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.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
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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.