The Emergence of a New Indian Identity in Chetan Bhagat ‘s Works – S. Sivanandan, Tamilnadu

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Chetan-BhagatTrends in Literature

Literature mirrors life, so goes the adage .    Literary forms have always been the medium of  expression of the success of the good over evil.  It had its origin in the form of fables and epics which taught man how one should be.  These had religious implications and the literary forms extolled Gods as the Omnipotent, who won over evil.   “ Poetic Justice”  was the order of the day.  Slowly the Gods were replaced by  kings  but the element of good over evil remained intact.  With Romanticism, the focus shifted from the king to the common man but  the plot was just the same , the victory of good over evil.

The central character of a literary work was  an individual  ,  who is   the height of his/her virtue, overcomes evil with much suffering.  What was forgotten was that there can be only one  winner (ultimately hero)  and the majority are left to fate to take its toll.  The Romantics who claimed to talk of the common, talked of that person who won, rather than the majority who toiled hard to go nameless.  Aptly as Gray writes in his elegy:

Full many a gem of purest ray serene

The dark unfathomed cave of oceans have

Full many a flower is born to blush unseen

And to waste it sweetness in desert air

 

.  It was at that time that the literary movement turned its tables to the Realism ,  Naturalism , etc. It was only with those movements man was seen as an individual .  Man is to be judged by what he is  and not what he ought to be.

Trends in Indian writing in English:

And turning our attention to the Indians, writing in English, there has always been a colonial hangover in the Indian writing in English even in the case of post colonial literature , It is only for  the past twenty years or so we have overcome the  colonial  aftertaste.  Until recently, writers like  Salman Rushdie who heralded the birth of the new generation post –independence (Midnight’s Children) , wrote in a style of language that was more suited to  foreign audiences than their Indian Counterpart.   With Arundathi Roy  a new breed of writers came to the fore who saw  India forty, fifty years after freedom still struggling under the small time feudal lords.  From her came an India that  is liberated but under the hands of the rich feudal lords.

Indian Post LPG

India’s independence from its colonial masters had a major influence on the literature of India, there  is equally another historical event that needs to be looked at.  It is Liberalization, Privatization and Globalization in the early nineties that opened new vistas.  India which was till then looked down upon  as a place to plunder began to be looked up as a place of  fertile market .  Foreign goods flooded the market and suddenly the Indian started looking around .  With the close of the twentieth century , the IT boom took over and in early twenty first century it was the call centre culture.

The generation post LPG that was riding high on the new found  foreign presence in and around them  that only fueled to run the rat race in the field of IT and Call centre culture.  Today the  so- called brainy kinds join IITs an IIMs to get  either green cards or heavy pay packets in the country and the not so intellects join the great majority of Call Centre.

The younger generation today in the country are in search of new identity and they stand at the crossroads of Individuality, Culture and Society as such.

Very few authors have tried  showcasing this  India, its culture and its people in the  light of emerging cosmopolitan setup  of the newfound opportunities and materialism. Indians of the generation next are at crisis of culture . Writers like Upamaayu Chatterji , Chetan Bhagat have always constantly tried to bring this crisis in the mind of its character, truly reflective of its generation.

The following is a critical evaluation of the works of Chetan Bhagat.  Chetan Bhagat has written five novel “Five Point someone” (FPS) , “One night @the call centre,”(ONCC)  The 3 mistakes of life (T3ML) , Two States  (TS) and Revolution 2020 (R20) .

By an Indian for Indians:   

The novel is basically written  for the Indian audience .  The language is typically   Indian English with a mix of  Indian languages as suited to the respective locale of the  novels.

Look at them, mothers fed them until they explode , little Farex Babies, “ Baku cackled  (Bhaghat 2004 : 4)

 No racing-vacing , I have a better Idea…….” (Bhagat 2004 :    5)

Boss, this is problem  – all food and no exercise (Bhagat 2004 :  26)

The food is excellent, no? (Bhaghat 2008 : 41)

The above usages are typically Indian English and these are just a few of many usages in the language.

