Half an Indian Girl

So my first attempt in twelve years to read pulp fiction ended midway, as I gave up reading Chetan Bhagat’s One Indian Girl after around 130 pages (~40% into the book).

My main problem with the book is that it uses too many words for what it has to convey. There are shades of good writing sprinkled through the part of the book that I read, but at least once every ten pages you start wondering where the story is going, and wondering if so many more pages are worth reading.

Based on the plot that I gathered through my reading of the book, it seems written with a Bollywood script in mind. And while it might make for good screenplay, the quality of writing means that the amount of effort and patience required in ingesting and finishing the book is way too high.

In a way, the book reminded me of a short story by Mulk Raj Anand (ok outragers can start outraging now) called Old Bapu that I’d read a few years back as part of some course at IIT Madras. That story begins with the observation that in the split-second before death, one’s entire life flashes in one’s mind.

And so you have this book, set at the protagonist’s wedding, where she looks back at her life and relationships so far, and that I think is a fine premise. The protagonist’s character is also fairly well chosen and most of the events in the part of the story I read seem fairly realistic.

And then, as they say in Bollywoodese, there are some kahaani mein twists and for someone who had largely appreciated the book for what it was thus far, it can be a bit throwing off. And then when you see that after these twists you have a further 160 pages to go, you end up losing all motivation.

So I shut the book, and turned to my wife who had finished reading through it (albeit after some struggles) a week back. She narrated the rest of the story in her own way, a hundred and sixty pages compressed into two minutes of speech. And having heard this narration, I’m glad I didn’t waste time reading those pages.

A long time back I’d blogged about whether the length of a book is a bug or a feature, and suggested that in fiction one would look at extra words as a benefit, since it’s likely to keep you entertained. I revise that observation now, to say that extra words in a book of fiction (or any book) are fine if and only if they add to the story.

This book, in my opinion, has too many of those extra words, which makes it damn easy to get bored as you read it, and very soon you can’t stop wanting the book to end soon!

The Bollywoody plot aside, I could think of this book being written in 100 pages, which would have made it far far better! I don’t know when I’ll attempt reading pulp fiction next!

Also read my analysis on why Half Girlfriend, Chetan Bhagat’s earlier book, failed at living up to its potential.

The big deal about the half-girlfriend

When all of twitter outraged about Chetan Bhagat’s latest masterpiece “half girlfriend” I didn’t know what the big deal was. Given that concepts such as ladder theory, friendzone, GBF (Gay Best Friend), FGB (Foremost Girl Buddy), Goalkeeper Theory and Petromax are all so well documented and accepted, it doesn’t take much of a leap to get to the concept of “half-girlfriend”, as described in the flipkart summary of the book. 

It seemed to me that the people that were outraging were all pseud-types who had hardly been single in their youth and how looked down upon IITs and IITians (for lacking social skills; and guilty as charged on that count). That they were people who subscribed to a certain view of how friendships and romances and relationships should function, and who were incapable of appreciating any alternate mechanisms. I could think of them as the people who got madly outraged when I put out my now classic blog post on petromaxing in business schools nine Deepavalis ago.

But now that the book has already come out (I have no plans to read it since I don’t read fiction. Moreover, considering myself an authority on alternate mechanisms of romantic relationships, and am married to someone who considers herself an authority on conventional mechanisms of romantic relationships, I don’t think I can bear being lectured upon on such topics), and people that I know, or people that know people that I know have started reading it, I realise why the outrage is all about. Consider this sample which I got on one WhatsApp group this morning:



The first reaction is that the quality of writing is horrible, but then that’s how Chetan Bhagat writes, and that’s how the audience he writes for wants him to write. And then the whole crassness of the implementation of the concept in the book hits me – while the concept of half-girlfriend might be a bloody good one, with wide-ranging implications and mechanism designs, it seems like (based on the above limited sample) the concept as instantiated by Bhagat doesn’t hold a candle to its potential!

I’ve now crossed the floor. I’m now in the camp of the people who believe that Chetan Bhagat’s Half Girlfriend is cringeworthy – and I find it cringeworthy not because of the concept (which I think is rather worthy), but because of the way that Bhagat seems to have butchered it and made it appear crass and “LS”. By writing this book, Bhagat has nipped in the bud what might have been a phenomenal alternative relationship concept. And that is unforgivable.

I don’t normally quote sitcoms, and I don’t normally watch sitcoms, but given we are on the topic of alternative relationships mechanisms, I can’t help but put a short video featuring perhaps the greatest purveyor of alternative relationship mechanisms of all time – Jeffery Murdoch from Coupling. I couldn’t find an extract from the episode, so here is the full first episode of the first season of Coupling in all its glory! May you be able to get rid of your unflushables!

