Trials & Tribulations of a life in advertising

Monday, April 24, 2006

Certainly, a ten point something

In 1995, Chetan Bhagat, left IIT and like thousands before and after him, simply failed to log out. He carried the years with him; the never ending tests, late night paranthas, movies in Priya. Years later, from the secluded confines of an investment bank in Hong Kong, he decided to revisit his alma mater. His nostalgia takes him on a rendezous along the corridors and friendships that once defined his life. And if it was an engineering degree from undoubtedly India's best scientific institution the first time around, on his second visit, Chetan Bhagat comes out with what is a significant achievement in Indian fiction. We'll never know how much of "Five Point Someone" is autobiographical. We'll never know how much of it is unreal. What we do know is that he has achieved something truly unparalleled in Indian writing in English. He has made the familiar the popular, defied the stereotypes and in the process touched the hearts of thousands.

To know the significance of "Five Point Someone", one only has to remember that this is a nation where Khushwant Singh remains the bestselling novelist. In one sweet stroke, Bhagat has upped the ante. And he has done it in a style that's as intimate as it's casual. Through some skilfully sculpted characters - Hari, Ryan, Alok, Neha, Cherian - he has produced a narrative that's both honest and humane. Hari Kumar is the narrator of who we don't know much about. Only towards the end of the book do we get to know that his father is an imposing disciplinarian. Alok is the only hope of a semi-paralysed father and a struggling mother. He needs his ten points because he needs his sister's dowry. Ryan doesn't accept his parents' love but is glad to accept his pocket money from their pottery business. Cherian is the cold hearted Head of Department with the beautiful and level headed daughter Neha carrying family secrets too scary to be let out. Bhagat brings out their passions and fears in a seemingly effortless manner. Ryan's rebellion, rooted against his parents, but aimed at the system that refuses to budge, Alok's fears of losing out on a steady income, and Hari's intimacy with Neha that both of them find hard to define; these are the threads that make Bhagat's debut novel a candid account of teenage crises in an elitist institution. He doesn't imitate, he doesn't patronise. He just shares.

And what he shares is not something that you find regularly in Indian fiction. There are no lengthy descriptions, no tiring passages. (Bhagat doesn't spend more than 30 words at a stretch describing the IIT scenery). The prose is not lyrical either, and thank heavens for that. There are no cliched examinations into the pasts of the main characters. The protagonists are too interesting to require any background check on their past. And it's this honesty that makes reading Bhagat so interesting. An honesty that makes you easily identify with at least one of the main characters. The crises that he throws up are the crises every teenager faces. The choices he presents are the choices we all would have faced at one point in our lives. "Five Point Someone" is the diary Chetan Bhagat must have mentally updated in his years at IIT and he chose to click the refresh button at a time when there was a clear dearth of original talent. He has thrilled us, he has touched us. And he has done a much needed "Trainspotting" in Indian fiction.


Blogger Valery said...

I don't really think that there is need for meeting his parents and dating him at all...

4:53 AM


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