No Footnotes and Endnotes:

It is but natural that one finds a lot  of words of Hindi, Gujarati , Tamil and many languages of India in the novels. Like  Bhaiya (Brother), Abba  (Father), Panditji(Learned or a Teacher),  Dhokla ( Steamed Gujrati Cakes) , Thepla ( Gujarati Flat braed)  etc.  What is surprising there are no Footnotes/Endnotes explaining the meaning of the word. It surely maintains the Indian flavour but also reiterates the fact, the book was meant for the Indians.  The use of certain words in vernacular and typical  words of Indian English make the readers identify themselves with the novel.

American Slang:

The author has made a right mix of  the American Slang which a modern day  students uses.   All novels are replete with swear words ranging from “crap” to the four letter “f” word.  You also find a lot slang like  “dude”, “buzz off”,  “heck” etc. This done to show the change in the vocabulary of English ,especially with the college boys who have developed a taste for swearing and American English.

Special Vocabulary of Students:

Majority characters in his novels are either college goers or just out of college , one gets to read lot of words that exclusive to that age group.

Like “Disco” for disciplinary committee , Apmech, Lube project , Operation Pendulum , etc

Narration Style: 

All the novels follow first person narration and it surely has a autobiographical element in it.  Five point someone and  Two States are ample proof for it.  The story is set in such a way as the  central character is narrating the story.  The tone of the novels is always maintained as that of  a jolly good college boy who does not care about the travails of the day-to-day.

Humor:

The author needs to be praised for the humor element that is predominant in all his novels.  If the  central theme of the novels is based on youngsters , it is natural that there is lot of  humor element in it.  The novels have humour as an under current and  it is black humour that it predominant in his work.  He makes humor to bring out the stark reality of life and it is not always that  has a happy ending.

In Five Point Someone you have the life of three IIT students.  It is generally felt that IIT has the best of Intellects in the country.  But  none would have thought about the so-called low achievers of the Institute.  The  very title  Five Point Someone(FPS)  has a bit of sarcasm in it . If your CPA is not 10 you are someone .   Ryan’s rebellion against the established rule of IIT in the name of adventure brings in only the reality of the institute where students are just made to by heart lessons and score high CGPA.  The way he rebels is quite adventurous.  Even their failed attempt to gain access to the exam papers  from Cherian’s room ,  Alok  phone call from Prof. Cherian’s office  all are humorous but at the same time in a broader sense they are all acts of desperateness.

Identity Crisis:

Titles:

In the novels of  Bhagat what we find common is the search for identity.  In FPS  the very use of the word someone brings in lot of meaning.  In fact all the title have a common thread , there are number in all the titles:  Five Point Someone , One night @the Call Centre  , The 3 Mistakes of my Life  , Two States  and Revolution 2020 .    All the titles signals the crisis as it’s a kind of suspense with non-specific titles.

Crisis of the Self:

As already stated today’s youth in the  age of 18-22 face a real crisis of identity.  The  major cities in the country  catering to the IT boom  have beckoned youth to its places giving him/her money and other comfort which most of the time is more than what one needs.  The purchasing power has increased and country has become dumping ground of foreign goods.  With the foreign culture invading us right from the drawing room of our homes (TV) to our office cabins.

The novels ONCC & R2020 brings in the picture of the present day India  where people are more  manipulative  and play their cards for relations.    Ambitions gets prioritized at the risk of morality.  With the new found materialism and the change in the way of living brings with it the eternal fear of losing it too.  Man is torn between self and the morality .

Chetan Bhagat whose characters often get frustrated with the system show a glimmer of hope in the novel Revolution 2020 with Raghav jumping into the fray to clean up the country.  He sorts gets in sync with  what was to follow later like the Civil Movement of Anna Hazare and Arvind Khejriwal.

