Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Two States - not the story of my marriage

I bought the first book that Chetan Bhagat published mainly because I wanted to see what the guy I vaguely knew in b-school came up with. I loved the book. ‘Five Point Somebody’ was at the same time funny and serious. You identified with the characters and chuckled at the undertone of wit. It spawned a whole generation of ‘campus novels’, each worse than the other. It remained a class apart.

Bhagat’s second book started off well, but lost the plot completely long before the end. The climax was ridiculous even by the standards of a Bollywood movie, but enough people loved the book for there to be a third. After the third, I swore never to read another of Bhagat’s books. But when I read the teaser of ‘Two States – the story of my marriage’, I knew I had to give the book a try.

The blurb promised much -
Love marriages around the world are simple:
Boy loves girl. Girl loves boy.
They get married.

In India, there are a few more steps:
Boy loves Girl. Girl loves Boy.
Girl’s family has to love boy. Boy’s family has to love girl.
Girl’s Family has to love Boy’s Family. Boy’s family has to love girl’s family.
Girl and Boy still love each other. They get married.

Welcome to 2 States, a story about Krish and Ananya. They are from two different states of India, deeply in love and want to get married. Of course, their parents don’t agree. To convert their love story into a love marriage, the couple have a tough battle in front of them. For it is easy to fight and rebel, but it is much harder to convince. Will they make it?

Chetan Bhagat is a Punjabi, married to a Tamilian, Anusha Suryanarayan, they have two sons. My family exactly mirrors his - I am a Tamilian, the hubby is a Punjabi and we have two sons. How could I not read a book that promised to affectionately poke fun at both communities and on how they interact when they know they have to be joined in the bounds of holy matrimony?

The storyline was simplistic to say the least - boy and girl meet at b-school, fall in love, and live together for two years. Girl gets a job in Chennai, boy asks for a posting in the same city. Boy goes all out to convince girl's family that he would make a suitable husband for their only son. Mission accomplished, boy and girl together try to get his family to accept her. Uneasy truce, mis-understandings, break-ups, unexplained patch-up, Big Fat (South) Indian wedding. But the very simplicity of the story had potential€, which unfortunately never materialised.

The book started with clich├ęs. Girls who got admission in the Indian Institute of Management- Ahmedabad, according to the author, were selected for their ability to solve mathematical problems than the rest of the population, they were not selected for their looks, or their attitudes towards clothes and accessorizing. The girls on campus were individually and collectively some of the smartest girls I have ever met, but many of them were also extremely pretty, and almost everyone knew how to dress to kill on days when they were going out. That people didn’t bother to dress up on campus was because of the prevailing sartorial culture than because of a personal disinclination to do so.

Once the protagonists graduated from b-school, the stereotyping only became worse. Sure individual members of certain communities dress, talk and behave in a certain way, but to imply that everyone is created from the same mould is to ask people to stretch their imaginations beyond credible limits.

Any Indian, regardless of which part of the country they come from, knows that traditional meals in South India are served on banana leaves. They may not know the rituals associated with it, but nobody, however dumb, would make a statement like “are we supposed to eat these?”, except in jest. And yet, Bhagat has one of his characters say just that.

Sure the book had its moments. There were times when the author provided quirky insights of the kind only a benevolent insider can provide. But those moments, rare though they were, only made the experience of reading the book more torturous. Because they reminded you of the wonderful story that could have been woven, had the author been serious about writing a book rather than stringing together a set of stereotypical moments.

That the book was written with one eye on movie rights is apparent- I can almost predict which pretty Tamilian actress, and cute half-Punjabi actor will play the roles of the main protagonists. That there are people who would enjoy the book is a fact. I am just not one of them.

And after this experience, I am definitely not reading any more books written by Chetan Bhagat.


Ron said...

I read the last few books of his while travelling. Mediocre and stereotyped are two words that leap to mind. Considering I am a Bengali married to a Punjabi who lived all his life in Chennai ( a highly confused Punjabi I assure you), I was vaguely interested in this new book. But now, after reading this post, I think not. Thanks for the review :)

Rayna M. Iyer said...

@ Ron - stay away from the book is all I will tell you. Forget the Tamilian side, even the Punjabi ladke wale side is full of stereotypes.
Ridiculous stuff like boy's mother throwing a tantrum because the ladki wale did not get any gifts for her, and remarking loudly at the convocation - "these South Indian girls are all our to snare out boys - look at Hema Malini and Sridevi". Stay away, stay far away is my advice.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Stereotypes and poorly-done research make books too distracting for me to read. I guess it's my internal editor, but I can't get past the issues. If I read a book with inaccuracies and stereotypes on American Southerners, it would have the same effect on me as your experience.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Anonymous said...

I make a conscious effort to stay away from sterotyping. I aks my proofreader to be on the lookout for anything that may sound racist or sexist to the reader.

Stephen Tremp

dipali said...

Thanks for the warning off!

Elspeth Antonelli said...

In my opinion populating your book with stereotypes is just lazy writing. It's not funny, it's not cute, it's just lazy.


Chary Johnson said...

It's also insulting. I would not take kindly to a book that stereotypes Latinos in America. Sorry you had to go through that.

Unfortunately for me, once I start a book, no matter how bad it is, I feel the need to finish it. Reading that book would have been torturous.

Great review and good point of view.

Rayna M. Iyer said...

@ Elizabeth - totally. And what makes it worse is when it is done by someone claiming to be in insider.

@ Stephan - wish other writers were as consciencious as you. Few are :-(

@ dipali - yes, STAY AWAY.

@ Elspeth - I do agree. Just laziness.

@ Chary - I am pretty much like you. When I start something, I have to finish it. But if I dislike something very intensely, I speed read to the end, so it doesn't disturb me too much. And then I let rip.

