Tuesday, November 1, 2016

One Indian Girl (Book Review)

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So the moment I picked up the book for reading (after beating competition from the receptionist at the workplace as well as a colleague) and reviewing it, I wondered, for the hundredth time, why the euphoria? Why the adrenaline rush in trains among teenagers when they spoke about the book, irrespective of their views about the author being either totally positive or lashing at him for his contribution to bad literature if I may add ‘literature’ at all.

I read it while commuting to and fro my workplace, via the Mumbai Local. It was surprising to find posters of One Indian Girl on a local train. No kidding. In fact, I even attempted to click a picture of it but the train moved and Bhagat blurred away. Mumbai, a cosmopolitan city, thrives because of the variety of people and cultures co-existing here. And yet, Chetan manages to reserve a place for himself so prominently, on the local trains, mind you! Alright, loosening one’s purse strings once in a while does more good than harm and with most of his novels grabbing Bollywood’s attention, it is of little surprise that Bhagat managed to show his face there.

Before you wonder what my take is — Oh, he comes up with his latest crap or he floors the reader, yet again—I would like to contend that I liked One Indian Girl and yet, I disliked it.
Given the curiosity that he manages to create every time he releases a book, he does have a wide readership. In a country like India where light reading was yet to catch up amongst the masses, Bhagat came in handy. If he manages to attract even a non-reader into picking up his book, that definitely means there is something about his writing that engages the reader. He pens down his thoughts in the typical “unpolished Indian English”. He imitates the English used by those who only know the basics and then use it to interact with their fellow beings. After having been a part of such a milieu, I can make some sense of why he is so popular among many Indians. Bhagat’s English is not “threatening” nor does it make one run to fetch a dictionary which spoils the whole reading experience as per a friend who stays away from “my-kind-of-literature” — in his own words. 

Moving to One Indian Girl, it is Bhagat’s attempt to define feminism or break it down to his million readers in simplest terms, albeit explicitly throwing in more stereotypes which feminists (men and women) have been trying to break since sometime now. How else can one justify Radhika Mehta’s constant need to be appreciated or complemented by men in order to find validation in spite of being the Vice President at one of the topmost banks and a paycheck that made a prospective groom cut the call thanks to the gush of inferior air that blew him off? The book is a first person account of Radhika Mehta which begins with her trying to settle a sudden crisis at a five star hotel in Goa, where she has landed for her destination wedding with her family which she is paying for. Her mother scolds her for doing “men’s work” of dealing with the hassles of venue hunting when she should be sitting somewhere for it was her wedding and how could she NOT be a coy bride-to-be?

Thus starts a long tale of trying to break stereotypes while the author himself throws in many more stereotypes – Indian Institute of Management (nerd heaven?), Bengalis ( perennially fish-eating, communist intellectuals?), not just Punjabi, at the reader. So, Radhika Mehta has dated men – one who did not want her to work post having babies and the other who thought she was one of those who wanted her career to shine and not her nest. In a bold move, Bhagat managed to deftly thwart those scenarios.  He has also managed to portray how parents can, if they feel it’s time for their daughters to get married, become expert mission specialists and not tire even if the daughters bubble with anger. And yet, somehow, they can never stop loving those pesky parents!

However, he has also penned her character to be utterly confused at many times, with the “mini-her” providing some humourous getaway. Alright, women, or for that matter even men, can be confused but portraying her as stupid enough to let her sensibilities go out of the window at certain important junctures of her life simply left the reader high and dry.

That apart, has Bhagat’s writing style improved with this one? Did Shinie Antony, the editor, do a better job this time? In many places, I felt so. Or maybe I just got used to his writing style and the bumpy ride smoothed out. All in all, it’s a book that adults may read with prescription from pop-fiction readers and not from literature enthusiasts. However, a little deviation from one’s chosen line of interest won’t hurt. Ouch, did it?

-Divya Nambiar

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