Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Why We Hate Chetan Bhagat

Why do so many people love to hate Chetan Bhagat? Is it snobbery? Jealousy? Sour grapes? A case of Indians pulling their own down? His comments on Twitter? Displaced anger at ourselves? What is it about CB that makes people hate him so? 


The Twitter incidents don't count, for the very reason that people disliked CB before #Chetanblocks, and used that as an excuse to vent their feelings. Of course, Chetan's initial reaction to the instigators i.e acting like he was doing people a favour by letting them read his tweets, and arbitrary blocking, didn't help in the 'garnering sympathy' department.

We love to pull down our own

For some reason, a large section of Indian society likes holding those Indians whom we see as being gifted or intellectually or culturally superior to ourselves up on a pedestal and showing them off to the world. We love to bask in the achievements of those whom we consider to be greater to ourselves (inferiority complex?). But when it comes to mediocre stuff created by one of our own ordinary kind, we are quick to put that person down. Because for us, that person has no business achieving success.

I don't know why we feel this way. Maybe it's because of snobbery, where we feel we need to patronise only 'upper class' creations, and put down what we perceive as mediocrity? Because it invalidates our sense of fairness and we need to restore order in the universe? Because it forces us to question why we aren't as successful too, and what we might need to do to change this? Because it forces us to realise that we will never be able to do what he/she has done, no matter how seemingly ordinary, and this leads to jealousy or resentment?


The fact is, we see Chetan Bhagat as one of us. A regular ordinary non-gifted Indian. We do not see him as a gifted writer and a contributor to what this country should be known for. His books prove this. CB is not a good writer in the literary sense. He is no Vikram Seth or Arundhati Roy. He does not write flowery beautiful prose. But he does write simple to the point short books that tell stories that millions of Indian youth enjoy reading.

We hate him for this. We hate him and are bitter at the fact that one of our own, someone destined to wallow in middle class mediocrity, has suddenly achieved so much that he doesn't (in our minds) deserve. We seethe at the realisation that other people might think he's better than us, which we feel he isn't. We feel he doesn't deserve the fame, the celebrity status, the money and everything else his writing has got him. We resent it.


Forget of course that Chetan haters can't even produce the ordinary work they accuse him of creating. That isn't the point. The point is, no matter how un-literary like we are as a large population, we still expect greatness to be bestowed only on those who seem to deserve it. One could argue that this is snobbishness (see this post), which is debatable.

CB's work is mediocre. Mediocrity is mediocrity. This is non debatable. Also, it isn't snobbishness to find a piece of work mediocre and reject it for being so. But as to the question of holding the creators and their fans in contempt for patronising mediocrity, and denying them any form of attention, that's just wrong, and could well be snobbishness.

Displaced Anger

Or our anger at Chetan could be displaced anger at ourselves. We know that his work is mediocre. And none of us are reading his books anymore. But millions of Indians are. They love his books, and it's not Chetan's fault. It's his fans' fault for liking them. Some of them read his books because they don't know any better or they don't enjoy reading good Indian fiction or contemporary international literature, or even the classics. Some of these people consider Dan Brown and Sidney Sheldon great novelists. No wonder then that they worship Chetan Bhagat. 

Is this Chetan's fault? Of course not. He didn't force all these millions of Indians to buy or read his books. He simply used his natural talent to write within his capacity, and the masses happened to love his work. Why blame Chetan for the reading habits of the masses? Our anger at Chetan Bhagat's success could actually be our displaced anger at the masses.

Dealing with it

If you're a CB lover, then you've probably not gained much from this post. But if you're a lover of good literature, and are amazed by the constant attention CB gets, my advice is to ignore it. That's right. We are an evolving society. Until we all evolve to a point we we appreciate good literature, we should realise that there will always be some people who will enjoy reading CB. What's more, no one's forcing you to read his books.

Like I said, don't begrudge CB for the doing what he loves. It's not his fault so many people enjoy his work. If you don't, just ignore it and concentrate on doing what you love, and hope that someday people will like your work as much. Do you see thousands of Americans getting together on Twitter to berate Dan Brown? No? Do you know why? Point taken, I hope.

Or you could exploit the system and write like CB i.e mediocre books written in a way that makes the average not-well-read-Indian love you.

As for making fun of him, I don't see anything wrong in the occasional quip at his expense. And I don't see why Chetan himself shouldn't be able to join in and laugh at himself, given the quality of his writing. People shouldn't take themselves or their work too seriously. Doing so only makes people hate you more.

What I don't get are the folks who waste their time twisting his tweets out of context to use as an excuse to be evil for no reason at all. A joke here or there is fine, but people who go out of their way to squeeze a rude joke or snide remark out of a celebrity's innocent tweet, when it's unwarranted, do themselves a disservice.

Comments are welcome as always.



S.R.Ayyangar said...

Let Chetan explain why he back tracked after the '3 idiot'story writer fiasco on TV channels?

Aquatic Static said...

