Two Point Something

After reading Chetan Bhagat’s Five Point Someone, I was genuinely surprised that some of my friends hadn’t liked it. All right, so Bhagat probably needed an editor to straighten out his sentence structure and vocabulary. But his story was a refreshingly honest insight into the lives of three students trapped in the antiquated Indian education system. I enjoyed it, and made a mental note to read his other books if I had the time.

Then I read Two States.

Bhagat’s latest offering centers on the inter-cultural love between Punjabi Krish and Tamil Brahmin1 Ananya. The main intentions of this novel are clear – it’s meant to be a lighthearted romp through the cultural quirks of two entirely different communities, eventually coming to the fuzzy, warmhearted conclusion that we are all Indians first and Punjabi/Tamil second. But Bhagat’s juvenile writing, as well as the lack of characterization, destroy any chance of a meaningful message coming through.

First, there’s his cheerful bashing of South India. The minute Krish lands up in the backwater that is Chennai, he encounters women dripping with gold (but not gold as shiny as back home in Punjab, so that’s all right), swarthy men, and a population that is essentially drowning in hair oil. Krish then discovers that not all auto drivers know English and, when he gets into an argument with his driver, that Tamilian men aren’t nearly as cowardly as he’d expected them to be. And as Krish recoils his way through Chennai’s unpronounceable districts, he has Carnatic music inflicted upon him, and then suffers his way through ‘fossilized snake’ snacks like murukku2.

I wondered if perhaps, being a Tam-Brahm myself, my biases were showing through. But then I read a description of the Ideal Tam Brahm Guy who’s being encouraged to marry Ananya: “He never drank or ate meat or smoked (or had fun, by extension) and had a good knowledge of Carnatic music and Bharatnatyam.” Which, of course, automatically disqualifies him from being normal. Eventually, Bhagat’s protagonist redeems his stay at Chennai with a half-hearted admission that Delhi needs more dosas3 and that the temples are beautiful.

Krish’s uppity Tam-Brahm girlfriend is as two-dimensional as he is. Ananya lives with him for two years, drinks like a fish, and eats chicken with joyful abandon4. Quite coincidentally, she’s the only person in this uptight Chennai wasteland whom Krish is capable of tolerating. Ananya is, essentially, defined by her deviances. But surely Bhagat could have found other, more effective ways of fleshing out her character.

The sheer puerility of Bhagat’s writing, combined with the use of every cultural cliche in sight, simply make for tedious reading. Perhaps worst of all is that he insults his North- and South-Indian readers’ intelligences. The picture that he paints of his own Delhi is nearly as unflattering. And is the North really ignorant of the fact that Tamilians eat on banana leaves every now and then?

Chetan Bhagat may not have broken the mold with Five Point Someone, but he at least bent it out of shape. His more discerning readers would have come to expect that quality from him. Two States is, instead, a tired retreading of the same old jokes. Satire requires subtlety and intelligence to do it justice. And Chetan Bhagat’s writing contains neither.

Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia

Footnotes:

1. Brahmin: in ancient Hindu society, the priestly caste
2. murukku: a savory snack, made from flour batter, fried and twisted into spiral shapes
3. dosas: thin savory pancakes
4. Drinking is frowned upon, and eating meat is forbidden in the Brahmin culture.


About Sumita Sami :
Sumita Sami is a recent graduate of UT and has now exchanged Austin's quirkiness for California's. She remains obsessed with grammar, music and sci-fi, and hopes to add yoga to the list soon.
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4 comments

  1. hamsini says:

    Feb 12, 2010

    Reply

    absolutely sumita! the utter lack of characterization and depth in the book was incredibly tiresome

  2. Girish says:

    Feb 12, 2010

    Reply

    I thought 5 Point Someone was terrible, so I’m staying at least 5 point something feet away from this book

    • VJ says:

      Feb 12, 2010

      Reply

      hahaha

  3. Sumita says:

    Feb 12, 2010

    Reply

    Hamsini, Girish, Vaibhav: thanks for your comments!

    Girish: hahaha. That comment, and being able to write this review, were probably the best things related to the book.

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