A Conversation with Chetan Bhagat
Chetan Bhagat is undoubtedly India’s biggest author, one who can easily boast about having the largest fan following garnered by any writer in this country. Whether it is dance or romance, history, politics or sports, Chetan has an opinion on everything. You can Love him or loath him, but you most certainly cannot ignore him, such is the kind of power he wields over the minds of millions, a feat that no other author has managed to accomplish in recent history. In his new fiction book Chetan presents his take on feminism, a subject both powerful and controversial, much like Chetan himself. We caught with him to discuss the importance of gender equality and know more about his new book, which is perhaps his boldest yet. An excerpt from an interview with the author.
Q. What is One Indian Girl all about?
Chetan Bhagat: One Indian Girl is about an Indian girl who is intelligent and successful, because of which she finds it difficult to get love.
Q. What does the book hope to achieve?
Chetan Bhagat: It hopes to question society, which judges women achievers. It asks why when it comes to love, being intelligent and too successful is almost a drawback for women.
Q. Why did you write this book?
Chetan Bhagat: I have wanted to write a book in female first person for the past several years. Not only that, I wanted that book to be about women, and deal with feminism. To do all this as a male writer was a huge challenge. I didn’t have the confidence earlier that I could do it. After writing for over a decade, I finally attempted One Indian Girl.
Why did you want to write in female first person? And why on feminism?
Chetan Bhagat: I have had a lot of female influence in my life. Whether it is my mother, girlfriends, wife or female friends, some of my closest relationships have been with women. Despite that, I often found women mysterious, particularly in the way they think. I felt it would be interesting to get in their head.
I wrote on feminism because it isn’t an equal world for women, and most men (and even several women) don’t even realize it. As a writer, I want to highlight issues in society that affect a lot of people. Feminism affects us all.
Q. What is your take on feminism?
Chetan Bhagat: Feminism is equal rights. There’s nothing too fancy about it. It gets a little complicated because men and women want different things out of life. Their core drives and motivations are different. Men controlled and designed the world earlier so clearly they didn’t keep women in mind as much.
One of the things I want to stress is the ridiculous choices we want women to make all the time. For instance, do we easily permit a woman to have a successful career and be a great mother at home? Both could be core needs for a woman, but we often ask them to make a choice. We feel we have done our feminist duties by giving women the ‘freedom of choice.’ Why? Why should they have to make a choice? Do we ever ask men to make a choice between their core needs?
I also feel we should understand the Indian woman better and listen to what they want and what is feminism to them.
Q. Are you a gender rights activist now?
Chetan Bhagat: Not really. My job as a writer is to tell a good story. However, if I am writing about a subject and I know it is going to be read by millions of people, there is a certain responsibility and even opportunity to drive the message home.
I have written stories about other issues – education system, inter-community marriages, corruption for instance. In all of those I try to do justice to the issue. Hopefully, I have done the same here.
Q. So it’s Chetan the gender rights expert now?
Chetan Bhagat: Not at all. I am no expert, even though, like anyone I am entitled to have views on a subject. I write columns on a variety of social issues, and all my books have a message. One Indian Girl is no different. It is my take on an issue, not an expert opinion.
Q. Are you worried about the feminists coming after you?
Chetan Bhagat: There is no reason to. If at all, the book is an opportunity to bring out their issues to the forefront. While I respect intellectuals and experts, no issue should be hijacked or appropriated by them alone. I have as much a right to talk about it as they do.
I also want to tell them to not pre-judge my work. One Indian Girl has been years in the making, and I am happy about the end result. Test readers have loved the book and call it one of my best works. Importantly, women feel it represents them really well.
Of course, everyone doesn’t have to like it, but at least don’t judge it without reading it. Also, let’s not get lost in the personal attacks so much that we lose sight of the big picture – this book, and the attendant publicity that will come with it, is a great chance to highlight the feminist cause. If you really care about feminism, that is a good thing right?