Crisis in Relationships:

The novels FPS , T3ML & R2020 bring another aspect of relationships in the current day India.  Pre- marital Sex is something that is in vogue and the author brings to fore with much ease and everybody takes it to be natural.  The constant use of the booze and drugs also finds a place in FPS & R2020 . All these take  a kind of voyeuristic pleasure.  But the author cannot be blamed as that  is the state in which the society is today.

There is also a marked change in the relationship between the parents and children, where the generation gap is at its widest .  The strained relationship that Ryan has with his parents,  the family bread winner role that  Alok has to take rather threatens him as he  his torn between his city life and a dutiful son and a brother.  Today there is also another kind of problem the children face , parents who set unrealistic goals for their children that drives them mad – Neha’s brother’s suicide  , well brought out in the novel FPS.

Crisis of the Social Identity:

The very fact that a 10 pointer (CGPA) is labeled as  intelligent and  all 5  Pointers are dumb is a myth that is broken in the novel FPS.  The three friends considered to be 5 pointers face the brunt of the teachers  and fellow classmate but atlast making their mark in the project brings out the   effectiveness of the  evaluation system in the country.

 

It is a crisis of different identity in   T3ML .  It is  the religious identity that becomes the focus in the novel.  Chetan Bhaghat takes the incidents of Babri  Masjid demolition and the Godhra riots in this novel.  The incidents were more political and less religious in real, it had a tremendous impact on the lives of the youth at that point of time.  And the novel “The 3 Mistakes of my Life” brings out exactly that.  The hero of the story , Govind and his friends Ishaan and Omi and their friendship with Ali , the Mamaji of Govind who is a Hindu fundamentalist who instigates their allegiance to their religion.

The author needs to be praised her for bringing a touch of reality and  what generation next thinks about religion.  The younger generation might by funky, funny and may take things light , but when it comes to taking decisions they prove their mettle.

In R2020 we have a new system emerging where one find two school of thoughts going parallel.  We have Gopal who tries hard to do crack engineering entrance test to get a secure future. In his own

“My dad is not in the IAS . My grandfather  was not a minister. We are from a simple Indian Family.  We don’t ask questions.  We want to make a living . Engineering gives us that’, I answered.” ( R2020 p36)

Happy Ending?

All the novels of Chetan Bhagat does not have happy endings.  I feel that is because that is how life is there for the majority.  Life is full of challenges and we are in a time , where there is a growing conflict with self, with family and the with society as a  whole.

Cinematic :

There is constant stamp on Chetan Bhagat that all his novels are cinematic.  It could be true three of his works have already made into films and fourth one is in the process of being made one .  What reminds me of cinema is that of the dramatic twists that sometimes are  predictable .  Today even cinema is turning realistic and I think that’s why his novels are called cinematic.

Could the works be considered a literary work?

 

Chetan Bhagat may not considered by many  as a serious novelist of literary standards.  While my humble view that  many of the writers ,especially of  Indians writing in English , have in mind the standards set by the western world and  the works were always in terms of how the western audience would accept.  Here is a writer who writes for Indians , using the English as one would use it in the country and one cannot expect high the so-called literary  leanings in his works.

Chetan Bhagat represents a new breed of writers who may not be thoroughly Inidan in the sense ,  who has not  deliberately let off his  Influence of  working in a foreign land and  his studies in the elite institutes of India (IIT & IIM).  He/She is an amalgam of  all the foreign influence in the society today and yet very much Indian , a new Indian.  That what you can see in all his novels , the birth of a new Indian identity , the generation next who are proud to be what they are and yet ready to take on the world with their own might.

Works Cited:

Bhagat, Chetan. 2 States . New Delhi : Rupa &  Co, 2009. Print.

Bhagat, Chetan. Five Point Someone . New Delhi : Rupa &  Co,2004. Print.

Bhagat, Chetan. One Night at the Call Centre . New Delhi : Rupa &  Co, 2005. Print.

Bhagat, Chetan. The 3 Mistakes of My life . New Delhi : Rupa &  Co, 2008. Print.

Bhagat, Chetan. Revolution 2020 . New Delhi : Rupa &  Co,2011. Print.

 

 

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