Two States stealing ideas from my life

Don’t ask my why I’m reading a Chetan Bhagat book. Anyway a while back I was reading the first few pages of “Two States” when I started screaming and my eyes nearly popped out. Here in these pages was an incident that was straight out of my life at IIMB (the book is set in IIMA, btw). The first thing I did, after I screamed of course, was to check the date of publication. 2009. 5 years after that incident had taken place in my life. There is a small chance it might have actually been based on me.

So in the book, the microeconomics professor is explaining utility functions and indifference curves. And he calls upon an economics graduate from Delhi University to explain the concept to the class. The student tries to give a qualitative explanation but no one understands. That is where the similarity ends. In the book, the professor ends up writing some greek alphabets on the board while the student (female) bursts into tears at the end of the class, humiliated. And the hero goes on to console her and all such.

So as I mentioned, this event closely mirrors something that happened to me. First term of B-school, check. Microeconomics, check. Indifference curves, check. Economics grad from DU asked to explain, check. Student giving qualitative explanation, check. Class not understanding head or tail of it, check.

In our class, though, something different happened. The hero had no intentions of waiting till the end of the class and consoling the DU Eco-grad (in this case, male). Up pops his arm, and he screams  “saar, saar, saar”. When the saar doesn’t respond he shouts “saar I can explain this in English”. The DU Eco-grad is at the blackboard repeating his line, which he had probably mugged up, which enabled him to top university.

Saar finally gives hero a chance to go to the blackboard. Hero puts on collar mic. Looks at the curves on the blackboard and carefully marks off points, which he decides to professorially name as A, A’ (pronounced A prime) and A” (A double prime). Class starts giving up. Hero adds more points. B and B prime. Class gives up further. Then A and A’ move to B and B’. Something probably makes sense. Soon the proof is obvious to most of the class (mostly engineers). Hero hasn’t completed the proof yet when he hears a loud thumping of desks. Math wins. It is unknown if the DU Eco-grad cried at the end of class.

My apologies if I’ve told this story earlier on this blog, but I’m not one to let go of a bragging opportunity. And I still think it was that incident in my class, Section C of IIMB, on the twenty second of July 2004 that inspired the similar scene in Bhagat’s book. No, that’s not the part I’m bragging about.

Rajkumar Hirani Copycat

Ok this post has nothing to do wtih Five Point Someone or its related controversies. Yeah, the story is inspired by 5PS more than the claimed 3% but I’ll let Chetan Bhagat and his army of followers fight out that battle. Copying from others is honourable, at least you are taking inspiration from someone. What is just not done is copying from oneself. It simply shows lack of creativity and laziness to come up with new ideas.

Maybe when Rajkumar Hirani made 3 Idiots, he assumed that the public would have forgotten Munnabhai MBBS. He assumed that Munnabhai MBBS would be so out of circulation that it would have gone out of people’s minds, eclipsed by the more successful sequel Lage Raho. What he didn’t bargain for was that Munnabhai MBBS was on the menu on the New York JFK  to Dubai Emirates Airlines flight, and that people like me would watch it within 3 weeks of watching 3 idiots.

The similarities are uncanny. Both colleges are “Imperial”, have Boman Irani playing the “big prof” (diro here, dean there), and acting similarly in both. Both have a nerdy Tam who comes 2nd in class, 2nd to the hero. Yeah, Chatur is caricatured in 3I while Swami is given a more positive role in Munnabhai. Both are about the system, about how the larger-than-life hero fights the system and makes the big prof realize that the way he has been running the institution is wrong. The hero’s love interest is the big prof’s daughter. And so on..  Just that Munnabhai and Rancho use different methods to achieve their goals, that’s all.

I suppose most of you would have watched 3Idiots recently. I urge you to pick up a DVD or a torrent of Munnabhai MBBS and watch it, again. And keep an eye out for the similarities. You will be convinced that Rajkumar Hirani is guilty of copying, from his own stuff. It is indeed sad to see a good director such has him stooping to Anu Malik* depths.

While on the topic of 3Idiots, my esteemed colleague Baada wanted me to do a stud-fighter post on the movie. I suppose all of you who have seen the movie will easily figure out why the framework fits. I don’t think it needs any more explanation from the resident stud-fighter expert, that is me. Also, if you recall, I had taken a vow that I won’t do any more stud-fighter blogging. Though I must mention that my book on the topic is going nowhere.

* Listen to the prelude music of Ae Mere Humsafar from Baazigar, and then to the title song of Ishq. Next, listen to the interlude music of Kitaben Bahut Si, again from Baazigar, and then to the title song from Fiza. The self-copy is obvious. And I must mention that I had used this concept in a quiz question, twice. Yeah, I’ve also been guilty of “petering” my own questions.