Chetan Bhagat, I’m ‘One Indian Girl’ And That’s Not How I Think
Perhaps Chetan Bhagat’s attempts were well-intentioned, but he might have chosen the wrong path to achieve his goal.
One fine morning, I finished reading One Indian Girl by Chetan Bhagat, and sat in silence for five minutes after it. At the onset of the novel, when I was already prepared to hate it, I had made a conscious decision to give it a fair chance.
It was time to keep the elitism of a bibliophile, all that I had heard of Chetan Bhagat’s writing, the academic training of someone who had studied English Literature for five years, aside. And therefore, brushing away the sense of injustice one might be inclined to associate with Chetan Bhagat’s fame and success, I commenced with the reading of One Indian Girl.
(Spoiler Alert: None. This would not even be a concern once you start reading the book.)
The book closely follows the destination wedding of a Punjabi girl, Radhika Mehta, in Goa. Using the first person narrative, it attempts to give you a glimpse of the anxieties and nervousness of a young bride just days before her wedding.
A brilliant and immensely relevant thing to write on, right? However, ten pages into the book and you begin to get a feel that this is perhaps what brainstorming at the Bhagat HQ looked like before he started writing the book:
Let’s find casual stereotypes about:
- Indians (Yes, we bargain all the time.)
- Indian Institute of Management students (“nerd-heaven”)
- Bengalis (They are perennially fish-eating, Communist intellectuals.)
- Punjabis (They like selfies, alcohol and Honey Singh music; Arijit Singh if they are more polished.)
- Boys named Brijesh (Radhika to herself: “And what sort of a name is Brijesh? Can it be more unfashionable? Radhika, you are going to marry a boy called Brijesh.”)
- Women (Ah, where do I start?)
Now that we have them in order, let’s exploit them to a nausea-inducing point and weave a story around them.
I am casually going to drop a direct quote from the book here for readers to mull over. The bride-to-be comments on her younger days and life with her elder sister, Aditi, in the following manner:
Aditi didi started dieting from age twelve, and waxed her legs from age thirteen. I topped my class at age twelve, and won the Maths Olympiad at age thirteen. Clearly, she was the cooler one.
In the past, cinema and literature have often created a binary between intelligence and beauty, rarely allowing women characters to accommodate both of these traits simultaneously (except in the case of women portrayed negatively), something contemporary art is trying to actively fight. This is precisely what Mr Bhagat has offered in his book as well.
Radhika’s sister, Aditi says about the siblings:
If I had the b**bs, she had the brains.
Despite all her intelligence and achievements, however, when Radhika’s betrothed Brijesh, an Information Technology professional working for Facebook in San Francisco, gives her a brief, basic description of his job, she reflects to herself:
I nodded, having not understood a word.
Maybe I am too intelligent, and by Chetan Bhagat logic, a not-so-pretty woman, and therefore I understood what Radhika couldn’t.
And the Binaries Continue
These divisions continue throughout the novel as Bhagat offers us contrasting “party chicks” (as he so eloquently calls them) and “virginal bhajjan attendees”. Are all these definitive, black and white categories, seemingly ascribed to women by a teenaged boy recently inducted into puberty and the awareness of the opposite gender, supposed to champion the cause of feminism (yes, I just DID use the ‘f’ word) in some twisted way?
Radhika is an academic overachiever who went to Delhi University’s reputed Sri Ram College of Commerce, and later to IIM-A, followed by a sterling career in New York. After all this, when her first boyfriend compliments her appearance, she responds with:
“For the first time in my life, apart from when I had fever, I had been associated with the word hot...”, and goes ahead to celebrate it for the rest of the chapter.
As you plod along the cringe-worthy romance scenes and try to get past the sexism, there are more gems to uncover. For instance:
Even though the girls protested at the boys coming here, they secretely liked it. This is how we girls are. At times we want to be wanted, even when we deny it.
It was one of those stupid things girls sometimes say. We know it is stupid but we say it anyway to act naive or whatever.
Whatever? Yes, one ‘whatever’ for me too, y’know, because I am a girl.
Maybe All of it Is Well-Intentioned?
The book seems to raise the question – what do women want? And often comes across as answering it with Radhika’s complete dependence on male appreciation.
The saddest part is that perhaps Chetan Bhagat thinks he is being feminist when he writes these characters. He attempts to show Radhika as a woman with her crippling dependency on male recognition, a desire to look good and a feeling of isolation because of her intelligence, and later tries to get her to accept these things, followed by her decision to ‘find herself’ by going on a world tour (full points for originality) – perhaps all of these are Mr Bhagat’s, albeit feeble, but well-intentioned attempts at being feminist?
Yet, irrespective of the author’s assumed intentions and the target audience for this book, it simply reenforces the same stereotypes women (and men) are trying to break free from.
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