is not a great writer for churning out 100 rupee novels that sell like hotcakes. It all depends on language and a writing style. And no, one doesn't have to use "GRE words" as so many call it. Even simple English, if used judiciously can be very evocative.
And finally: You have a thing for death and suicide, but lack the suitable imagination to give it the gravity and depth that it so rightly deserves. Your short story is an example in particular. The protagonist of 'The Cut-Off', “The Dude” is all set to kill himself, yet the reader is no way convinced that he will do so.
Here is how I would write a paragraph on a death related theme.

Every single one of us is fascinated with the notion of death. The extremities have always intrigued us. If this is what it means to live- to eat, speak and sleep, what would death- the opposite of life, entail? Come on, don’t deny it. You’ve had that feeling before. That feeling that you couldn't put words to? To leap in front of a speeding car, to drive that sharp blade deep into the yielding flesh, to gulp all the pills when one is enough. But the mania fades into oblivion in mere seconds, like a half-forgotten dream when we wake up. However for the suicidally inclined the moment lingers on like a nightmare. We all have a reason to do it and I had mine. I was sitting at the table that morning, slowly feeling the sharp edge of the blade. Imagining the sight, feel and smell of my blood staining the pristine white table cloth. The mania didn’t stay for the customary moment. I was too deep in to notice.”

The paragraph speaks volumes about the mentality of the individual and his take on suicide. Compare mine with what you wrote “What are a few extra calories on your last day?”.

Bravo, Chetan. Bravo.

Of course this entire letter to you is an exercise in futility. You will continue to write in your simplistic fashion, thousands will still lap up your books and never question your writing ability or style, Bollywood directors would pay you big bucks to buy the rights to novel. Some things never change. This blog post will be lost to the net.
Yours faithfully,
Nikhil Rajagopalan.


ahalya said...

Cannot tell u how much i agree with u....his books have degraded the quality of writing so much that anyone who can string a sentence in english now publishes novels! i hope he reads this and it knocks some sense into him! Kudos to u :) continue the noble work of keeping literature alive :)

ram.rnrk said...

a fitting reply indeed... and i think that the misguided folks that are his fans need to read this more than the guy who spouts nonsense... believers give life to the belief... i hope that people revert to reading sensible literature, like you so rightly said, and if he does decide to write another book, i sure hope he can bring his feeble imagination to its arthritic feet and write just a few lines of sense that sensible people can read too... and please, no more stories with improper language - we are pathetic with grammar as it is and our vocabulary could use a few extra words apart from "dudes" and the f-word..surely, we are better than that..

Aseem said...

I am really sorry to point out certain flawed facts you have got here. I am not being biased for Chetan Bhagat or Arundhati Roy

1. You can't compare Arundhati Roy and Chetan Bhagat at any level. I haven't read her books. But I do know that she is a serious writer who has a good literary sense and vision. Chetan Bhagat for your information hasn't ever said that his books have great literary value. They are meant to be read and forgotten after a period of time.

2. Chetan Bhagat hasn't ever said and I am sure too that he would never get a Booker Prize not because he can't get. But because his writing is not meant to be that. His writing was, is and always be for the masses.

3. Yes I agree that his vocabulary may not be that good. But has he ever said that he wants to be a prolific writer in a literary sense of the word. As far as I know that he has always wanted to be a people's writer.

4. Chetan Bhagat as you know has been by far the most popular novelist of India all the time. This is because he wanted to write what the masses wanted. He writes for his public. And to tell you the truth the public in India loves his books whether you accept it or not. Arundhati Roy's books have always been meant for a niche audience.

5. @ahalya and @nikhil - Chetan Bhagat did inspire a new generation of writers. But I truly hate them because they do nothing but try copying him with stories of (girl+boy+sex+friends+college etc etc). But obviously its not his fault that they started writing such books.

6. Truthfully speaking I would love to read if people compare Chetan Bhagat with Sidin Vadukut (Dork), Karan Bajaj (Keep off the grass) and people like that. Arundhati Roy is in the league of Arvind Adiga, Salman Rushdie and all. So you can't compare the two of them at all.

7. And truthfully a comment for all the comments on your blog. "Sensible" people like me read his books too. It doesn't show that I am insensible. I have read all his books alongwith Connect the Dots, Stay Hungry Stay Foolish, A cause Untrue, Imperial Life: - Life in the Emerald City inside the Green Zone and many more recently. So as you can see I am sensible very much.

