Bhagat vs Bhakts

Is Chetan Bhagat attacking bhakts to protect sales of his books?

How to explain the bestselling author’s diatribe against the very people who could be his primary readers?

Never underestimate the intent of Chetan Bhagat’s pronouncements or dismiss them as mindless. The man who has shown India how to write to a market and be outrageously successful knows his customers better than most people do.

Whatever the mega-bestselling author of the number series of novels (Five Point Someone, One Night…, Two States…, etc.) writes in his columns, therefore, can be assumed to have an objective. They are not just expessions of hubris from a successful public figure with, possibly, political aspirations in the future.

On the contrary, there is always method in what appears to be the madness. But what, in this case, could his objectives possibly be? On the face of it, is he not taking the sword of contempt to the very audience that laps up his books?

Abusing his audience?

After all, “an inferiority complex ridden Indian male who is sexually frustrated, ashamed of his background and has poor ability in English” seems to almost perfectly describe the primary male hero in each of his novels, except that his portraits are sympathetic rather than derisive. And his millions of readers identify so strongly with these characters that they breathlessly read the stories of their eventual triumph, represented in the form of that pair of trophies identified pithily by Bhagat himself earlier: naukri and chhokri.

So, why would Bhagat risk alienating potential readers? We don’t know, but we can guess. Whether through market research or native intuition, Bhagat has a remarkable insight into the personalities and emotional needs of a large swathe of young Indians, which he channels with broad strokes into his novels. If he is turning against the bhakts – or FACIMs, as he calls them, using an unattractive acronym for Frustrated And Complex-ridden Indian Males – it is because he deliberately wants to distance himself from them.

And the reason could be simple: he is ensuring he remains on the side of the growing segment of young India that does not identify itself with the abusive intolerance spouted by these self-proclaimed nationalists and champions of the Hindu faith. As in any other country passing through economic liberalisation, social and personal change have lagged behind financial change, but it is catching up now.

As a result, the upwardly mobile – in aspirations more than accomplishments, in dreams more than reality – young men and women whom Bhagat targets may well wonder whether their favourite writer is sympathetic with the right-wing mob, given his own clearly stated preference for the right-wing brand of politics. Now, this aggressive attack – typical of the writer’s style, really – will assuage their fears.

Mollifying the women's constituency

It’s not just the men. Bhagat is probably being particularly careful in protecting his constituency of women readers, for the objects of his attacks have painted themselves in a starkly misogynistic light on social media. And the writer in Bhagat knows only too well that he cannot afford to make an enemy of women. At least, of those of them who swear by his books.

Don’t forget, the women characters in Bhagat’s novels are superficially quite unlike the bhakts: they come from privileged backgrounds, are fluent (stretching a point) in English, and very clear about their sexual choices. Sure, peel off the skin and you will find the same orthodoxy and acknowledgement to patriarchy, but then Bhagat, like Indian TV soaps, is a purveyor of wish-fulfilment drama, not a change agent. Nor, importantly, are his readers.

What does all this tell us about his next novel, then? Continuing with the speculation, the forces represented by uncouth voices could appear in the plot as something that the hero must encounter and overcome. Bhagat has written about riot mobs before, and not in a positive vein. If he senses a growing antipathy to the tribe of people he has attacked, he may well want to capitalise on it in his fiction. Don’t forget, Bhagat rubs shoulders with Bill and Melinda Gates, not with those who label people as haramzaadas.

This is not to rule out a political motive behind Bhagat’s statements. But be sure that he will never say or write anything that will jeopardise his relationship with his current and potential readers. Because, like it or not, Chetan Bhagat has cultivated a way of trendspotting that many writers should be envious of. Just that the trends in question are often more regressive than progressive.

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.