Just watched Love2HateU with the celebrity guest being Chetan Bhagat. I feel rather bad for the hater, the poor girl stood no chance against Bhagat’s generous Gandhi-ism. He was so beatifically patronizing and condescending that I wonder she didn’t throw something at him. But that’s Chetan Bhagat – a huge icon and idol to some and a huge eyebrow raiser to others.
Bhagat’s success – and he is astonishingly successful – is because he has crawled through the cracks and found his target audience. And what a target audience that is. The non-readers. Instead of churning out a high-brow book filled with beautiful metaphors and aiming for the Booker, Bhagat does what he does best – appeal to the section of the readers that is undiscerning. But that’s not to say that his writing has no merit. It’s just unpalatable to a reader who wants something more – an enhanced literary experience, if you must.
Bhagat makes no pretensions about his literary aspirations, but he appears to consider you with pitiful glances if you question his success. He basks in his own stupendous success, often lying on a raft of self-appreciation, and what irks people is that his raft never, ever capsizes. Top models can have a bad hair day, brilliant directors can have a box office flop, the Sensex can crash, but Chetan Bhagat only goes from strength to strength.
His hater questioned the audience and their intelligence. One girl defensively answered, “Ya we read other stuff. But I don’t want to read Rushdie. I’d much rather read Bhagat.” So you have a polarized readership of Indians. The ones who read Rushdie or Amitav Ghosh and the ones who read Bhagat. Bhagat has automatically found his masses, found his safety in numbers and addressed the people who look for easy escapism in reading and not for anything challenging. Bhagat is proud of the fact that he has made people who don’t read, read. Readers are appalled by the fact that these non-readers have begun with reading his books and set their literary standard there. But each to his own, right?
And in a democratic world, readers should have that choice. Readers should have beach novels, glossy magazines, Mills & Boon and Bhagat. It isn’t annoying that Bhagat’s books are valid reading options for people. What’s annoying is how much people like them, and give him a reason to keep going. And it would be far less annoying if he didn’t think so much of himself. “I’m happy to be on this show (Love2HateU) because my new book has just released and I want to know that there are people here who don’t like what I do, not just people who enjoy my books.” Oh stuff it.