Writer Paromita Bardoloi on reading Chetan Bhagat’s disappointing new novel.
On an interview with Indu Mirani, Raveena Tandon called Mohra, a woman centric film. My mind flashed parts of the song ‘Tu cheez badi hai mast mast’ and I cringed. I felt similar feelings when I read Chetan Bhagat’s, One Indian Girl.
While I am generally not a Bhagat hater, I do despise the jargons he uses to sell his books. In his recent gimmick, he has chosen to play the feminist card and gotten it all horribly wrong. Let’s breakdown this terrible case of mansplaining to figure out how wrong.
The book begins with Radhika Mehta an SRCC, IIMA graduate working with Goldman Sachs, getting married to an Engineer who works with Facebook. It’s all fun and games in the beginning. Bhagat explains how relatives react, the pressure on the girl’s side to adjust in making the groom’s side feel superior. But the problem is that, it has been done to death in so many books and movies in recent times that it seems like Bhagat has borrowed the Indian wedding chaos from the movie Queen.
Now because Bhagat had to sell Feminism, Radhika is a nerd who does not shave her legs. She just studies and makes it to New York, to work with Goldman Sachs. Her sister is her anti thesis, who hates studying, wears make up and gets married just after graduation. The writer pits the two worlds between the nerds and the beauties against each other. And in his world, the beauties are obviously vain. They can’t be feminists. That would be all too confusing to fathom for Bhagat.
At the centre of this nerd world is Radhika, who has a problem each time she thinks of sex with her boyfriend. She thinks it’s only what sluts’ do, but still being the good girl that she is, she goes with it in order to please her boyfriend.
Patriarchy has always defined the monotone characters of women. The term slut is loosely used to characterise women who break from home, the wild women, the ones who are never wife material. Bhagat panders to the stereotype. Trouble begins when Radhika’s boyfriend refuses to marry her because he is not sure that she can be a good mother, as she is a career woman.
Another stereotype, checked.
The problem lies not with being a housewife or a banker. The problem is with the stereotype that states that women in power and with money are not women enough. Like their femininity has been compromised somehow.
Then there is the problem of the protagonist herself who is a confused girl.
There is not one conversation that shows her strong side. Having pre-marital sex, or having sex with your married boss and being angry about it is not feminism Mr. Bhagat. Feminism does speak about women’s rights over their own bodies, but nowhere does it state that you’re not responsible for the choices you make, physical or otherwise.
Each time the protagonist falls, she must be rescued by someone. The cliché of being the damsel in distress who needs saving, checked.
Though she moves across the world earning big money, nowhere do we see Radhika making choices and standing by them. She fritters from one heartbreak to another. And after each heart break, she is ready to drop everything and leave, while the men stay where they are.
She even messes her destination wedding by running away of-course.
Her mother keeps reiterating that her education and money ruined her. Which is laughable because it didn’t help her at all. Radhika only seeks male approval and settles down only when she gets it each time.
Feminism is so much more than what Bhagat thinks of it and it’s rather obvious that his version of it panders to the patriarchy. He hands the woman a good job, money and a chance at pre-marital sex. And boom! She is a feminist.
Not to forget that after every two pages, the reader must endure the consumerist bullshit he doles out in the name of the money she is earning and the Zara dresses she is wearing.
Bhagat should give up pretensions of understanding women and trying to give them a voice because if there is one thing this book is good at, it is at reminding how most of mainstream India doesn’t understand the F word. It has become a flash card to either win votes or push sales of a book or sometimes a movie.
Feminism is nascent in India and very alien to Bhagat’s readers who are mostly the masses. It is a dangerous road to tread when you write a book that celebrates an insecure, irresponsible person by calling them a feminist. If there is one thing that this book reiterates, it is the fact that how most men in India don’t understand what feminism is and limit it to the very stereotypical choices available to women. It is horrific to imagine that a lot of men will read this very book and acknowledge the sad life of emancipated women.
Read this book only if you love Bollywood dramas, just like them, it will be another inane misogynistic piece of writing that will enter the 100 crore club, based solely on its clichés of sex, dance and confusion. Expect nothing more.