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 clichés. 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.