By Vidya Pradhan
“Books like these,” huffed a friend, “expose the vacuum in entertaining Indian literature.” He was referring to One night @ the call centre, Chetan Bhagat’s second book, and it was in response to an assertion by the New York Times on the blurb that the author was ‘the biggest-selling English-language novelist in India's history'.
After a sensational debut with Five Point Someone, a lighthearted look at life at the Indian Institutes of Technology, Chetan Bhagat became an overnight celebrity with the Indian reading public (the book completed 190 weeks on the India Today bestseller list in January 2008).
The first print of One Night.. , published in 2005, was snapped up in less than 3 days. But critics lambasted this offering. I remember thinking it was a rather maudlin and sentimental effort, with undesirably heavy doses of spirituality weighing down what could have been a satirical look at call centers and what the sudden push to prosperity has done for the Indian middle class. Still, a movie based on the book (tentatively called “Hello”) is in the works.
mistakes of my life, his third book, is equally mawkish.
Attempting to insert gravitas into a non-literary piece of work is always tricky; you run the risk of sounding like your grandmother’s dubious spiritual guru. The book attempts to frame a world view out of a few years in the life of an Ambavadi( Ahmedabadi) resident. (And what momentous years! There’s the Bhuj Earthquake, the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Godhra train Massacre..all neatly fitting into two or three chapters.)
The author, inserting himself quite unnecessarily into the narrative, meets Govind, the narrator of the story, after the latter has attempted suicide. Recovering in the hospital, Govind reminisces about his life and the mistakes he thinks he made during crucial moments. I use the verb “thinks” because to most readers, his actions seem perfectly normal for anyone who doesn’t aspire to sainthood. It is an excuse to declaim on the sinfulness of premarital sex, communal tension and the sacredness of friendship. You realize that the author not only sounds like the neighborhood Babaji, he wants to be the neighborhood Babaji. In an interview with the New York Times, he said, “I think people really took to the books mainly because there is a lot of social comment in there.”
Still, this book, like the others, is a zippy read. If, as the author claims, his role model is a Bollywood film( he also claims to make up his plots on a computer spreadsheet before getting down to writing) then he admirably achieves his object. 3
mistakes… is as entertaining as Jai Santoshi Ma and has about as much depth and resonance. I guarantee that you will probably be intrigued enough to finish the book, but in 6 months will be hard put to remember what the three mistakes were. They’re fading from my brain even as I write.
Consider it a disposable book – buy it, read it, and pass it on. At Rs. 100 for most paperback versions in India, it probably costs less than a cup of tea. Somehow I can picture it perfectly on a cart at the railway station. If you’re traveling, pick it up; it is at least as entertaining as the latest filmy rag-mag.
Chetan Bhagat’s first two books are available on Amazon.