By Manav Garg:
We love them. We hate them. They’re the most entertaining and the most irritating characters in their professions who drool over continuous attention. Be it Mario Balotelli turning up in a wrong jersey at a club press conference and setting his own house on fire, S. Sreesanth’s dance steps during a test match, or Rakhi Sawant’s televised “swayamvara” that set TRPs on fire and her tantrums on various reality shows.
Chetan Bhagat – Alumni of two of the most prestigious institutions in India, author of multiple best sellers and one of the “100 most influential people in the world” (Times magazine survey). Yet, “the biggest selling English language novelist in India’s history” (As per The New York Times), tends to dramatize everything he has to say and end up amidst controversies. Mr. Bhagat’s comments, that either fuel age old prejudices, or tend to be simple assertive claims, seem to be targeted at generation of hype.
Chetan Bhagat is treading on a dangerous path, fast approaching glory as the ‘Rakhi Sawant’ of Indian Journalism. In “A letter from an Indian Muslim Youth”, his stereotyping of the Muslim youth using “a Muslim cap” or their surnames, gained active criticism, especially from young Indians. Written from the point to view of a Muslim youth and laden with assertions, it lacked any knowledge of the life of the community that he tried to appease. Mr. Bhagat spoke of Muslims wanting ‘jobs, schools and colleges, opportunities to work hard for a good standard of living’ forgetting to mention how every young middle class man’s demands are no different. He talks of communal backwardness – yet another stereotype, with no proof of his claims or any kind of data on poverty by religion. He describes the situation of every poor family in India – be it a worshiper of Lord Shiva, or a follower of the Prophet. What Mr. Bhagat wrote, could very easily have been a letter from a Dalit, or even a poor man, for there was nothing peculiar to the Muslim community that was highlighted in the letter.
And this isn’t a one off tale. On International Women’s Day, Mr Bhagat’s article on “things that women need to change” had the same intent. He talked about habits that are common to the human race in general and not the women in particular, sparking controversies throughout India. When Narayan Murthy complained about degrading quality of students at IITs, Mr. Bhagat stepped in again, saying “It is ironic when someone who runs a body shopping company and calls it hi-tech, makes sweeping comments on the quality of IIT students”. Too personal and dramatic a response from the self appointed savior of IITs, right? And then there was the entire ‘publicity stunt’ from Mr. Bhagat around the release of the movie “Three Idiots”, an adaptation on his novel.
Mr Bhagat has created the image of a drama-queen, the kid who wants attention. His works are increasingly concentrating on generating media hype, and not on their actual subject. In his words “I see them (political leaders) wear Muslim caps, perhaps to show us that they really do mean to improve our lives. However, a cap on your head doesn’t change anybody’s life.” I can only add “writing as a Muslim youth, and inventing issues pertaining to a community doesn’t change things, real journalism does.”