On a Scale of Chetan Bhagat to No Way: What Do DU Professors Say?
From calling the inclusion of Bhagat’s book ‘scary’ to admiring its mass appeal, DU’s professors are divided.
The hallowed halls of Delhi University this weekend were racked with confusion. The academic kind, yes. Particularly the age-old question: to be or not to be? OR, more precisely – to be or not to be, a Chetan Bhagat reader here? In DU?
For the uninitiated, Chetan Bhagat’s bestselling novel Five Point Someone will now be a part of the ‘Popular Literature’ paper in the General Elective course offered under the Choice-Based Credit System (CBCS). This is an elective course that the English department is offering to students of other disciplines – which is all great, and should have been rosy and dandy – except that it’s sparked the ONE debate no English department anywhere in the planet can run too far from –
Are you too stuffy for general liking?
Now, first off, there are two myths to be cleared up:
- The syllabus hasn’t been approved yet. Colleges have been asked to send their feedback.
- The course is to be offered to non-English Honours students.
Having said that, Bhagat’s book has currently been clubbed with other contemporary works such as JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Louisa M Alcott’s Little Women and Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. Yet, none of the other works has ignited even an iota of the vitriol that Bhagat’s inclusion has.
While some Twitter users wagged a sage finger at the “I was there only” kind of Bhagat-isms...
...Yet others insisted that they couldn’t figure out what the fuss was, since Bhagat was, technically, a ‘popular fiction’ text.
But what of the professors who might soon be teaching the book to whoever wants to be taught it?
On a scale of Bhagat to no-thank-you, where do they stand?
Neither Good Nor Bad For Any Curriculum
Chetan Bhagat is a popular phenomenon to be understood in terms of the aspirations of India’s new urban middle-class youth, its worries and limitations – and as such a cultural text, I don’t oppose the inclusion of Five Point Someone. But if it is brought in as “exemplary model” of anything – writing, social values or cultural benchmarks – it is quite disastrous. The text in itself is neither good nor bad for any curriculum; it depends upon what academic end it is utilised for.Ashley NP, Assistant Professor of English, St Stephen’s College, DU
Why Is He the Only Indian Writer in This Genre?
Chetan Bhagat does fit into what we understand as “popular fiction”, irrespective of the literary merits of the book. However, considering the fact that DU now ends up canonising him, one needs to question if this inclusion is solely based on the genre that his books conform to or can be traced to his political opinions. I am more concerned about what this book has to offer. He is the only Indian writer in this paper. Are we to assume that he is the representative writer of this genre? I understand that some responses can be categorised as elitist but I am more sceptical of the precedent that this will set.Rajorshi Das, Ad-Hoc Assistant Professor, IP College, DU
His Political View Shouldn’t Matter
Generally speaking, he is popular, of course. And we in the literature department challenge and widen conventional definitions of literature. So why can he not be a part of “popular literature”? The fact that I don’t agree with his politics hardly matters for me.... Personally, I wouldn’t have chosen him – not because of his political views, but because I don’t think he is the best specimen of English writing from India. But I wouldn’t find it sacrilegious to have him on the syllabus.Hany Babu, MT, Associate Professor, Delhi University
Threatening and Scary
It is very important to think about the concept of popular literature, readership and the mass production and consumption of literary texts. But I am equally bothered about the introduction of Chetan Bhagat’s text which does not throw light on any of the above mentioned ideas. Its potential to become a flagship of DU’s English Hons syllabus is threatening and scary. It has been put into the syllabus as ‘popular literature’, but it will end up becoming a DU English text. That’s sad.Shwetha Shekhar, DU Lecturer/Research Scholar, Department of English
Bhagat Sells Dreams to a Majority...
Personal likes and dislikes apart, I see why he is famous and liked by a vast majority of aspirational first-generation learners seeking upward mobility. He not only sells dreams but allows them to get a hang of the English language; a means to a better job and a better life and thus, the possibility to enter an upward social class. And my experience with the non-English (H) classes has been a humbling one where discussions on the English language and, of course, Chetan Bhagat, has taught me why they read him. Most of them value his novels because of its easy readability and comic humour peppered with campus lingo that draws them towards reading and learning English that they so intensely want to master. He might not be the best author, but his novels get them started, and I think therein lies the appeal.Binoy Bhushan Agarwal, Professor of English, Aryabhatta College, DU
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