In the past 15 years, the name Chetan Bhagat has become synonymous with popular English fiction in India. While the author has many haters — be it the elites of the literary circuit or the internet trolls — thousands of his ardent fans and supporters easily outnumber them. Over the years, Bhagat has also managed to become one of the most relevant voices in literature that resonates with a vast majority of Indian youths.
The author is very self-aware of this power. He takes pride in the fact that he makes English accessible to the youngsters growing up in tier 2 and tier 3 cities of India. He says that it is partly the reason he chooses to write about India, whenever he pens non-fiction novels. So far, there have been three — What Young India Wants, Making India Awesome, and the book that released this month, India Positive.
India Positive is a collection of essays and columns through which the author discusses ‘burning issues’ of India — casteism, corruption, education, employment, politics, GST, and infrastructure — and offers “simple solutions” for them.
Bhagat spoke to News18.com about his new book, Indian youth as an electorate and the state of popular literature in our country.
While writing non-fiction, why is your subject matter always related to the country?
I have gained some reputation as an author, and through my writings, I can reach a wide audience. So, I choose the platform that I have to do more than just entertain people. While I like entertaining — making people laugh, giving them gripping stories, and making them happy — I think I can do more for the country. I can use the platform I have to raise certain issues related to the country in a productive, and solution-oriented way.
A lot of my readers also contribute to how you look at national issues. Either they do not have any interest in them or when they try to show interest, they switch on the TV, and everyone is fighting in those debates. So, they do not understand what is going on. Instead of getting embroiled in political blame games, what they need is someone who will show them the way forward.
You understand the pulse of the young generation, that’s why your novels work so well. How interested do you think today’s youth is in politics?
The youth of this country isn’t as interested in politics. They are busy in their own lives. Of course, when there is an election, the interest obviously rises, or if something is happening in or to the nation, like the Pulwama incident, I think then they also want to participate in the dialogue. But largely, they aren’t as interested in politics. A section of the youth do show interest in politics, but even to them, my advice is to that they should not choose a permanent side in a democracy.
How hard is it to write about Indian Politics without letting your personal preferences overpower your objectivity?
It’s hard. We all have a preference when it comes to politics, but what I am trying to say is don’t let that preference be fixed for all time to come. You should not go too gaga over a particular leader, or too critical over another leader. We should be able to criticise the leaders we love and praise the leaders we criticize. It is only then that your views get more credibility and your voices will be taken seriously.
Tell us a little about your latest book, India Positive?
I am dealing with everything that you hear in the news. The book retraces the last ten years of India, what we did right, and what we didn’t do right. Where should we move forward? I talk about issues like GST, Kashmir, Demonetisation, and elections.
Do you think jobs is one of the most important issues on the minds of Indian Youth?
Yes, employment is definitely an issue that they pay attention to. Five years ago, I could have hired a graduate for 10 thousand and even today I can hire a graduate for 10 thousand. Look at the inflation, these aren’t fair wages. And even such jobs aren’t easy to come by. From Agriculture to manufacturing, each sector has its own issues. While some of these issues can be blamed on a particular government, and/or lack of policies, some of it is also a global trend where things are changing super fast. I think the youth has to anticipate what kind of jobs will be in demand in the future and learn those skills, be it artificial intelligence or coding.
When you started out as a writer there were no social media. How hard or easy is it for new authors who are trying to make their mark now, to navigate these social media channels, and gain the kind of popularity you have enjoyed?
I think it is hard. I don’t think book get as much attention. Especially, new authors don’t get as much attention. Also, there is so much video content on the phone. However, I must add, India is one of those rare countries where there is still some growth. There are literature festivals, new authors are still being published, and new stories are being told.
You receive a lot of criticism. Does that bother you?
It used to bother me when I was younger, but not anymore. If I see something valid in the criticism I take it, otherwise, I am quite secure. A lot of people who criticise me also do not have credibility or authority. They are quite out of touch with India, so I feel their criticism comes from a place which is disconnected from India, and our country’s readers and its literature. So, I feel bad for them, that they are so unaware of what India is all about.
After hit films like 3 Idiots and 2 states which were based on your books, another criticism that your novels have faced is that you write in such a manner so that that they can be adapted into Bollywood films. What are your thoughts on that?
I think most people only see movies based on my books becoming blockbuster hits, and they think that is what is important to me. But, that is not the case at all. For me, my books are important. I write the book in a way that a reader enjoys the book. If I want to make a book into a movie, what is stopping me from it? If I want to adapt a book into a screenplay, I don’t need to put the screenplay in the book. I can just write it later.
Many youngsters can relate to you and your writings. Why do you think that is?
Growth for me is in tier 2, and tier 3 cities where people are discovering English. They want to read simple English stories. There are youngsters in these cities who are using my books to learn English and become confident about this language. They are entering the ‘English world’, which was until now, denied to them. My books give them confidence, I think that is why I have a fan following. I always use simple English, and quite frankly, it is not that simple to be simple.