8. His books are meant to be read on a train, plane or as a light read anywhere and after sometime one forgets it. It has, is and will always be a light read. He has never ever said that it was meant to be really remembered or he wanted you to remember the dialogues.

9. People love his books for his simplicity, easy of writing and the fact that they can associate themselves with him.

10. Deviating a bit from the topic, 3 Idiots, Swades, Chak De India, Rang De Basanti were really good movies. But does one remember any dialogues or great sequences today? I don't know.

Just want to say that your aim of preserving the literary world is good. But sadly you have got it really and completely wrong here by comparing two writers as different as chalk and cheese.

In bold letters, Chetan Bhagat's novels are NOT WAT YOU EXPECT!

And actually for all of you here its not a necessity to pick up his novel and read. Its not a college text that you got to pick up. If you don't like, no need to read.

RP said...

Good open letter to Chetan.

Keep it up.

prateekmathur said...

I appreciate your writing so much that I have asked complete strangers to read and follow your blog...I know you will never appreciate and you don't care because you want to live in a bubble of self satisfaction and self appreciation where even constructive criticism finds no place.
I don't see a you having a problem with Chetan Bhagat or his way of writing, your problem lies in people not agreeing with what you think is better. And the statistics don't favor you either. But again, you don't care.

But wait, do you actually not care?

Well you care enough to write 1000 words to prove your point!

The protagonist of your story is not Chetan Bhagat, it is you. This post is not about his writing vs Roy's writing, but about you considering yourself a better writer than him. At some level, you cannot make peace with the fact that his books are so famous!

It is not Chetan Bhagat who should grow up, but it is you who should start looking beyond the people who read on flights, attend art exhibitions and read or write to win Booker prizes. There is a large proportion of people who read on hostel beds, cannot spell Picasso or Michelangelo but still want to read or write to give a message or just for plain simple entertainment. It is for you "illustrious literati" to realize that those who don't know the meaning of "entail", "slumber", and " pristine" (from your paragraph on suicide, which frankly i didn't read because too many words and expressions for a word "suicide"! ), also have the right to read English books with social message. Not every author can be an activist like Ms Roy who have an opinion about everything, from dams to democracy, from nationalism to naxals. Some of them come from simpler backgrounds, called as the middle class, and have one primary aim, to pass a social message, beyond the boundaries of intellect. Their books don't cost a 1000 bucks, but just 95, so that every college student can read what happens in IIT or call centers or in Gujarat, or in a Punjabi-Tamil wedding!
We are simpler people, with just 1100 hits on our blogs and with simpler expectations from a book. We don't read to increase our intellect, we read to know someone's point of view about the most current issue so that we can form our opinion too.

koottanchoru said...


I came here through your dad. It is so nice to see to see a reader!

I guess I belong to an older generation. Chetan Bhagat falls into the category of "time pass" for me. From your post, it is clear that you like him. Do you think you could explain why Chetan Bhagat appeals to you to old fuddy-duddies like me?

Say hello to your dad!

ahalya said...

@Aseem and Prateek as an avid and passionate reader of all sorts of books i just have a few observations :
1. i am for one all in for simplicity as long as it does not insult the point of a piece......literature is about imagination and creativity and enhancing one's ability to put across the same thing in a manner that is both appealing and stimulating...... there is a reason we were made to read shakespeare and other classics...... read "the alchemist"...its the simplest book ever but with a powerful message.....
2. i ve read chetan bhagat and yes i did love 5-point someone...coz that strikes a can relate to it....but really can u relate to 3 mistakes of my life or anything in that vein...your deluding yourself if you say yes......
3. u underestimate the intelligence of the masses by saying that we need simple books to keep them happy... i was introduced to books when i was 6 and had just learned to string sentences...... the more u read the more u understand have to give them an opportunity to do so.... i have read hindi literature too and let me tell u no one in the "masses" can follow that too in honest reality....unless u have a very good hindi pieces of authors like premchand and then you would know what the hindi language is about......
4. in a different vein...we as a race cannot stand it if one of our kind can write as well as authors of foreign origin....we would rather say keep it simple coz the "masses" like it....please do not forget that u and me make this mass......
i would like to end by saying that a true writer is one who can use his words in the most effective manner to touch the reader's mind and heart alike.....