Spent. And finished – is it?
Review of ‘One Indian Girl’ written by Chetan Bhagat
Radhika Mehta, who ‘makes a lot of money’, has ‘an opinion on everything’, and has had sex is the sort of person who has no inhibition in saying, ‘Why can’t women get a wife?’ With her as the protagonist of Chetan Bhagat’s novel ‘One Indian Girl’ the reader obviously expects the author to reach out beyond conventionally held thoughts and trample a fair number of traditionally held beliefs. The novel does precisely this and in a rather readable format. Let me admonish the reader that this isn’t a tale where a hen falls in love with a pig and after having their mandatory dive into sex, the pig dies of bird flu and the hen dies of swine flu… let us leave such primordially sex-infested texts to the lesser authors from India writing in English. Chetan Bhagat writes with a flourish that has become his trademark and weaves in issues that are among the topics discussed on the television as well as by columnists in the dailies. He does this a bit differently though.
The book really isn’t about Radhika’s tempestuous relationships with Debashish, Neel, and Brijesh… the book isn’t about the dramatic opening with a Punjabi wedding… and it just isn’t about a successful investment banker tossing her phone into the East River, saying: ‘I had to toss that humiliation device into the river. People with little emotional self-control must take drastic steps. I resumed my walk towards Brooklyn. As I stared at the wooden pathway, a question crossed my mind. Damn, how will I reach the cab driver without my phone?’ The book is all about the right and pragmatic questions and objections popping up exactly when they are supposed to. This is something that almost all reviewers appear to have missed in their hurry to denounce the book simply because it was written by a certain Chetan Bhagat. These are the sort of people (I’m sure they cannot be his readers because one of them admitted that she had read the entire book in less than an hour) who want their own fame for a minute or two on the social media and capture some decibels of ephemeral applause from others like them who may buy books but never get to reading nooks and cozy corners. Throughout the book Radhika questions everything starting from her own assessments and actions to the need for a professional recognition of women in an essentially men’s world. No wonder then that her perspective of a relationship is all about having ‘wonton soup with him. Not wanton sex.’ She is the one screaming out silent questions when Debu says, ‘I think you have a nice figure,’ he said. Which part, which part? I wanted to scream in excitement. Do you like my waist? Boobs? Ass? Be articulate, Debu.
Many reviewers found the novel to be unrepresentative of India, women in India, and even feminism. I guess an articulate woman would make any Indian male feel restless and ill at ease and expressly when the protagonist utters sentences that seem to play with male egos: ‘Why can’t women do it? They are better negotiators.’ Or ‘Too many Indians come to this city and get overwhelmed. Don’t be under-confident. You can do it. You will.’ Annie Lennox wrote that people fight ‘over what the label ‘feminism’ means but for me it’s about empowerment. It’s not about being more powerful than men – it’s about having equal rights with protection, support, justice. It’s about very basic things. It’s not a badge like a fashion item.’ Radhika represents feminism when she takes tough decisions that accelerate her into a world where money, power, influence, and even relationships get a personalized definition. This is why she has the gumption to transform even trivial and mundane observations to look completely original and without a precedence. This why she compares her lovers when she says: ‘If Debu was French fries, this was a gourmet six-course meal. If Debu was beer, this was champagne. If Debu was a boat, this was a luxury cruise.’ Come on, if this isn’t giving lighter wings to power, then what is? After all, she isn’t anywhere near the sort of ‘bullshit men spread. To scare women out of a role or a position. Fact is, men are shit-scared of talented women…’
We live in a world where both men as well as women are looking for the right person to be with. Sometimes knowingly and at times without realizing, Radhika is doing just this. Feminism doesn’t even come near this search. Feminism is simply an easy explanation, sometimes an easy victim, when people wish to sound pompous and over-flowing with things they assume to be important. The book isn’t a doctrine on feminism, nor attempts to epitomize every Indian girl. Radhika is one Indian girl and has her own story that she tells in her own way.
What else does a readable book have? Well, a storyline that is fast-paced, connects well, has sentences that don’t gasp and falter, has characters that don’t appear unreal, has incidents that seem real enough, and where a reader feels happy to invested his time, energy, and money. Isn’t it enough that you learn more about distressed assets from this book than any news-report or television debate will ever communicate? This book connects and is a ‘complete package of qualities’ and the characters, in their weakest and their strongest moments do not appear to be contrived. The work surely isn’t about Chetan Bhagat being spent. And finished.
Title: One Indian Girl
Author: Chetan Bhagat
Price: Rs 176/- (in 2017)
22 April 2017