Book review

‘Making India Awesome’: a weakipedia of what ails us and how to cure ourselves

Writing to the same audience as for his novels, Chetan Bhagat makes complex problems simple and solutions simplistic in his new book.

It’s on the shelves – the answer to the question of how to align our very diverse country with a fierce can-do attitude. Making India Awesome is an exceptional manual that gives the nation a chance to come together and make our country irrefutably awesome.

If you’ve grazed the cover longingly at the bookstore then you’ve made it into the top 4% of the country. That’s right, if you have shown any interest in this book, you can proudly say you are the lucky few to be a “caring objective Indian”.

If you aren’t reading this then you might belong to the 16% of Indians who are “caring but aligned”. But if you haven’t even made it that far, then ugh, you are among the not-so-elite 80% “self-focused indifferent Indians”. Look around you to check.

Chetan Bhagat – creator of these labels and discoverer of these well-researched statistics – has illustrated this national breakup with an infographic in case those numbers were confusing.

What it all means

Let’s get into the nitty-gritty then, shall we? To start with, CB has taken an extra step to empathise with his objective Indian readers by providing the dictionary definitions of the title. Yes that’s right, the definition for the words: “Making”, “India”, and “Awesome”. This has been done so that there’s absolutely no befuddlement about the scope of the book.

As the country’s bestselling English fiction author, known for novels that cover heartache and disillusionment experienced by urban, small town youth, CB has now taken things to the next level. He’s walking the talk with this book – a comprehensive but friendly discussion detailing the fault lines in our country.

Bhagat links our micro-mentalities with big time bad things – all in 189 pages. Listen I won’t give away the plot (India lives happily ever after, crap, I couldn’t help it, sorry) but CB does make one thing clear: he doesn’t discuss issues without giving solutions.

This is where the bite for your buck comes in, for on these pages lie certified solutions to India’s biggest downers, like gender politics, corruption, minority rights, free speech, politics, Modi’s obsession with fine-tailored clothing, and our collective nasty habit of being hypocrites.

Here’s the cheat sheet

In case you don’t have the time to read the book, but, like any good caring objective Indian, want to know the solutions, worry not – I’ve got your back. First of all, the problem in fact lies with us. It was a stunning process of self-discovery and hope that shot through my hypocritical soul as I got through each chapter. Is it possible that my own inefficiency and complacency – like not picking up my dog’s poop when no one was looking, secretly buying Fair & Lovely, and dancing to Munni Badnaam – are a micro-blueprint for the country at large?

As it turns out, yes, it is indeed I who’s at fault. And then the domino effect resulting from my connection to the next person eventually builds up all the giant problems in the country.

The theory seems tight. We the people (and our mentality) are a direct cause of India’s unawesomness. OK, that was Learning No. 1, so far so good.

Now for the solutions, which are buried deep within the chapters, each of which centres around one issue to understand, fix, and then make, erm, awesome. There are many to choose from. Sex, celebrating your inner queen (really?), loosening Gujarat’s prohibition, religion. Out of respect for the time, nuance, and craft the author has spent writing the entire book, I’ll talk only about a couple.

Let’s take minority rights. This chapter explains what equality is. This is a term we tend to throw around without much thought, that’s why we need the clarity of CB’s precise definitions. After we understand what equality is, he slowly unravels the reasons why equality is a good thing.

Turns out that a nation which respects individual freedom and appreciates diversity creates a country that is in fact awesome. OK, still with me? Now that we know why equality is good we need to actually support it. While we are at it , we need also support section 377.

What does support mean? Post stuff on Facebook about it, show that you care, man. Bhagat leaves the real potency of this solution with the last line in this chapter: “Let’s keep working at it”.

The deep things

There is serious stuff in here too. he talks about our collective past, the Mumbai riots in 2002, and asks us to see the demons that lie within ourselves. Face them, acknowledge them – that’s how we change. I’ll avoid talking too much about his chapter on political campaigns and how we as a nation are continuously duped by silly tricks and temporary fixes – these revelations are too rivetting to be captured in summary.

Let’s get to an enthralling chapter written especially for ladies, titled Ladies don’t be hard on yourselves. I, being normally looked upon as a lady, read this with special interest. Turns out all this baggage I carry is not worth it. I should speak my mind fearlessly even to my boss.

Also, I don’t have to be good at everything: being a mother, being a daughter, having the perfect figure, having the best career, having the best husband, best cook and best daughter-in-law, being the sexiest girl, etc. I can just be me, and work up to my potential.

Although this was super liberating for me to read (not so much for my boyfriend) I would have liked to know how many things I could try to be best at. Like best career and best daughter? Would that be too high an aim? Could I juggle three? Minor criticism, CB, but on the whole, I feel free, and pretty damn awesome.

Let’s move on to even more serious matters. Hello, economics. Yeah, we aren’t really the next superpower nation, but of course we can be. Chetan sir has figured it out and distilled the solution into three easy ingredients. This is what he says:

“Well, these are the ingredients. First, a stable and action-oriented government. Second, a pro-business economic mindset with reduced government controls in most sectors. Third, an intangible but highly critical element called investor confidence, which means investors are willing to put their money in India and hope to make a return from it.  This is not to say that other issues are not important. However, without a strong economy, only then will we be able to give the youth their due.”

Seems simple enough, I guess we can get on with the mixing of those three and slam it in the oven. I love it when complicated issues like economics can be reduced to three reader-friendly  succinct points- this is a mark of a good writer.

In the end CB believes no matter the differences of class, language, caste and region we might actually be the same. You know, like caring about the same stuff: job, money, family. Wait, this kind of sounds like that 80% aka self- focussed indifferent Indians”  – except if you are reading this, it shows you care about the country and can still be focussed mainly on yourself.

Bhagat makes a strong point: his books are national bestsellers, therefore most of the country likes the same kind of fiction. He even helpfully winks at his previous novels as reference to this point.

“The stories have worked all over India. Doesn’t this mean that, at some level, we are homogenous? We can and do empathise with Krish Malhotra’s attempts at getting married to a girl outside his community (2 States). A reader in Rajasthan can relate to Madhav Jha’s struggle with spoken English (Half Girlfriend).”

It’s all coming together folks – the problems, the issues, and the solutions. Even when it comes to sex, Chetan Bhagat reveals that our bashful hypocrisy on the topic is a result of our old Victorian panties still being in a twist. There is a solution to this too, and it’s a refreshing one: “We are Indians. And yes, sometimes we can and need to talk about sex.”

If you’ve read this far, you already have more than half the solutions to make our country awesome. This said, as a responsible citizen you need to go out and buy the book – reading a free article on the Internet about it is a cheap way out. My review is only a lowly attempt to highlight the most profound aspects of the book, and should in no way substitute for the experience of reading Making India Awesome and having your own personal awakening.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.