Anonymous said...

This sounds both cliched and offensive. Glad you called him out on the stereotyping--have any other reviewers done so?

ritu said...

how can u hv patience for stereotyping - and that too from a new gen author.

Rayna M. Iyer said...

@ Niru - all the reviews I have read of the book take the tone of 'it is a book for the masses, and Bhagat delivers'. Which it is, and which he does. But you know what, I personally believe that someone who calls himself an insider owes it to the people who have made him one to not pander to stereotypes.
I guess the people who are offended by Bhagat's books just stay away from reviewing them, because when they do, he attacks them by stating that he never claimed to write high literature.

@ Ritu - his books are like Bollywood movies- they cater to the lowest common denominator. Which is unfortunate, because the man now has such a cult following that if he attempts to break steriotypes, they could as well get broken.

Musings said...

Share your sentiments. I read his first and thought it was very lame. Wondered if these events were the extent of fun(?) - the life of these IITians is surely pathetic :-)

Rayna M. Iyer said...

FPS I was willing to live with, Mandy - after all, it was the start of a new genre in India, but the books that followed have been really sad.

Pitu said...

Hmm after all the hype about Bhagat, I was considering reading something by him but your post has convinced me not to. Truth be told though, I am really not a fan of the desi lit coming out of India right now. My cousin consumes those books by the truckloads and makes me read them but they are by and large, quite awful. And books written by desis for publication in America, oh Lord! Take a peek at the book jackets I found at my local lib - all written by desi authors ;-D

Rayna M. Iyer said...

@ Pitu - the desi lit coming out of India these days really sucks. Bad grammar, crappy writing, thin plots, non-existent characterisation. The only thing that redeems them is the fact that when pirated, they provide lots of poor people a decent living.

balanand said...

I'm a north indian male and it's really flattering to see the south indian females marrying the north indians males. After all the south indian males are ugly black monkeys, who are poor in every department of manhood. In looks and physique the south indian males are pathetic compared to the north indian males.The south indian males are the ugliest specimens in india and even the toilet cleaners in north india look more handsome than them. My only advice to south indian females is to marry north indian males so that they can improve the gene pool of the future generations by having beautiful children.

Rayna M. Iyer said...

@ balanand - I believe in freedom of speech, which is why I am not deleting your comment, but if you feel looks are the only thing that matters, you probably have a few hard lessons coming your way.

sheela said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
rohit said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
rohit said...

Must be an enjoyable read 2 States: The Story of My Marriage by Chetan Bhagat. loved the way you wrote it. I find your review very genuine and original, this book is going in by "to read" list.

Rajesh said...


I am not an avid novel reader or an expert in literature. Heck, I am not even that good in English. :)
But I find your review of this book is unfair. I am also not a fan of Chetan Baghat either. This is only his second book I read. Frankly, I enjoyed it!! Even though I didn't marry a North Indian girl, I am a Tamil Iyer married to an Iyengar girl. We both met during our college days. I could somewhat relate my story with this book and it brought back the memorable moments of my life.

If Chetan has written this book with an eye on getting movie rights so be it. Last I checked, there are no rules against writing a book with movie rights in mind!!

I could sense border line jealousy in your review and bashing this book.

Rajesh Subramanian.

Khanyisa said...

I've just read two of Chetan Bhagat's books...2020 and Two States! They were page turners...very entertaining and insightful. I see that many commentators on this blog discourage people from reading Bhagat's books such blogger going to the extent of 'hate speech' which should not be tolerated at all....I must say that I find Bhagat's observations useful in that they bring to the fore questions about our own stereotypes and prejudices ...and makes us examine ourselves. Having grown up and lived in a country where we suffered oppression and racial separation, I believe that one should never tire from stories that highlight problems of race, class, regionalism, and any other prejudices that contribute to inequalities and silent but dangerous oppression which still exist in our societies. We must not become complacent. Bhagat's, in my opinion, is an observant and conscientious writer...and I will certainly be recommending his books to many. For the blogger who referred to South Indians as animals and lesser people ...and the moderator who allowed the comment on the basis of a right to free speech...note the examples of Rwanda and South Africa...and I urge you to reconsider this posting.

Natasha said...

@ Rohit- you seem not to have read my review at all. I am not recommending the book to anyone who likes to read something that challenges them. But since you seem not to be able to understand my review, I guess the book will appeal to you.
Happy Reading.

Natasha said...

@ Rajesh- if you have encountered people in your life who actually think banana leaves are meant to be eaten, you have met far more interesting people than I have.

The popularity of the book, and the fact that there is a huge chunk of population that never reads but which has read Chetan Bhagat's books only attests to the fact that the books are supremely enjoyable to some people. I am just not one of them.

Borderline jealousy? I think not. I consider Chetan Bhagat one of the few public figures who makes a lot of sense when he talks. If he ever enters politics, you can be sure I will support him, because he better understands things than many others.

He's also a writer I admire, because he understands his target segment prefectly and caters to their needs. It just so happens I am not a part of his target readership, and neither is it likely that any of the regular readers of my blog are.

Natasha said...

@ Khanyisa- I do believe in free speech, and I am sure that if you ask the author you seem to admire so much, he too will say what I do "I may not agree with you, but I will defend to death your right to say so".
India is NOT Rawanda or South Africa, precisely because the right to free speech is ingrained in us. And while I found a particular comment offensive in the extreme, I chose to let it stay and I responded to it.

Read my previous comment. I happen to agree with most of Chetan Bhagat's statements. I think he is one of the most articulate people around who also makes complete sense. It just so happens that I don't like the books he writes- and there is no reason why I should- those books are not targeted at me.


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