Insightful post.
CB's become quite the whipping boy. The non-genius who'd make us feel superior if he didn't make so much darned money from his mediocrity.
Life's too short to be a hater and this post is such a cool way to say that.

Daniel D'Mello said...

@S.R.Ayyangar: Hasn't he done that enough?

@Aquatic Static: Thanks.

Anirban said...

Daniel, love him or hate him, we have to realize that Chetan changed India. No one thought that a normal person like every one of us could write The Great Indian Novel. He tried it, he succeeded. Sure some people think that they could do a better job. Well, there are no prizes for pondering.

Well put. I am glad that someone put a nuanced perspective of this instead of fawning or fuming. Best wishes.

Daniel D'Mello said...

@Anirban: Great Indian novel? I think he wrote more than one, judging only by the book sales :-)


Anirban said...

He's written ONE novel. He's rehashed it a couple of times since then. ;)

Oh dear, that is me being mean again

Anonymous said...

"The point is, no matter how un-literary like we are as a large population, we still expect greatness to be bestowed only on those who seem to deserve it" The best Line.
I like the article. keep it up man

MJ said...

First off,i doubt its a case of us pulling down our own,that's the kind of stupid thinking that got him 'popularity' in the first place. He is simply a horrible,terrible person that despises literature and books and all things intelligent and has taken it upon himself to methodically destroy the above with every new book he publishes. Just cause he has the masses on his side doesn't mean that he can even ,maybe perhaps recite his ABC's right. We must all remember that Hitler had the masses on his side too.

Anonymous said...

First of all, his writing is not that great. I got bored by the time i even completed half of the book. He writes that's all, he's not a terrific writer. By writing i mean, the quality of Dan Brown's angels and demons, Ayn rand's Atlas shrugged - that level.
After a while i stopped expecting storylines not involving engineering colleges (IIT's with some made up names). When is gonna realize that world is not only made of IIT engineers and IIM grads.

What's he in his life? A writer of "five best selling novels" should be mature. Every time someone says something, he gets back to them even if it's none of his business, rants something and shows how immature he is. Getting back on narayana murthy for his IIT quality comments showed how immature CB is. In fact it gained more sympathy to Infy. Most immature person i've ever seen. And on that show love2hateu - oh my god, he cant even take one criticism properly and in turn, he is complaining how rigid that girl is. People & celebrities reconciled, changed their views in that show, doesn't he ever learn how to act dignified? He cant take criticism properly, i wonder how long he takes to grow up.
There are only two +ve's i acknowledge in him
1. quitting his normal job to do what he thought was his calling
2. Making books, regardless of their quality, available at cheap price. I rarely saw bestsellers below 200 then.
Other than that, I dont like him at all. Not for books, for his immaturity.

Anonymous said...

Issues like life in IIT and its problems are not the country's biggest crisis to highlight.. There are many other important issues to highlight. And yes i too agree that CB is immature. What Narayan Murthy said was 100% correct. Its really very true that nowadays IIT students are lacking in quality and that's only because of these coaching centers where they learn only the tricks and waste their crucial time where a student was meant to learn the subject well and enjoy. I don't know why CB had to join this controversy as well.. :X

Deep Jyoti said...

Hate is too strong a word. My concern is with his undeserved popularity he also gets influencing power. This power can be misused.

Deep Jyoti said...

My concerns are about him misusing his undeserved influencing power on fans (who take his tweets/quotes seriously.

I believe if anyone in all his sincerity tries to single out the root cause of mediocrity or basic intelligence at the level close to stupidity it would have to be media in all its forms of expressions be it movies, serials, news papers, news channels. Had there been a dearth of these bad options the nation would have definitely carved a niche for herself in the world's platform.

Ps: misuse of influencing power can be done either knowingly(for money) or unknowingly(out of sheer stupidity)

Deep Jyoti said...

I wish all those people who have writing skills or any whichever way to influence masses donot misuse their skills

Anonymous said...

you can have a better "enlightenment" that you so cherish, from a bollywood movie! some relate-able thing you say. why not just watch a movie. and please, no one obviously trashes dan brown in america; perhaps because he is actually good? have you heard people condemning n hating twilight books? its a book's worth that real readers are thinking before joining the baghat bandwagon

Anonymous said...

He writes whatever comes in his mind....
He never does research before writing anything complicated....
He is a racist and his book 2states is an example of that

Anonymous said...

Someone said 'There are only two +ve's i acknowledge in him
1. quitting his normal job to do what he thought was his calling
2. Making books, regardless of their quality, available at cheap price. I rarely saw bestsellers below 200 then'
There is an explanation for both:
1. May be he was fired.
2. May be he cannot sell a single book if it is priced more than Rs.100.
CB knows this and priced his books below Rs.100. Some magic happened, only happens to a few in India, and even much exceeding his own expectations, his books sold in 1000s and it was so easy for an young Indian boy/girl to pick up a pack of cigarette and a drink and a CB book (where drinks and sex will be discussed) That is his success!

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