Chetan Bhagat has never shied away from politics and controversy. In fact, he seems to revel in it.
It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that his latest book — One Indian Girl — touches upon the politically sensitive topic of Feminism and female liberation.
And going by reaction to the books ‘teaser’ on social media, he seems to have succeeded already.
The mere mention that the story is about a sexually liberated woman has already got the juices flowing, both for his supporters and for the ‘protectors of Indian culture and values’.
“There is no point in glamorizing one night stands. it’s (the) height of compulsiveness,” says Youtube user Jatin Sharma in reaction to the teaser on Youtube.
“Glamorizing One night stands in the name of modernity is intellectual bankruptcy. Let the people choose what they want is a nice thing to say…but if grown ups are only exposed to such compulsive disorders then.. sleeping around is compulsive. They have right to their compulsiveness, but big writers like CHETAN BHAGAT should not glamorize such things. Youth get inspired to be compulsive.”
SEX OR FEMINISM?
So, is Chetan Bhagat using sex to market his book, or is there more to it?
Bhagat himself has tried to answer some of these questions in his ‘Q&A’ about ‘One Indian Girl’.
Bhagat pitches himself as a male feminist, fighting for the rights of the successful, ambitious woman.
“I have wanted to write in female first person for the past several years,” he says in his Q&A.
“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.”
Through ‘One Indian Girl’, Bhagat says he wanted to highlight what he calls the “ridiculous choices” that society forces women to make.
“Feminism is equal rights. There’s nothing too fancy about it… 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,” he asks.
But Indian celebrities have a history of dabbling in serious issues for marketing their commercial products, whether it is a film actor advocating tribal rights for promoting a movie or a writer like Bhagat ‘jumping’ on the feminist bandwagon.
In case of ‘One Indian Girl’, the chances of irking the ‘real feminists’ are higher because of the rather bold sexuality of the heroine.
Some, for example, could feel that Bhagat is trying to trivialize the complex issue of ensuring women’s rights by reducing it to ‘one night stands’, as the commenter put it.
Bhagat addresses the issue in his Q&A, asking himself the question whether he is worried about Feminists ‘coming after’ him.
“The book is an opportunity to bring out their issues to the forefront,” he says, adding that writing about women’s issues is not a monopoly to be enjoyed by accredited feminists alone. It need not always be espoused in boring intellectual pieces either.
“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?”
The answer, perhaps, lies in how effective the novel is in conveying the real tribulations of a woman leading a life as a full human being in India, and how much of this advocacy is just a marketing gimmick.