What is Chetan Bhagat good at?
Simple answer - Entertaining!
Now that he has become a columnist with TOI, it is difficult to describe him as "entertaining" probably because seeing him alongside MJ Akbar and Gurcharan Das and the like, you think you are probably unjust. But on second thoughts, it is not so, because one can be entertaining and serious at the same time. In fact, We need to redefine populism a little in order to accommodate his style.
Populist - "relating to or representing ordinary people, rather than rich or very highly educated people"
Witty - "using words in a clever and amusing way"
Wittily Populist would be something that would be apt as a description. As I was telling a good friend, in publishing parlance, Chetan Bhagat knows his readers as well as any writer can hope to! Communal rioting, the rots in the prevailing educational system and the phenomenal rise of call centre jobs - these have been his themes earlier and each of them served to make the "youngsters relate very well to his writing" - to quote my friend. This has its advantages and disadvantages. While it equips him with the knowledge of his readers' exact preferences, it also means that he has to engage in spicy turn of phrases every few pages to keep the reader engaged.
In Two States, he doesn't disappoint. The character of Ananya Swaminathan (his own wife) abounds with so many possibilities that she is the sort of ideal that every Indian Woman would secretly aspire to be, minus certain exaggerations. Born into a conservative Tamil family, her achievements and beauty make her the cynosure of all eyes when she joins IIM-A. She meets Krish and in bollywood style, their relationship thrives and blossoms.
Only the families of Krish and Ananya - two opposite poles - one a Tamil Brahmin and the other a stereotypical Punjabi, (Tamilnadu and Punjab were the two states whose assimilation into the Indian Union presented the most strenuous challenges!) pose problems. The novel then peels off stereotype after stereotype to finally reveal simple human beings - here, Ananya's father and Krish's mother provide ample material to warrant LOL!
The obsession with caste, money, customs and orthodoxy when taken to an extreme become nauseating and as Chetan demonstrates, funny too. It is this aspect of the novel that endears the reader because at no point in time you feel the caricatures become annoying or exasperating. The human element always shines through and makes for a truly page-turning masala filled read! Having said that, the second half is so dramatic that I am sure half the population that has read the book would love to see a movie adaptation.
Some of my favorites from the novel:
"When in doubt, the pretty girl is always right"
"She was covered up enough to go for a walk in Afghanistan. I kind of missed her shorts, but I had brought it upon myself".
"My desk had only books, unlike Ananya's who always had cut flowers from campus lawns or arty incense holders or..."
"Tamil women, all of them, wear flowers in their hair. Tamil men don't believe in pants and wear lungis even in shopping distrcits"
"Marble flooring is to a punjabi what a foreign degree is to a tamilian"
"It is cruel to keep Punjabis away from their food at a wedding.."
Overall, at the cost of sounding repetitive, a entertaining read!
Now, a little wishful thinking and specualtion -
If Two States is made into a movie - here is my cast:
Krish - Ranbir Kapoor
Ananya - Trisha
Ananya's friend (special addition for the movie) - Swathi
Ananya's dad - Prakash Raj
Ananya's mother - Nadhiya
Krish's mom - Kiron Kher
Krish's dad - Anupam Kher
Krish's boss - Vivek
Music - AR Rahman
Director - Siddharth Anand
I was too tempted to miss this out!!