Before I come to Bhagat’s novels, let me give you some idea about the prospective young readers in India.
There are around 25 crore students enrolled in schools across India in 2016. Only 17% of the students get an opportunity to read in English medium school. And even out of those 17% there are those sub-standard English medium schools which fall in rural or semi urban areas where even teachers themselves aren’t well versed with the English language. To get to study in Posh schools like St. Xaviers, St. Stephens, Sacred Heart, Delhi Public School etc. is still a massive privilege. No wonder the word “convent educated” is a popular phrase in the matrimonial advertisements.
If 90% of youth even today are not proficient in English, I can guess back in 2004, the figures may well be 95–96%. And it’s in college (Particularly in Engineering) the Non English medium youth realize that the system had made them weak in what is perhaps is the most important thing in Job seeking: English Language.
ENGLISH LITERATURE OPTIONS FOR NON ENGLISH YOUTH OF INDIA.
In college, your English medium friends recommend you English literature Ayn Rand, Paulo Coelho, Daniel Steele, J.K Rowling etc. And it’s difficult for vernacular kids to comprehend them not just because they use difficult English but also they are set in a foreign environment. Then we have Indian options like Arundhati Roy, Salman Rushdie, Vikram Seth etc. Let me tell you that made matters even worse. I wasn’t particularly bad at English, but I could read “Midnight’s children”, after a good 3–4 aborted attempts because I just couldn’t get along with the language. Somebody recommended me Vikram Seth’s A suitable Boy. When I saw it had 1600 pages, I surrendered like Lt. Gen. AAK. Niazi. Then I read book “The God of Small Things”, and realized the book had more to so with flowery language than the story. I wondered how it won a Booker, turned out the award to the book in itself was controversial. I can guess how difficult it would be for vernacular folks to understand these English options from Indian authors. No wonder most of them ends up surrendering to their fate after few attempts.
THE ERA OF BHAGAT: A REVOLUTION OR A VIRAL BAD LITERATURE?
Then came Chetan Bhagat. His first book came at a time ( 2004) when India’s BPO sector was booming like anything. Craze for engineering had just begun. IT industry was seen as a medium to change fortune of people from not so rich background. In all these disciplines English language was in much demand. And that’s when Bhagat comes up with his book -Five point someone. The book is kind of a love story set in an Engineering college ( IIT). For the first time there was an urge in the general youth for a book published in English language. Even the vernacular guys found the subject interesting to get them into reading. The book went on to sell more than a million copies.
By the time US recession set it in, Bhagat had three successful novels. He had become a sensation, a revolution that got the an average college going youth to read books.
Bhagat’s four books later inspired Bollywood movies. 3 Idiots (5 Point). In fact Kai Po Che! (3 Mistakes) and 2 States were super hit doing a business of over 700 crores.
Some intellectuals, consider it an honor to deride books of Bhagat. Why? it brought a great number of vernacular youths into the elite “English novel reading club”. So perhaps to put themselves at higher pedestal the elites started harping on this “bad literature” campaign. See, If somebody calls Bhagat’s books elementary novels with cliched story, they are more than welcome. But to write them off as bad reeks of snobbery. Because if almost all of your books inspire blockbusters movies in a language (Hindi) different from which the books were written, you can’t say the stories lacked the plot. If the crticism has to do with verbose language than it’s even more saddening. I am sure most of these critics would have seen and perhaps had admired the Bollywood movies based on Bhagat’s stories.
I will conclude by saying books were intended for common folks and they were good enough to got them into reading. They played the role of tennis ball cricket for kids, which help them in keeping interest along with honing basic skills of the games. Today the kids are playing with soft tennis ball, tomorrow they would be playing with hard leather ball. And even if they don’t, at least they got to play something. I am rather hopeful of finding a Dhoni. 😀